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MUSIC REVIEWS : New Music Group Opens '94-95 Season

November 09, 1994|DANIEL CARIAGA

A smorgasbord of recent music is what we have come to expect at every outing of the New Music Group of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

And that is exactly what the Group delivered, at its 1994-95 season opening, Monday night in Japan America Theatre: new works by Joan Huang and Nigel Osborne, the Los Angeles premiere of a 10-minute piece by Harrison Birtwistle and revivals of mid-1980s compositions of Mel Powell and Michael Tippett.

Plus a bonus: the first Philharmonic appearance, since his appointment, of the orchestra's new conducting assistant, Grant Gershon, who led two of these five works with aplomb and an admirably quiet and easy authority.

The newest items proved the most engaging. Huang's jolly "Tu-Jia Dance," a New Music Group commission (from Frances Glover) raises several ghosts, including those of Weill and Milhaud and of traditional Chinese music, which Huang experienced very personally while working on a farm during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1970s.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 11, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 24 Column 4 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Misspelled name-- A review of the New Music Group of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's performance of Joan Huang's Tu-Jia Dance at the Japan America Theatre in Wednesday's Calendar misspelled the name of Frances Grover, who commissioned the work.

Huang's aim in this piece, she told her audience before its performance, is "simplicity, directness and a cheerful mood." With the help of 13 New Music Group players, she achieved her aim, adding to the mix great wit and transparent textures.

Played with projected intensity by cellist Barry Gold, pianist Gloria Cheng and clarinetist Lorin Levee, Osborne's dramatic, 19-minute trio, "Sarajevo" (1994) became the high point of this event as well as its finale. Adapted from Osborne's recent opera/theater piece, which uses war diaries and Bosnian poems for text, the piece is not programmatic but grips the listener as if it were.

Birtwistle's "Ritual Fragment" is, as its title suggests, episodic--a series of overlapping musical events from 14 separate, and separated, players arranged in a continuity not unpleasant. It also holds the ear, at least on first hearing.

One speculates that Powell's "Modules," subtitled "An Intermezzo for Chamber Orchestra," is a sendup of many previous pieces (by his colleagues) specializing in fragmented serialism and portentous silences. Unlike those pieces, however, it is easy to like; and the silences make sense.

In the center of this two-intermission concert, guest pianist Paul Crossley reappeared--he played at earlier Philharmonic events this season and returns tonight in a Debussy program at the Gindi Auditorium--to play again Tippett's Fourth Sonata, which he introduced here in 1985. An engrossing and deeply serious work, it did not receive, despite Crossley's long association with the composer and his obvious dedication, all the colors and nuances one suspects it contains.

An irritating lightness of touch characterizes Crossley's approach to passage work, whether loud or soft. Such ivory-tickling stands in the way of genuine articulation of the composer's myriad musical ideas. One color does not fit all; this performance seemed to need a greater breadth of keyboard resources.

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