Lou Harrison is one of those rare composers with a mind and ears open to all the music around him, in a truly global sense. At the same time, he is not just an eclectically inspired American exotic, but a creator of highly personal stamp as well.
Harrison, who will be 70 on May 14, has been a longtime resident of California. Saturday evening, he attended a celebratory concert of his music at CalArts, which he introduced with brief, pertinent, good-humored remarks.
The bulk of the program was devoted to "La Koro Sutra" (1972), a large, multi-sectional work for chorus and the "American Gamelan" built by Harrison's friend and colleague, William Colvig. That collection of tubes and drums, trash cans and gas canisters, is a metaphor for Harrison's music--at once individual, peculiarly American, and remarkably faithful to both the spirit and the sound of the classical Javanese gamelan.
The chorus was assigned largely unison settings of an Esperanto translation of the Buddhist "Heart" sutra. Directed by Jeannine Wagner, the CalArts Chorus--a small, community ensemble--sang Harrison's arching, melismatic lines with bland, unfocused diligence.