LAPO

At New York’s Carnegie Hall last month, Andre Previn had led the Los Angeles
Philharmonic in Steven Stucky‚Äôs “Angelus” and William Schuman’s Third
Symphony, and was scheduled to do so again this week at the Music Center.
Later discovering that he needed more time to prepare an upcoming program in
Vienna Previn, with his renowned curious sense of priorities, dropped his Los
Angeles commitment. It was caught by the Philharmonic’s associate conductor
David Alan Miller, to his greater glory.
Half a century separates Schuman’s big, exuberant symphony from Stucky’s
empty little sound-bite, and the paradox of which is the more modern of the
two is too obvious to belabor. Schuman’s symphony lasts just over half an
hour; it is a strong, thoroughly original work with a particularly handsome,
elegiac slow section at the start of the second of its two movements. It’s
intricacies are not all that difficult to untangle; even Carlo Maria Giulini,
whose taste for American music wasn’t profound, conducted it here quite
successfully.
The Stucky, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Los Angeles
Philharmonic, has not improved on second hearing: ten minutes of clever
orchestral sound effects purporting to represent different kinds of bells,
harmless music meant to be forgotten five minutes after it’s over. Stucky has
written better music, most of it for smaller performing groups. His message
seems to be, however, that you write for orchestra these days with extreme
caution, that the reaction you solicit from your hearers is “that wasn’t so
bad.”
Many composers today, apparently, harken to that message, writing these
inocuous works for orchestra as if Jesse Helms might show up in the front row
arm-in-arm with the chairman of the orchestra’s board.. Schuman, full of
beans at 30, obviously worked from no such message, which is why his
marvelous symphony, 50 years later, still sounds fresh and inventive.
Both works drew out the best in young Miller, in big, extroverted
performances nicely balanced and outgoing. Indeed, his poised, nicely planned
reading of the Schuman ranks among his finest achievements here.
Viktoria Mullova was the evening’s soloist, the splendid young Russian emigre
whose mission here — at this appearance and the last, two years ago — seems
to take on the hoariest chestnuts in the violin-concerto repertory and make
them sound fresh. Last time it was the Tchaikovsky; this time, the
Sibelius.
Mullova is all musician. She does not bob or weave as she plays, nor flirt.
Barring, at the most, two squeezed notes in the finale, her technique was all
but flawless; even in the amorphous expanses of the Sibelius, she found more
than mere technical challenge.
Starting with the opening solo, which she shaped into a kind of rhapsodic
improvisation over the buzzing and grumbling of the orchestra, she projected
the work as something fresh and vivid. You forgot the actuality of the work
as one of Sibelius’ more tawdry creations, and listened as if to a piece of
real music. The crowd stayed to cheer.