CLASSCOL

SUGGESTED HED: CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, NEW AND OLD Some music, like some great stage ‘n’ screen stars, never shows its age. Some music, like minor luminaries, begins to wrinkle right at birth. You never know. After as much Mozart as we’ve heard in recent weeks, due to the anniversary celebration that officially (but probably not actually) ended last Thursday, it would still be hard to remember any performances that put this music across as anything but fresh, innovative, as inventive as if newly composed. Not even the poorer occasions, the ones you remember the way you remember a stone in your shoe (Peter Maag’s conducting at the Bowl, for one of many examples) could erase the perpetual youthfulness in this music. Therein lies the Mozartian miracle: the phenomenon of a composer working in a time when musical form and style were fairly rigidly systematized, yet able through the clarity of his own vision to trick his way out of the system. The further miracle lies in the many ways Mozart found to work those tricks. Grasping the outlines of his style is no problem — for a 1991 audience, or even one in 1791. Against this familiar background, however, the Mozartian earmarks stand out in bold relief. Sometimes he chills a listener’s blood by merely wrenching the harmony into unexpected realms; the switch at the unmasking of Leporello in “Don Giovanni” is an ageless example. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a shift in tone; the slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto, which Richard Stoltzman played with the Philharmonic this past week, lingers in the memory because the melody demands of its soloist the tone of a human voice pure and haunting. There is nothing here that needs to be considered as very old music or very new; it remains timeless as a communicative act at its purest. These thoughts about aging and agelessness were brought on by a more negative experience. At last week’s Monday Evening Concert at the County Museum the composer-of-honor was Sylvano Bussotti, a major figure in avant-garde music both here and in Europe as recently as the mid-1960s. Bussotti, along with an ensemble of 12 musicians called Bussottioperaballet (one word), were flown here from Rome to give this single concert, the whole trip underwritten by several Italian cultural agencies here and abroad. The mind boggles at what this must have cost, and at how the money could have been better used. There was a style in vogue in the 1960s, whose earmarks were a kind of fragmented, insecure melodic line, lots of silences, an affectation of profundity through inscrutability, bits of straw passed off as diamonds. Anton Webern and John Cage were its progenitors; Lukas Foss (in town this weekend with his new Clarinet Concerto) was among its ardent disciples. Some of the music had a convincing shape that could pass for something close to a melody. The Italian contingent was especially good at that, the composers Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna along with Bussotti. They worked with pastiche and collage, and at least one work from that time– Berio’s Sinfonia — deserves its place in the repertory. Not much else does, I’m afraid. Bussotti came to town, charmed a couple of audiences with lectures, and brought a (blessedly) short program to the Museum, consisting for the most part of bloops and bleeps from this bygone style. More depressing was the fact that some of the music was quite recent: a noisy, incoherent pastiche of bird-imitations, all tossed together and performed as a 30-minute hullabaloo, that suggested that Bussotti was still mining the old veins. Here was music created during our lifetime, stillborn from the start, utterly devoid of anything like the energy that maintains the spark of life in Mozart’s music. Now it’s manifestly unfair, of course, to use the Mozartian miracle as a stick to clobber Silvano Bussotti, or any other composer living or recently dead. Yet the close comparisons that recent concerts have allowed do bring up this basic question about timelessness in music. Two nights after the Bussotti fiasco at the County Museum the EAR Unit came to the same auditorium with a program of works by Frederic Rzewski {cq}, with the composer himself on hand to play his new Piano Sonata. Again, it’s probably stretching a point to clobber the Italian innovator Bussotti with the American innovator Rzewski, yet the two evenings added up to a study in creative energy. From Rzewski we heard an evening of great, sprawling, untidy pieces. There was the Sonata, running on for some 40 minutes, cruising around some borrowed melodies that ran the gamut from a medieval folktune to “Three Blind Mice,” phenomenally difficult but marvelously dispatched by its creator. There were a couple of satiric pieces in Rzewski’s activist style, pastiches that kicked around familiar tunes and the cliches of modern advertising. Not everything came together, but everything had an energy that leaped from the stage. Even the Sonata, for all its length, held the crowd silent and spellbound. That wasn’t Mozart, either, but at least the music fairly glowed from its own energy level, which the performers caught and flung out into the hall. That’s what music is all about, or should be. Talk about energy! With 23 complete boxed sets of the Beethoven symphonies ensconced in the latest LP catalog, you’re justified in questioning the need for No. 24, but a few minutes with the latest entry — performances by Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on five Teldec discs currently selling for the price of four — might make you wonder if you weren’t hearing nine newly composed essays in the symphonic form at its most incandescent. Harnoncourt, Berlin-born and best known for a lot of fairly ho-hum Baroque performances using authentic period instruments, seems to have undergone a rebirth of the spirit. Last year’s “Don Giovanni,” and now this Beethoven set, are the work of an enkindling, energized musical visionary. The orchestra uses modern instruments, except for the brass players, who use old-fashioned valveless trumpets and trombones with their slashing, hard vibrance. That sound, best of all in the Seventh Symphony, will simply send shivers up your spine. So will the more eloquent passages, like the mysterious, half-spoken slow movement of No. 4, which Harnoncourt takes to the edge of silence. The vocal soloists in the Ninth are merely adequate; everything else about this set is extraordinary. Even if you already own the other 23, Harnoncourt’s new recording will usurp a place of leadership.

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