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St.Clair, Pacific Symphony in West Coast Premiere of 'Gaea'

November 08, 1996|CHRIS PASLES

Chalk one up for conductor Carl St.Clair and the Pacific Symphony for the West Coast premiere of William Bolcom's intriguing "Gaea" Concertos for Piano Left Hand on Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"Gaea" is actually three concertos; two are played separately and then are combined to form a third. The Pacific, Baltimore and St. Louis symphonies commissioned the work for pianists Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman, each of whom was stricken mid-career by repetitive stress injury and deprived of the use of his right hand in concert situations. The two played the world premiere in April in Baltimore and were the soloists here.

Bolcom distinguishes the separate concertos in terms of orchestration, pitch material and extra-musical concepts. "Gaea," for instance, refers to the idea of Earth as an ecosystem. The Eastern concepts of yin and yang also enter the picture.

Although it has a dark second movement, Graffman's concerto tends to be lyrical, airy and patrician. Fleisher's tends be urgent, dramatic and arresting. The same may be said of their playing. Fleisher instantly commanded attention. Graffman was more beguiling and aloof.

Unfortunately, the sum of the two concertos was less than the parts. Textures in the combined work, at least as heard from a seat midway in the orchestra, were quite muddy and it was difficult to sort out the parts.

The original plan was to play one of the solo concertos on Wednesday and the other Thursday. The combined concerto was scheduled for both evenings. The plan was wisely changed, however, so that both audiences could hear both solo works--as well as the combined one.

But it made for a longer program, which prompted a number of people to leave. Those who did missed a sizzling performance of excerpts from Alberto Ginastera's 1941 ballet, "Estancia," in which guest concertmaster Philip Palermo, from the Indianapolis Symphony, had a sweet solo.

The program opened with the overlong, overblown suite of Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story." St.Clair attended sensitively to the quieter songs, however.

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