LA Phil Green Umbrella Concerts Come to London

17/03/2013

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Adams, Pereira, ChinJoseph Pereira (percussion), LA Phil New Music Group, *John Adams and Gustavo Dudamel (conductors). Barbican Hall, London, 14.03.2013 (CC)

Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony (2007)*
Joseph Pereira: Concerto for Percussion and Chamber Orchestra (2012) European Première
Unsuk Chin: Graffiti (2013) European Première

Good to see such a tantalising programme from the Los Angeles forces during their residency at the Barbican. The concert was far from sold out, so it would appear that even with the magician Dudamel present, London audiences still shy away somewhat from modernist offerings. Adams has a goodly following here, so one can only assume it was the relatively unknown Pereira and the harder-hitting Unsuk Chin that kept people at home.

Technically, the concert was pretty much beyond reproach. It is true that some of the edginess Adams’ music requires was softened in the Barbican space. Son of Chamber Symphony (the title refers back to the 1992 Chamber Symphony) was intended both as a concert work and as a choreographed entity – the latter version was premièred in 2008 – and the clear, dance-like qualities of the post-Stravinsky, almost cartoon-like, angularities needed perhaps a touch more hardness. Yet this was an involving account. Adams’ scoring is skilful; the glacial tints to the flowing melodies of the central movement were memorably delivered. Only the busy finale lost some steam.

It was Esa-Pekka Salonen who appointed Joseph Pereira (b. 1974) as Principal Timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2007. The orchestra commissioned his Percussion Concerto, which was premièred in May last year with Colin Currie as soloist. Pereira’s own notes on his piece talk about the stronger forces of existence itself and how he constantly finds himself “trying to search out the deeper meaning of each sound” and “how it can be connected to the next one”.

There is no doubting Pereira’s virtuosity. His marimba playing, in particular, was mesmeric. Scoring was often bright; despite the depth of his statements of intent above, some gestures seemed reminiscent of the works of Michael Dougherty in this brightness, although they were not quite so empty. Glittering sonorities and glistening rhythms in the outer movements against the slithering snakery of the central “Lontanissimo” would have been fine in a short piece, but at some 24 minutes this did seem over-long.

Finally came a Barbican co-commission (with the LA Phil) from Korean composer Unsuk Chin (b. 1961). Her piece Graffiti immediately found, in concept, an echo of Lindberg’s setting of Pompeian graffiti (Graffiti Seht die Sonne: it has been recorded on Ondine – review). Chin’s orchestral response to Street Art is far less explicit, zooming in and examining the “dialectic between primitivism and refinement” (from the composer’s booklet note). Perhaps the title of the central movement, “Notturno urbano”, offers the strongest clue to the linking of title and music.

Chin is a master composer whose control of sonority and, indeed, of her materials, is mightily impressive. The rarefied opening to the initial “Palimpsest” is typical of her refinement. Elusive and rarefied washes of sound, woodwind multiphonics, registral extremes and build-ups of bell harmonics all contribute to her individual sound-world. The finale is a gloriously sustained Passacaglia. Dudamel’s confident conducting led to a most convincing case for what is clearly a major work; the ovation for Chin as she made her way to the stage at the end was fully justified.

Colin Clarke

Click here to hear a BBC Radio 4 interview with Gustavo Dudamel, first broadcast 14 March 2013

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