Magnus Lindberg's "Parada" begins with a slow parade of chords. They are somber but colorful. They move with solemn grace, like ghostly visions floating through a fog. And when you have resonant chords like these--complex and new, yet somehow familiar-sounding, cloaked in beautiful sonorities, awash in mystery--you have a pretty good sense that something special is about to follow in their wake.
That chordal parade opened the Los Angeles Philharmonic program Thursday night by a fluke. This evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was to have been a wave goodbye to Schoenberg. The orchestra had commissioned a new violin concerto from Leon Kirchner--who was a Schoenberg student in Los Angeles--as a nod to the composer's legacy in the aftermath of the "Schoenberg Prism" festival it concluded two weeks ago. But the 83-year-old Kirchner has not yet finished the concerto, so Esa-Pekka Salonen, fresh from having led a festival of Lindberg's music in London (and touring it through Europe), turned to his Finnish colleague and close friend instead.
Kirchner's concerto (which the Philharmonic promises will be performed when completed) may turn out to be a pinnacle in an important American composer's career. But "Parada," premiered in England in February and dedicated to Salonen, proved to be exactly the right piece for the moment.
As an emerging composer in the early 1980s, Lindberg started out in a musical environment in which the last vestiges of Schoenberg's influence had led to music of resolutely complex mathematical organization. But rather than see this as a dead end, Lindberg forged a style that uses the mechanics of music and the physics of sound to create works of astonishing physicality.
"Parada," for instance, seems to define and defy gravity. Salonen in his helpful remarks to the audience likened the new 12-minute piece to a river. The chord progression expands and contracts, continually changes perspective, can be warm or cold, fast or slow, smooth or bumpy, but it is always there, flowing along. And the listener bobs along like a cork, sometimes weightless, sometimes knocked around, thrown into rocks. It is a weighty slow movement, with lots of fast things happening on the surface and distant hints of Sibelius.
This little bit of "Related Rocks," as the London Lindberg festival was called, in Los Angeles also included the 43-year-old composer's Cello Concerto, which the Philharmonic performed at the Ojai Festival three years ago. It was written for Anssi Karttunen, another close friend of Salonen and Lindberg, and he was again the soloist here.
The concerto, somewhat revised last year, also plays around with gravity and anti-gravity. On the most basic level, it is music that seems humanly impossible to play, and it can be enjoyed for the simple amazement of watching the cellist, one of the world's great players, skate through contorted figurations with elegant ease.
But the concerto is also a magnificent coming-of-age drama. At first, the hyperactive, stuttering, chattering cello acts like a young teenager, full of mischief. As it tries to define itself, its every gesture is a different and elaborate breakout attempt that gets stuck on the same few pitches. Slowly, it develops a voice and personality, as it keeps getting submerged in the orchestra and finding new ways of asserting itself. The cadenza, which Karttunen improvised brilliantly, is its bursting onto the scene, and the music that follows is beautiful, long-limbed, assured, powerful, the voice of liberation.
The orchestra in the Lindberg pieces, conducted with complete authority by Salonen, sounded its proudest, and even the acoustically dull Chandler came to life, as it did not for the two Brahms pieces also on the program. Still, in the Serenade No. 2 in A and the "Haydn" Variations, Salonen gave the fast movements an exhilarating bounce. But balances were not always smooth, and the winds in particular retained a forceful roughness, more Lindberg than Brahms.
The Serenade, for small orchestra without violins, did, however, offer one unusual acoustical pleasure. For once, the violas, so often inaudible from my seats in the Chandler, were given prominence, and the section, like Lindberg's cello, happily exulted in their moment of sonic liberation.
The Lindberg/Brahms program repeats tonight at 8 and Sunday at 1 p.m., Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. $12-$78, (323) 850-2000.