The world premiere of a significant orchestral composition by a renowned composer always creates a great deal of interest. This was certainly the case last week when Poland’s preeminent composer Witold Lutoslawski conducted the debut performance of his Symphony No. 4.
Slight of frame, elegant in stature, and amazingly spry for his age (he recently turned 80), Lutoslawski led a full program of his own compositions. As well as the new symphony, he conducted performances of “Mi-parti” (from 1976) and the dramatic Cello Concerto (of 1970), with cellist Lynn Harrell as the featured soloist.
And while each performance was superbly crafted in its musicianship and temperament, and Harrell delivered a dynamic performance of the Cello Concerto, the focus of attention was clearly on the new symphony.
The Symphony No. 4, a little more than 21 minutes long, is designed for full orchestra, with emphasis on winds and brass, plus a battery of percussion instruments which include chimes, bells, vibraphone, xylophone, marimba and celesta.
Throughout the work Lutoslawski develops a rich harmonic language expressed in a wide variety of instrumental configurations. And while the work is essentially atonal, its sensibility is filled with a romantic lushness.
Only time will tell whether this new symphony is a great composition. But, for the L.A. Philharmonic, this concert represents a high point in their relationship with this unique composer.