Continuing in his dual role as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director and inhouse composer, Esa-Pekka Salonen faced a cheering, full house at Disney Hall on Tuesday night after a night of monumental triumphs under both hats. No other American orchestra offers its subscribers so adventurous an ongoing new-music series as the Philharmonic’s “Green Umbrella” programs; no orchestra manages to fill every seat while playing offerings as challenging as this week’s program proved to be.
The program was conceived as a memorial to Italian composer (and frequent Philharmonic visitor and staunch friend) Luciano Berio, whose work over four decades mirrored changing, volatile spirits from the anything-goes “happenings” of the Aquarian 1960s to the sublime, meditative spirit of the final operas.
Berio’s “Laborintus II,” which closed the program, belongs wholeheartedly in the former category: a wildly shifting, wide-ranging journey, aloft on surrealistic poetry of Edoardo Sanguinetti, about nothing and everything. The words dart back and forth from one language to another, one state of mind to another. Singers and a speaker onstage go deliciously bonkers, echoed by a brass contingent, a few drummers and a small chorus. It’s one of those pieces that you hear without much comprehension, but never want to end.
Salonen’s own “Memoria,” a quintet for wind instruments rebuilt from music originally begun in 1982, is milder stuff but no less memorable. Its mood swings toward Salonen’s well-known passion for French musical coloration — Debussy, perhaps, Ravel even more so. Salonen’s background as a horn player shines through, and the eloquent playing of Philharmonic hornist Elizabeth Cook-Shen served as admirable alter ego.
In between came the “Continuum” of British composer Colin Matthews, a work of substance but, at least on one hearing, less charm than its program fellows. Elegant poetry of Eugenio Montale, strongly intoned by Janice Felty, seemed for the most part buried in an orchestration the texture of last week’s Yorkshire pudding.