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Music review: L.A. Phil's new music series Green Umbrella at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 16, 2011 | 11:14 am

Balance and mischief held sway, to impressive effect, in the latest installment of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new-music-geared Green Umbrella series, Tuesday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Benjamin_Shwartz_Credit_Jennifer_Hui_Bon_Hoa_0 Program-wise, the evening was neatly, even symmetrically divided between two mid-career composers very much alive, and lively in musical thought. Swedish Anders Hillborg and South Korean-in-Berlin Unsuk Chin presented works involving enlightened playfulness, wry humor, cultural cross-filtrations and expressive uses of sound.

This evening’s conventionality-goosing flavor emerged directly, in Chin’s opener, “Allegro ma non troppo,” both absurd and meditative. Expressively and physically flexible percussionist Joseph Pereira moved from artfully crumpled paper to an elaborate assemblage of “actual” percussion instruments, dialoguing with a supple palette of electronic, virtual sounds.

Further intellectual circus act action came through Hillborg’s captivating recent “Vaporized Tivoli,” given its U.S. premiere here, crisply realized by a 16-piece ensemble conducted by Benjamin Schwartz. Accessing the definition of “Tivoli” as amusement park, the composer’s musical scheme summons kinetic, antic energy and childlike attention diversions, though hovering and nattering around narrowly defined pitch ranges. After a raucously rhythmic climax, the piece airs out into microtonal vapor, to a hypnotic end game.

Chin’s “Cantatrix Sopranica –- “co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group and given its U.S. premiere in 2006 –- proved the concert’s grandest and wildest gesture. Citing it as an example of her ability to “set text” would be a half-truth: Chin engages in neo-dadaist efforts in “upsetting” text, drawing connections between words, musical deeds and the cathartic delight in nonsense. Chin uses (and abuses) such disparate sources as dadaist poetry, China’s Tang dynasty, gibberish and a crazed operatic mash-up (“Con tutti i Fantasmi”), with countertenor Michael Maniaci and sopranos Kiera Duffy and Audrey Luna gamely indulging in a comically theatrical pile-up.

For contemplative relief, Hillborg’s string quartet “Kongsgaard Variations” spins out from a simple Beethoven quotation, swiped from a wine bottle label (the piece is dedicated to winemaker John Kongsgaard and his wife, Maggy). As a whole, the work unfolds with luminous chords and a disarmingly languid elegance.

-- Josef Woodard   

Photo: Benjamin Shwartz. Credit: Jennifer Hui Bon Hoa