New Music, Old Century: CD recordings offer a glimpse of the 21st century.
Thursday, January 8, 1998
At the San Francisco Symphony this weekend, you''ll be able to discover Claude Vivier. This young Canadian composer''s music has been recorded by major classical record labels, and is being performed with increasing frequency by the major orchestras of the world.
Unfortunately, Vivier won''t be around to enjoy his success. He was stabbed to death in Paris 15 years ago at the age of 34. While there are spooky parallels between Vivier''s death and the work getting its West Coast premiere, Siddhartha, another metaphor runs quietly but inescapably below the surface: countless works of current and future significance have been composed, performed and then subsided from view without the general audience of music lovers knowing anything about them.
Fortunately, music critic Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote an excellent introduction to Vivier in last Sunday''s edition. In it, we find a composer pursuing life at high risk and art with equal passion. Kosman also cites the recent CD release (Philips 454-231), "In their musical and thematic concerns, the four pieces here offer a striking portrait of Vivier as both an artist and a man. All four stem from a large, uncompleted project, an opera he had envisioned on the subject of Marco Polo."
Soprano Susan Narucki leads five other vocalists, a speaker, and the Schnberg and Asko ensembles under Reinbert de Leeuw, in Prologue pour un Marco Polo, Bouchara, Zipangu and Lonely Child. The first piece opens with a brass drum wallop that will test your sub-woofer if not the actual structure of your listening room. Immediately, voices used as instruments and weird glowing tones establish a sustaining presence. Intonations, often in conflicting tonalities are set in motion, by which time we come to recognize that the voices are in fact singing a text. (For Bouchara the composer created a text to a language of his own invention.) Finally, the narrator enters to set the scene. The music fabric rings like bells, like the clanging "harmonies" of Modest Mussorgsky projected through the lens of Olivier Messiaen. Indeed, Messiaen is a palpable influence in all of the works on this disc, with glowing, ecstatic sonorities setting the aural context, short verses and phrases in parallels imparting a sense of structure, and plangent instrumental commentary and bird calls as counterpoint.
Vivier studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the ''70s, then traveled extensively in Asia reflecting those impressions in many of his 40-plus works. >(Zipangu, the word Polo used for Japan, creates a hair-raising atmosphere, with string writing that resembles that of the young Benjamin Britten.) The Philips CD offers 65 exciting, sensual minutes of immersion in the original musical ideas and feelings of a gifted composer.
Messiaen also makes a brief appearance in David Carlson''s vivacious Symphonic Sequences from Dreamkeepers, the newest orchestral work (1996) in a collection of four played by the Utah Symphony conducted by Stewart Robertson (New World 80496-2). Messiaen, however, is only one of the countless external influences that comprise Carlson''s eclectic assimilations. The California native (in charge of the San Francisco Symphony''s ''New and Unusual'' series, 1988-91) fashioned the aforementioned from his opera Dreamkeepers, which was commissioned by the Utah Opera and premiered (in ''96) under Robertson. The CD also contains Cello Concerto No. 1 (with soloist Emil Miland), Rhapsodies and Twilight Night. The performances and sound (recorded in Salt Lake City''s acoustically acclaimed Maurice Abravanel Hall) are stunning. (Robertson, director of New York''s Glimmerglass Opera and a Carmel Valley resident, has long advocated Carlson''s music.) The composer''s style is primarily tonal and his architecture is rooted in the classical tradition. His melodic material is thematic without ''in your face'' tunes, and often rolls in timeless phrases punctuated by cadences only occasionally. As a consequence, Carlson''s distinctive fingerprints are more easily recognized in his surging, dynamic display and the palette of his vivid orchestrations. Indeed, the Dreamkeepers suite could easily be characterized as cinematic.
Luciano Berio, who burst on the scene in 1969 with Sinfonia (pitting a whimsical text for the Swingle Singers against paraphrases from the symphonies of Mahler), has burst back on the scene with a new CD of works composed in the late ''80s and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (RCA 68894-2). In it, Berio, who likes to use previously composed works as springboards for his own projects, conducts the large-scale Concerto II "Echoing Curves", featuring pianist Andrea Lucchesini, and Rendering for orchestra after Schubert. (A short work from 1975, based on Boccherini, fills out the program.) From the outset the concerto contains much scurrying both in the keyboard and the two orchestral ensembles, suggesting the MC Escher illustration on the album cover of a tightly fitted pattern disintegrating into fanciful butterflies. Indeed, the work is a "refraction" of the composer''s Points on the curve to find. of 1974. About half-way through the single-movement, the animated pace begins to subside, and finally achieves a kind of slow motion. A piano cadenza leads to a quiet, intimate conclusion.
Rendering is Berio''s audacious assemblage into a performing version of those sketches Franz Schubert left for a last symphony. The endeavor required taking not only snippets from other late Schubert works, but not a few creative liberties of Berio himself. Hewing mostly to the orchestra Schubert used for his Symphony in B Minor, this is one delightful piece of surrealism, in the spirit and, occasionally even the style, of Gustav Mahler. "Deja-vu all over again," I believe Yogi Berra would have said.
This Week''s Quiz: Compete for prizes in CW''s 1998 Great Annual Classical Trivia Quiz; see CW of Jan. 1 for quiz questions, details; deadline, Jan. 16.Classical Calendar
Tokyo String Quartet
Thursday, 8pm. Chamber Music Society hosts world-acclaimed ensemble in string quartets by Haydn, Webern, Tchaikovsky. Sunset Center, San Carlos Street and 9th Avenue, Carmel. $15/General; $5/21 and under. 625-2212.
Santa Cruz Symphony
Saturday, 8pm. John Larry Granger conducts Weber''s Peter Schmoll Overture, Copland''s Billy the Kid, Schumann''s Piano Concerto in A Minor (featuring Aaron Miller), Ginastera''s Estancia. Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. $17-30. 429-3444.
Heldentenor Ben Heppner
Wednesday, 8pm. Carmel Music Society hosts world-renowned opera/concert artist with pianist Craig Rutenberg in lieder and songs by Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Richard Strauss, Ernest Charles, Oley Speaks. Sunset Center, San Carlos Street and 9th Avenue, Carmel. $40; $30; $15. 625-9938.