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MUSIC REVIEWS

Xtet Marks 10th Birthday With Aplomb

February 14, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD

When it comes to dedicated new music groups in Los Angeles, Xtet must be counted as the "other" ensemble, after the busier California E.A.R. Unit. Both share an admirable and culturally important commitment to compositions of our day--and century--as well as monikers of cryptic significance: The unit's "E.A.R." is no more inherently meaningful than Xtet's "X."

But Xtet took its Roman numeral seriously Monday night at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in celebration of its 10th anniversary season, a respectable milestone for a group in the vulnerable world of contemporary music. Here was an agreeable and sometimes moving array of pieces, played with typical authority and, when required, game irony.

Donald Grantham's "Fantasy on Mr. Hyde's Song," wily, hip and occasionally swinging, proved a darkly jolly introduction. Danish composer Poul Ruders' "Vox in Rama" asserted tough, propulsive Euro-Minimalism, in contrast with the restful, Indonesian-like contours of Lou Harrison's "Varied Trio," played crisply by violinist Elizabeth Baker, percussionist David Johnson and pianist Gloria Cheng.

Amicable, earthy modernism from Australian Colin Bright opened a second half mostly devoted to "Birthday Suite," a collection of miniatures dedicated to the group by local composers. With Steven Stucky's antic triplet-heavy teaser, Donald Crockett's languid reflection--featuring bassoonist John Steinmetz--the Americanized Satie-isms of Stephen Hartke's "Gymnopedie No. X" and the jazzy lark of David Ocker's finale, the suite was a lovable, suitable toast to a group well worth the applause, and another 10 years.

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