By design, composer John Harbison, just before his 49th birthday next Sunday, is spending a few days at the western end of his bicoastal existence--the eastern end being Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Monday night, in his role as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Harbison conducts a concert he has titled "The 49ers," since the five American composers represented achieve that age this year and next.
Besides his leadership skills, Harbison also contributes to that program a work receiving its Los Angeles premiere. It is "Twilight Music" (1985) for violin, horn and piano.
And tonight at 7, at a concert on the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series, another Harbison piece reaches the West Coast. It is the "Christmas" Concerto that the composer wrote last summer for the quintet, Eastman Brass. That ensemble, which gave the world premiere of the work on Dec. 1 in Rochester, will play it on a program also listing music by Scheidt, Pezel, Boyce and others.
On the phone from chilly Massachusetts, Harbison reckoned that "there is no connection between the two pieces."
The "Christmas" Concerto, he explained, is "in the general category of liturgical pieces. In the past few years, I have written a number of cantatas on biblical texts, many of them for specific use. This one, for narrator and brass quintet, I wrote especially for the Eastman School of Music."
Harbison says he has solved the problem of setting spoken words against music, this time, by having the narrator read the texts before each of the four movements starts. "These movements are meditations on the text, which is the shepherds and angels story from Luke."
The composer feels this new, 18-minute work "is in the mainstream of my religious pieces, for which the style is consistent, but not the same as in my other music."
This last Historic Sites concert of 1987 will take place at Saint Vincent de Paul Church, at Adams and Figueroa, a parish now celebrating its centenary. The church building was designed by the venerable Los Angeles firm of A.C. Martin & Associates in 1923 in the Spanish baroque style of Jose Churriguera--the same firm designed City Hall, the Million Dollar Theatre and the May Co. structure at Fairfax and Wilshire.
For information on this Da Camera Society-sponsored event: (213) 747-9085.
About "Twilight Music," which Harbison wrote on a commission from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for hornist David Jolley, violinist James Buswell and pianist Richard Goode, the composer says:
"The work derives from the differences between the violin and the horn, which are tremendous. The three instruments--the piano included--just don't belong together.
"I have long believed that Brahms' Trio, Opus 40 (for the same combination) is a wonderful piece that sounds terrible. I'm just never convinced by that sound. So, obviously, the combination was chosen for me. I was really doubtful about it. But now, I like the piece a lot."
Under the "impetus of horn players," the composer allows, "the piece has been played a lot."
At the Monday concert, in Japan America Theatre in Little Tokyo, Harbison will conduct Joan Tower's "Black Topaz" (1976) for piano and six instruments and the world premiere performance of David Stock's "Yerusha," for clarinet and seven players. The program begins with William Bolcom's Second Violin Sonata and Charles Wuorinen's "Spinoff," for violin, contrabass and congas. All five composers, brought here by Meet the Composer Inc., will attend, and will speak at a pre-concert event beginning at 7 p.m.
IN MEMORY: A celebration to honor the memory of Nora Kaye, who died earlier this year, will be held at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York City on Jan. 4 at 2 p.m. Speaking at the celebration will be John Taras, Alicia Alonso, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Leo Lerman, Mike Nichols and Jerome Robbins. In addition, there will be musical performances by Leonard Bernstein, Stephanie Friede, Barbara Cook, Bernadette Peters, Isaac Stern, and dance performances by Lynn Seymour, Leslie Browne and Robert Hill.