Over the past 40 years more or less, under one or another name, the Monday
Evening Concerts have served to instruct, thrill, irritate, bore and
fascinate audiences of various sizes, with their obsessive programs devoted
mostly to the outer edges of the musical repertory. It is doubtful, however,
whether many events in that series have been any more valuable, or have
drawn a larger and happier crowd, than the latest edition, this past Monday
at the County Museum.
The program was planned as a memorial to the Italian composer Luigi Nono, who
died earlier this year. Only one work by Nono himself was included . Filling
out the long and rewarding list were works by Nono’s teachers, Gian-Francesco
Malipiero and Bruno Maderna, and his colleagues, Luigi Dallapiccola and, as
the one living composer represented, Luciano Berio. Juan Felipe Orrego-
Benavente was the conductor, with a slendid group of local freelancers
including the soprano Dasietta {cq} Kim and the tenor Jonathan Mack.
What the program turned out to be, to its planners’ immense credit, was a
retrospective of a slice of contemporary musical history that has of late
been virtually forgotten. These Italian composers, Malipiero, from an older
generation, perhaps excepted, worked out their distinctive approach to the
twelve-tone style very much in vogue throughout Europe in the first decades
after World War II. They did so, however, on their own, very Italianate,
From Dallapiccola there came a string of quiet, elegant pieces full of
fearful melodic gambits that somehow combined with the lyrical spirit of
great Italian art of earlier times. The result, as two works on thie program
— the “Little Night Music” for instruments, and the “Four-Part
Divertimento” for soprano — clearly proved, was music of great charm, even
of wit.
If the Dallapiccola works were the highlight, the works of Berio (his
“Sequence” for solo oboe cavorting with a single sustained B on tape, and
his setting of James Joyce’s “Chamber Music”) and the gorgeously intricate
Serenade of Maderna were worthy program companions. Nono himself was
handsomely, if skimpily, represented by his quirky settings of Machado’s
“Songs to Guiomar.”
Of slighter challenge but no less charm were the two Malipiero works, “Four
Antique Songs” and, in its American premiere, the long visionary song “The
Celestial Kingdom.” Where has all this music been? There was a time when the
music of this small group of Italian pioneers figured frequently on concert
program. This program provided a resuscitation long overdue.
The singing, the individual instrumental work, the strong, committed
leadership of Orrego-Benavente: all were on a high level. Chalk it up as an
unquestioned triumph (also long overdue) for these variable but valuable
Monday Evening Concerts.