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Music review: Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group at Walt Disney Concert Hall

October 20, 2010 | 11:45 am

Downtown New York came to downtown Los Angeles as three composers from the new music collective Bang on a Can took over a Los Angeles Philharmonic Green Umbrella concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall Tuesday night.   

Moreover, there is good reason to put Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang under the same umbrella, as it were.  All three are boomers in their early 50s who grew up in the eclectic age of the phonograph, and their music heard here was solidly rooted in the minimalist aesthetic. Indeed, throughout the evening, one was struck more by their similarities than their differences.

The most stimulating piece, hands down, was Wolfe’s merrily grooving vehicle for four trap drum sets, “Dark Full Ride.”  Veterans of rock and jazz concerts know that the self-indulgent drum solo is usually the time to hit the beer lines, but Wolfe avoids all hints of boredom by exploiting countless sonic possibilities from the hi-hat cymbal set and keeping the pulse going relentlessly, thrillingly. The four drummers, captained by the remarkable Joseph Pereira, drove it hard and well. 

Lang’s re-setting of the lyrics of the Lou Reed/Velvet Underground record “Heroin” is one of several recent, reverent attempts to lead iconic moments in rock into the realm of so-called high art (another is John Corigliano’s song cycle, “Mr. Tambourine Man”).  Lang’s approach is one of gentle melancholy -– cello arpeggios (Gloria Lum) and sustained voice (Theo Bleckmann) accompanied by a Doug Aitken video of mostly prone young actors -– worlds away from the record’s laconic two-chord exuberance.  

A New Music Group string orchestra led by Jeffrey Milarsky essayed Gordon’s “Weather One” -– an always-engaging series of neo-baroque patterns and cascades with an oddly-swinging gait -– and Lang’s “Pierced” (a West Coast premiere), where angular gestures from the solo cello, piano and percussion slammed against the rustling, tremulous strings. Wolfe’s “Early That Summer” for string quartet kept introducing different ideas to repeat, one after another, before some unity was established near the end.  Minimalism, however transformed in any number of accents, was always the dominant language.

 –- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Vocalist Theo Bleckmann and cellist Gloria Lum perform "Heroin" Tuesday night. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times



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The sparse crowd attending the Bang on the Can concert seemed divided into three parts: their fans (mostly young), the Jewish community and older subscribers. Julia Wolfe's music, as the reviewer notes, was the creative zenith of the concert. Nothing heard in the string pieces came close to matching Steve Reich's "Music for Eighteen Musicians" composed thirty-five years ago. Why wasn't the master himself, the Bang on the Can mentor, invited for this series? The reworking of these familiar processes was a poor substitute for the original. Skip the hype next time


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