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Los Angeles Festival: "HOME, PLACE and MEMORY" A Citywide Arts Fest. : Music : Gorecki's Third: Pretty--and Pretty Long


Only the unpredictable can be expected when Peter Sellars serves as program-maker. Friday night at Hollywood Bowl, for example, the Los Angeles Festival's exuberant impresario put together a most unusual--and usually unsmiling--agenda of classical-type music, and hosted it himself. It was the 1993 festival's first and last visit to the Bowl during its monthlong life, and seemed to please and hold an audience counted by management at 12,208.

The quiet climax to this more or less low-key evening came in the West Coast premiere of Henryk-Mikolaj Gorecki's Third Symphony, a 17-year-old work only recently become famous through a recording widely disseminated and loudly proclaimed as "crossover." Reportedly half-a-million copies of that recording have been sold; so popular is it, that rival recorded performances are being released.

Before this live playing by the Los Angeles Philharmonic--conducted by David Alan Miller and featuring American soprano Christine Brewer--a half-program of music from Armenian sources entertained the large crowd.

Djivan Gasparyan, a master of the duduk --a single-reed instrument comparable in timbre to both clarinet and oboe (it actually sounds like a recorder with a cold)--opened the program with three traditional melodies displaying the duduk's narrow but expressive range. He was accompanied by Vachakan Avakian and Alexander Hartunian.

Then an ad-hoc choral group called the Festival Armenian Chorus assembled just for this occasion and presented three short suites of Armenian vocal music as notated by Komitas. The accomplished singers delivered their words with care, achieved strong balances (if not much power) and performed with admirable dynamic variety.

Their vigorous conductor, Vatsche Barsoumian, had clearly achieved much in bringing these more than nine dozen musicians into a professional arena.

Is the success of Gorecki's gorgeous and haunting Symphony No. 3 a fluke? Probably.

The work seems arguably minimalist; what makes it so is length, repetition and a limited harmonic palette. Nevertheless, its beauties are real, if protracted. "How can young people become so interested in a piece so slow and boring?" the composer himself has been reported as asking. This mixed performance had some of us wondering the same thing.

Miller led the Philharmonic through the sprawling piece aggressively, and with no dawdling. The orchestra responded scrappily--sometimes neatly, sometimes not. Though the work is demanding of stamina, its challenges are not complicated. Even so, balances and focus here proved shaky, uncharacteristically so for our Philharmonic.

Substituting on several days' notice for an indisposed colleague, soprano Brewer--whose spinto instrument seems more appropriate to this extended assignment than those of some other, lighter-voiced singers who have attempted it--gave a radiant and handsome performance of the high-lying, occasionally low-dipping solo lines.

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