The local music community, fragmented and factionalized though it may be, took the Monday Evening Concert tribute to Lawrence Morton seriously. Parking at the County Museum of Art is seldom a problem, but this time late arrivers had some walking to do.
And then--for once--they sat at the back of Bing Theater, of necessity rather than by choice. The room has probably not been so full for a Monday Evening Concert since May 3, 1971.
That was for Morton's final production, after an 18-year stint as concert director. The program on this particular Monday, opening the concerts' 50th season, duplicated Morton's valedictory agenda, in all but one piece.
Dorrance Stalvey, current director of music at the museum, was also able to return a surprising number of the performers from that 1971 concert. Many of them have continued appearing regularly at the concerts, one aspect of the remarkable continuity in the venerable series.
In 1971, Michael Tilson Thomas was newly ascendant conductor with a distinguished history of participation in Monday Evening Concerts. He also led all the pieces for Morton's farewell.
This time, Tilson Thomas conducted only three of the works. The most unambiguously successful was Stravinsky's "Eight Miniatures"--dedicated to Morton by the composer--neatly played in a sharply pointed reading.
According to Morton's notes, the program was "symbolic of my own tastes and pleasures." In that, it was not unusual. The admixture of the then-esoteric old with the adventuresome new was a characteristic of Morton's eclectic, idiosyncratic programming. That coexistence was usually peaceful, if not invariably stimulating or tightly focused.
Under Tilson Thomas' guidance, Bach's Cantata "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort," BWV 60, and Morton's own edition of the "Sonata sopra Sancta Maria" from Monteverdi's "Vespro della Beata Vergine," emerged with a fair degree of graciousness and sparkle, though lacking stylistic polish. Mezzo Claudine Carlson, tenor Thomas Randle and baritone Douglas Lawrence sang the cantata solos clearly and simply.
Dorothy Crawford's Unicorn Singers provided most of the chorus for those works, and for Perotin's organum "Sederunt principes," performed in Crawford's effective edition. Lawrence was the dark sounding, forceful soloist in Shutz' "Fili mi, Absalon," directed by Donald Crockett.
Kenneth Watson conducted "Ionization" by Edgar Varese. Though another unqualified success, in a crisp, dramatic performance, immediately repeating it in encore seemed more a deliberate echo of the 1971 concert than a response to 1987 demand.
The original concert included Schoenberg's Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra. On this program, violinist Yoko Matsuda and pianist Daniel Shulman offered Schoenberg's Phantasy, Opus 47, instead. Their solid, cohesive reading stressed the fantastical and whimsical, rather than brooding drama.
Until the final bows, when Tilson Thomas offered a moving, obviously unplanned reminiscence, the long evening was free of spoken distractions. As an extra-musical bonus, however, a "Lawrence Morton Remembered" booklet was distributed, containing some of his program notes and articles.