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'Music For The Zodiac' At Museum

March 19, 1986|JOHN HENKEN

A fascination with astrology is common to a number of contemporary composers. The latest Monday Evening Concert in Bing Theater at the County Museum of Art displayed some of the musical results for Karlheinz Stockhausen and Roberto Gerhard in a program called "Music for the Zodiac."

Gerhard seems to have taken it fairly seriously. In the years before his death in 1970, the expatriate Catalan composed a number of works bearing the names of zodiacal signs.

According to the program book, all the works heard Monday were local premieres, but Gerhard's "Libra" at least has been performed previously, at USC in 1983. It is a piece of stunning coloristic and rhythmic effects in a disjunct setting for a mixed sextet. The composer himself was a Libran, and the music has both the urgency and the aloofness of self-examination.

"Leo" is a longer work for a larger ensemble, and is even more episodic. Gerhard created several heavy climaxes, and then allowed the piece to end with an extended fade-out. The instrumental effects and combinations are as imaginative as in "Libra," but it was harder to bring these vibrant bits of mosaic into focus as a coherent picture.

"Gemini," appropriately, is a duo, and a more compact piece than "Leo" or "Libra." Violinist Barry Socher and pianist Delores Stevens handled its relatively straightforward chores with conviction and ease.

Stockhausen's "Tierkreis" began in 1975 as music for music boxes in a theater piece. It now exists as a 12-movement suite for various performing combinations. The version heard Monday was for clarinet, horn, bassoon and string quintet.

Each movement is about two minutes long, and sounds much like the Hausmusik of Hindemith or Hans Gal mixed with the less raucous elements of "L'histoire du soldat." There is an attempt to depict salient features of each sign, ranging from plucked strings for Sagittarius to retrograde developments for Cancer.

The almost Impressionistic scoring of much of this music requires strong individual playing, integrated into efficient ensembles. Stephen Mosko led the well-drilled groups in exceptionally taut, bold accounts. Projected behind the performers were slides of the appropriate sign.

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