It's a big week in the Southland for new music non-operas, between the local premiere of the Philip Glass-Robert Wilson multi-sensory extravaganza, opening tonight, and this week's Monday Evening Concert presentation of Daniel Rothman's "Cezanne's Doubt," a mesmerizing short work performed, fittingly enough, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
But where the Glass-Wilson event is reportedly grandiose in its effects, Rothman's invention is more of a spartan rumination on the nature of art. The piece, premiered in Austria in 1996, is minimal, but hardly Minimalist, a mind opera in which the drama is sublimated and narrative is moot.
Cezanne's role, such as it is, was sung with a dry, unforced eloquence by Thomas Buckner, the baritone of choice for many contemporary composers (including Robert Ashley, whose brilliant "When Famous Last Words Fail You" was sung by Buckner at CalArts recently).
Buckner's part, with a text drawn from Cezanne's letters and a Baudelaire poem, is set into a bed of instrumental music of deliberately slow and soft ghost tones. Often, the sounds assiduously produced by cellist Ted Mook, clarinetist David Smeyers and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith basked in sonic ambiguity, between multi-phonics, glassy harmonics and, in Smith's case, murmurs with a jazz underpinning.