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Twists and turns of Newman's new concerto fully revealed

June 11, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Composer David Newman's intriguing project with the Long Beach Symphony crossed the finish line Saturday at the Terrace Theater. Throughout the season, Newman -- who is best known for his film scores ("The War of the Roses," "Serenity," "Ice Age") -- has been unveiling a Concerto for Winds, movement by movement.

The full work, commissioned by the orchestra and featuring five of its principal players, received its world premiere under the direction of Enrique Arturo Diemecke, who also led music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev that was inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

The final version of Newman's work was more music than the audience had heard so far. In his program notes, Newman wrote that he had added three movements (prelude, interlude and coda), rearranged the order a bit, tightened up the writing and decided to let the other soloists occasionally join in during their colleagues' turns in the spotlight.

Anyone expecting background movie music was in for a surprise, however. Although the roughly 35-minute piece was tonally conservative, often descriptive and deftly written for the soloists, it took so many mercurial twists and turns that, for a first-time listener at least, the work sounded evocative but also diffuse and somewhat aimless.

One wanted Newman to linger a little longer here and there, explore some of his interesting ideas and moods more fully, give clearer signposts as to the direction of his thought. As it was, things changed course unsettlingly. Maybe repeated hearings would reveal that the piece is actually tightly written.

The adept musicians, in order of the solo movements, were Heather Clark, flute; Calvin Smith, playing both valve and natural horns; Leslie Reed, oboe; Julie Feves, bassoon; and Gary Bovyer, clarinet. Diemecke led with committed attention. Newman was on hand to take his bows.

The conductor closed the concert with his own suite drawn from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." This included familiar excerpts such as the opening and closing of the ballet but also "Masks" (Romeo and his friends horsing around before crashing the Capulets' ball) and "The Death of Tybalt." So vivid and sensitive was Diemecke's conducting, and so alert was the orchestra's playing, that even Tybalt's protracted death scene became interesting.

In contrast, Tchaikovsky's passionate "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy-Overture, which opened the concert, sounded heavy and clotted but at least thoroughly Russian.

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