Departing California next week after three years as the composer in residence at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, John Harbison has mixed feelings about leaving.
He admits that he will not miss "gridlock and freeway tie-ups," things he does not usually experience in his hometown of Boston, "and I walk a lot."
On the other hand, there are many things the 49-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison, will miss, Harbison says.
"First, a lot of friends. Probably the climate. The style we live in--just a little more relaxed than on the other coast. The things you don't see in the car-chase scenes in films and television: the really interesting topography of L.A., which is a city with a lot more hills and variety--not all flat, as East Coasters tend to believe--than we expect."
The composer and his wife have lived a largely bi-coastal existence since he first arrived in Los Angeles in the fall of 1985. But they won't be resettling in the Hub right away. Shortly after they return to Boston, they plan to leave for Genoa, Italy, where they will spend a year.
"Composing is what I am going to do for most of the year," Harbison says about 1988-89, pointing out that in his functions as new-music adviser and director of the Philharmonic's New Music Group, writing new scores was only a part-time occupation. "We have some concerts to give in Utah, and in Washington, D.C., in December, but otherwise we will be in Italy for the whole year."
Harbison assesses his time with the L.A. Philharmonic as "in every way, and in almost every aspect, a positive experience. It gave me a chance to have vital relationships with lots of players--one of the most productive things that can happen to a composer.
"Now, I'm writing a piece (for the Philharmonic) for brass soloists and orchestra--for the players I know. It's an intriguing challenge, because it forces me to balance the other parts of the orchestra with the soloists, and the piece almost becomes a concerto for orchestra by default."
Saying that a longtime bronchitis condition--which he contracted during the late 1950s, "Playing jazz in smoke-filled rooms"--has benefited from his visits to California, Harbison predicts that condition will be helped by the Northern Italian climate, "where it is 50 degrees most of the year."
What will he work on? "A number of projects which are waiting for me," he said.
"Ten years ago, I wouldn't have said I can work on different pieces at the same time. I couldn't. Since then, I've learned how.
"I have found that on a given day, you have the ability for one piece, but not for another. So you do the one you feel like doing. Another discovery is that, the more involuntary the composing, the more productive it is."
The subject of opera composing, a subject not broached often in Harbison's three years here--years in which he has concentrated on several other genres, and on the music of other composers--arises.
Harbison, who counts among his major works two sizable operas, acknowledges that, from this vantage point of experience as a writer and a musical administrator, he would not now do some things in the same way he did them, were he given a choice.
"Write a Shakespeare opera (after his 'A Winter's Tale,' produced by San Francisco Opera in 1979)? Absolutely not." He has since withdrawn the work from consideration for future production.
For his final New Music Group program of the 1987-88 season, tonight at 8 in Japan America Theatre, Harbison has arranged an agenda offering sacred music of the 20th Century: Luigi Dallapiccola's "Parole di San Paolo"; the West Coast premiere of Shulamit Ran's setting of Psalm 93, "Adonai Malach"; Christopher Rouse's "Rotae Passionis" (Passion Wheels); Frederic Lesemann's "Alleluia . . . in domo per saecula"; and the West Coast premiere of Harbison's "Confinement."