LAPO

Any lingering doubts as to the high place of Witold Lutoslawski among today’s
progressive composers can now be set aside. Thursday night the great Polish
composer led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of his own music, and
drew the kind of cheers from a Music Center Philharmonicaudience unheard in
those precincts for a new-music concert since — well, since Lutoslawski’s last
visit there eight years ago. What is this, about Lutoslawski’s bristling, uncompromising music that exerts
this power, even over a large Philharmonic Thursday-night subscription
audience, an aggregation not noted for its spirit of adventure? It’s a quality
hard to define, but it works its spell nevertheless. Lutoslawski ended
Thursday’s program with his Third Symphony, now eight years old. It is a
strange, wondrous work, lasting about half an hour, fearsomely difficult for
the players, who must not only play passages of demanding virtuosity, but must
also make certain decisions on their own as to how the music fits together.
Yet the music, for all its abrasive counterpoint and dissonance, has a built-in
power to communicate. Whether you follow its intricacies with a score, or let
the music wash over you, somehow its violence, its surges of irresistible
energy, come across. Against all the doomsayings about music’s future, here is
a testimony to the continued strength of the symphony as a musical form. The composer, a sure and eloquent conductor of his own music, chose a beautiful
program to illustrate milestones along his own career path. To begin there was
an early work, the 1958 “Funeral Music” in memory of the greatly admired Bela
Bartok, whose music had long cast its spell over the younger composer.Composed
entirely for string ensemble, the work did indeed evoke such deep mysteries in
Bartok’s music as the slow movement of the Concerto for Orchestra. Bartok again played a role, curiously enough, in the latest work on the
program, the 1988 Piano Concerto, written for Christian Zimerman and
beautifully played by him on this occasion. Are those bird-like chirpings at
the start a tribute to
Bartok’s Third Piano Concerto? And might the tendency of the work to snap in
and out of a somewhat romantic posture — with an echo of, say, Scriabin here
and there — also be a tribute to that attractive last work that Bartok did
not live to finish? The excursions into romanticism are brief and congenial. The concerto is a
clattery, upbeat work, lasting about 25 minutes, that ought to become popular.
If it lacks the fierce thinking of Lutoslawski’s earlier masterpieces, in
delivers its own treasurable message: the greatest among our geniuses are the
ones who know how to smile.