Consortiums exist for the mutual benefit of their members, and the latest new-music consortium in our community promises much for its principals.
The Green Umbrella is the newest concert series by the Los Angeles Philharmonic; it brings together two active--but until now contrasting--Southern California ensembles, in a series of eight concerts that stretch from Monday to mid-April.
The ensembles are the New Music Group of the Philharmonic--which director John Harbison says now includes almost two-thirds of the membership of the 104-player orchestra--and the 20th-Century Players of CalArts, formerly a student contingent, now reconstituted as a faculty body under the artistic direction of Frans van Rossum.
Until this season, both units presented their own series: the New Music Group a winter-spring sequence at the Japan America Theatre; the 20th-Century Players mostly on-campus events at CalArts in Valencia. Starting Monday, the series, and sometimes the ensembles, will merge.
"We have to stick together," explains Van Rossum, also dean of the CalArts School of Music, and one of the founders of this merger, referring to the many small components that make up our new-music community. "When we decided to create a new 20th-Century Players, we knew one of our first priorities would be to find more places for it to play. This is a start."
Monday night, the two groups will play a program of multiple concertos, conducted by John Harbison and Larry Livingston.
Composer Harbison is beginning his third season of affiliation with the Philharmonic; his titles in 1987-88 are new music adviser and director of the New Music Group. Livingston is now in his second academic year as dean of the school of music at USC, but continues to be active as a working musician. He will conduct the middle piece on this program, Donald Martino's Triple Concerto.
Harbison will lead the world premiere of Rand Steiger's Double Concerto and the first West Coast hearing of Frederic Rzewski's "A Long Time Man," actually, a piano concerto.
Steiger, the Philharmonic's new Composer Fellow, has left CalArts, where he taught for the past five years, and is now on the faculty at UC San Diego. In his new job at the Philharmonic, he will commute from La Jolla.
He says he will now serve a function comparable to what Harbison did in the past two years: "I'll be an advocate of contemporary American music. I'll read every score submitted to the orchestra, and every composer who submits a score will get a response from us. Also, I'll be an ambassador-around-town."
The agendas for this first season of Green Umbrella events were put together, Steiger explains, by Harbison, Ara Guzelimian (the Philharmonic's music administrator), Van Rossum, Stephen Mosko (another former CalArts faculty member) and Steiger, all in consultation with Ernest Fleischmann, executive director of the Philharmonic.
Van Rossum says programming for new-music ensembles is often a thorny problem.
"Our commitment is to the new, but we still have to put together interesting and balanced programs. Our formula is this: one work by an emerging American composer. One by an established composer. A standard piece from this century. And, perhaps, a historical piece."
Harbison acknowledges that Rzewski's works have been underappreciated on the West Coast, "probably because he has come out here so little. But there are other problems too. Because Rzewski started his career as a Dadaist, that image lingers.
"But he's a composer I believe in. I've done a lot of his pieces. This one ("A Long Time Man") is a set of prison-song variations, containing at one point a semi-improvised cadenza for the entire orchestra, which should number between 45 and 50 players.
"It's very complicated and very tough, but it's worth it. Rzewski (pronounced chef-skee) has sculpted some very interesting materials into a substantial, 26-minute piece which makes sense."