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Tenney's Works Ripple With Adventure

February 28, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Normally, the L.A. Philharmonic's Green Umbrella series operates with no stronger thematic imperative than its new music focus. Monday night at the Japan America Theatre, however, the CalArts New Century Players' boldly performed program revealed something of a connective thread for the series.

As with the season opener in January, the evening included a virtuoso piece from 70-year-old Luciano Berio--cellist Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick's deft reading of "Sequenza VI"--and a showcase piece dealing with microtonal language. In January, the composer of note was Gerard Grisey. Monday night belonged to James Tenney, whose "Spectrum 5" received its premiere.

It proved to be a fluid work, with long tones overlapping at odd angles and with deviations on the standard Western scale, creating a rippling, frictional sonic fabric. Noted jazz/world music trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith was the improvising protagonist, floating pinched, muted tones over this undulating wash of sound. The end effect is powerfully evocative, despite--or perhaps because of--an amorphous structure.

Tenney's 1980 work "Harmonium No. 3" is scored for three harpists--here, Susan Allen, Carolyn Sykes and Katie Kirkpatrick--working in the microtonal division of minimalism, all pulsing rhythms and riffs that are slightly askew, intonationally.

Further adventures in post-minimalist thinking came from Julia Wolfe, whose impressive "The Vermeer Room" is a canny reflection on the secret life of a Vermeer painting. Self-limited and yet engagingly tense, the work suggests a dream more memorable for its vivid texture than its logic or development.

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