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Music review: Green Umbrella concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 10, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Satisfied customers of the Green Umbrella series, and there are many, may recognize recurring programming patterns in the series. In the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s long-running, dedicated contemporary music series, we might hear 20th century masterpieces, as with Schoenberg’s classic “Pierrot Lunaire” last month, or world premiere-stocked “what’s next” brand programs. As witnessed with Tuesday’s “Green Umbrella” installment, “Focus on Eötvös,” the series also extends valuable spotlights to living composers deserving wider recognition.

Eotvos Renowned internationally but too rarely heard on the left coast, Peter Eötvös was last showcased hereabouts at the Ojai Music Festival in 2007 (where he conducted). He is a fascinating, complicated, engaging and even slyly funny musician, possibly poised to inherit the legacy as Hungary’s greatest living composer, with the passing of György Ligeti (although György Kurtág is also in that sweepstakes).

As heard through three pieces on Tuesday, Eötvös’ musical palette, not unlike those of Ligeti and Kurtag, moves in multiple directions at once, resisting easy dogma or description. He happily wanders through Modernism and music’s deeper history channels -- as with his imagined exchange between Mozart father and son in “Korrespondenz,” played here by the grand, game Calder String Quartet -- to compelling and freshly expressive ends.

Eötvös’ theater-related music background also filters into his sometimes wily imagination and re-inventive leanings in compositional settings. “Snatches of a Conversation,” conducted by Gregory Vajda (replacing the injured Lionel Bringuier), wields its edgy yet playful contemporary language, with soloist spots going to a double-belled trumpet (Brandon Ridenour) and a speaker (the charismatic Timur Bekbosunov), issuing half-absurd texts softly enough to lure our eavesdropping instincts.

Echoes of Hungarian music mark his “Sonata per sei,” given its U.S. premiere in Ojai. Written in tribute to Bartok during his 125th birthday year, the piece is a post-post-Modern tour de force, for three percussionists, a sampler keyboardist and, at the gripping sonic epicenter, twin pianists, roles filled expertly by Mark Robson and Bryan Pezzone.

Opening the evening, on a logically linked note, was music by the composer’s gifted protege and assistant, Lithuanian Vykintas Baltakas. His “(co)ro(na)” is a picturesque study in tensions and texture, with instruments producing high, antic fluttering sounds about the grounding force of piano, percussion and long tones on horn. Some strange and sonic tone poetry is at hand, with the bracing sounds balanced by suspended clouds of harmony. Like his mentor, this composer adroitly addresses both the now and the then.

-- Josef Woodard

Photo: Peter Eötvös conducting at the 2007 Ojai Music Festival. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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