George Henry Crumb is that rarity among composers--a successful writer of music neither clearly avant-garde nor implacably conservative. Having cleverly placed himself in that position, Crumb has been, and remains, admired in all quarters.
This is no trick, or hype. Crumb writes music that is true to itself, follows no party lines or fads, and stands up to scrutiny long after first hearing. One of his recent works, "A Haunted Landscape," is due for a West Coast premiere this week, courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Beginning Thursday night and ending Nov. 27, guest conductor Zubin Mehta will lead five performances of the 18-minute work in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center.
"A Haunted Landscape," which has been heard in a number of American and European locales since its world premiere in New York City in June, 1984, is "absolutely" not programmatic, its 58-year-old composer said on the phone from Philadelphia, where he has been on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania since 1965.
"It's just a poetic title. There is no program to the piece."
Nevertheless, it is a work that has earned praise in many quarters. After Arthur Weisberg conducted the premiere (and the recording) with the New York Philharmonic, Mehta, that orchestra's music director, led the work on a European tour with the Philharmonic.
According to the composer, a number of other performances have followed. Crumb heard the most recent one last month by the Baltimore Symphony, conducted by its music director, David Zinman.
"That was a very beautiful performance," Crumb said, "The sound of the orchestra bowled me over."
The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, now working on a deadline for an amplified, two-piano piece (of a 25-minute length) due for a premiere in Duisburg, West Germany, in January, regretted that he will not be able to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic performances this month.
"I am a slow worker," he said. "Nothing comes easy to me. It never did. And these days, it seems, I throw away more than I use." Is he working on other pieces, simultaneously?
"No, I tend to work on only one piece at a time, and to stick to it. Of course, I am thinking about some others--one in particular, a commission from the National Symphony for a work of 15 to 25 minutes in length. But, since there's no deadline, I don't feel pressed. Yet."
The other half of Mehta's program for these five concerts is one of the Bombay-born conductor's specialties, Mahler's Second Symphony, a work Mehta conducted many times during his tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978. This month, the vocal soloists will be Dawn Upshaw and Florence Quivar; the Los Angeles Master Chorale, prepared by music director John Currie, will assist.
NEW SERIES: Opening a yearlong residency at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the California E.A.R. Unit performs Monday night at 8 in Leo S. Bing Theater at the museum. Four works make up the program: Stephen Mosko's "Road to Tiphareth," Stephen Jaffe's "Rhythm of the Running Plow," Bunita Marcus' "Lecture for Jo Kondo" and Steve Reich's Sextet. Subsequent concerts on this series, co-sponsored by Chamber Music America, are scheduled Dec. 17, April 20 and May 25.
OTHER PEOPLE: Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Brooks Smith--three generations of musicians--appear as a trio in a concert benefiting the USC school of music, Tuesday night at 8 at the Wiltern Theatre. They will play Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio, Opus 97, and Brahms' Trio in B, Opus 8. . . . Veteran pianist Shura Cherkassky returns to Ambassador Auditorium, in recital, Wednesday night at 8. . . . California Chamber Virtuosi, led by Henri Temianka, opens its Pepperdine University season, Saturday at 8 p.m. in Smothers Theatre on the Malibu campus. Appearing on this first of five concerts this season will be pianist John Perry, violinist Michelle Makarski, violist Brian Denbow and cellist Stephen Erdody. Next Sunday night at 7, violinist Temianka and pianist Perry play on the free, Sundays at Seven series at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd. That program will be broadcast live on KFAC-FM (92.3). . . . Pianist Alicia de Larrocha plays twice here this week, Tuesday night at 8 in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center and Thursday night at 8 in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. . . . And pianist Mona Golabek opens the new season of the Baroque Consortium Chamber Orchestra, tonight at 8 in Norris Community Theatre on Palos Verdes Peninsula. Frances Steiner will conduct; the program lists Bach's Keyboard Concerto in F minor, Howard Hanson's "Fantasy" Variations for piano and orchestra and Dvorak's Serenade, Opus 22.