Esa-Pekka Salonen’s pin-point conducting and a series of vibrant performances by the members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group once again proved that the most interesting survey of 20th century music to be found locally is under the Green Umbrella. Monday’s concert at the Japan America Theater also proved that less can be more — and more, certainly, can be less.
Salonen, tuxedoed and sporting the flaming-red bow tie that has become synonymous with the concert series, conducted several works on a program that ranged from early modernism a la Anton Webern to the ultracontemporary sonic seasonings of Roger Reynolds. The young maestro also played the role of spectator, as he heard the American premiere of his own composition “Second Meeting, for Oboe and Piano.”
The concert began with a performance of Webern’s 1913 composition “Five Pieces for Orchestra,” a series of meticulously crafted haiku for diverse instruments — one of which lasts less than 10 seconds. Their substantial impact relies so much on total tonal clarity that Salonen, upset with the noise produced by the hall’s air-conditioning system, ordered it shut down.
If Webern’s “Five Pieces” demonstrated how a composer can achieve the maximum with the minimum, Reynolds’ 1990 composition “Dionysus” was an example of not knowing when to say when. This raucous barrage of brass and percussion got off to a strong start, but an overall lack of invention belabored the work to the point of tedium.
There was nothing tedious about Salonen’s “Second Meeting.” This succession of intricate patterns and textural variations for piano and oboe proved melodic and sassy, while placing virtuosic requirements on both instruments. The performance was handled with dexterity and flair by pianist Gloria Cheng and oboist Carolyn Hove.
Salonen rounded out the program with Luciano Berio’s challenging “Sequentia X” and precise renditions of Pierre Boulez’s closely knit composition “Derive” from 1984 and Franco Donatoni’s 1986 work “Refrain.”