Weekend whirlwind, round 3: The multi-cultural music of Lou Harrison
The Post-Classical Ensemble has a great track record for creating vibrant programs and festivals that go beyond the surface and beyond the routine.
The most recent example, a venture with George Washington University that wrapped up over the weekend, was called "Sublime Confluence: The Music of Lou Harrison."
I'll well understand if you're wondering Lou who? -- Harrison's amazing music doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. This American composer's world-embracing style, greatly influenced by Indonesian gamelan music and concerned with opening up fresh vistas of tuning and structure, has an appeal that classical music organizations, ever hoping to attract younger and more diverse audiences, should be championing.
Saturday night's concert at GWU's Lisner Auditorium included tantalizing clips from the documentary film "Lou Harrison: A World of Music" by Eva Soltes, and a colorful prelude of traditional Javanese gamelan music from the Wesleyan University Gamelan Ensemble.
The California-based Harrison, who died in 2003, found himself liberated, in a way, by exposure to those Javanese sounds and idioms. To very cool effect, he used musical elements from the East and West in several pieces that create remarkably satisfying effects.
Post-Classical's program included a movement from the Concerto for Piano and Javanese Gamelan from the mid-1980s; soloist Lisa Moore, playing on a specially tuned grand, delivered the score in bright form with the Wesleyan group.
Chris Gekker, on piccolo trumpet, also artfully negotiated "Buraban Robert" with the gamelan ensemble, moving about the hall to deliver his contributions. And the GWU Chamber Singers did a fine job with the hypnotic Four Strict Songs from 1955.
But the main event was ...
the Piano Concert from 1985, a work scored for totally Western instruments and tuning, yet richly resonant of the gamelan world.
In remarks to the audiences, Joseph Horowitz, artistic director of Post-Classical, described this as "the most formidable concerto for any instrument written by an American," and I wouldn't argue with that. But it's got to be the most fun, too.
Messiaen-like, the concerto has an explosive joy at times, as in the startling, perpetual motion "Stampede" movement. There's also a spiritual element, as in the meditative Largo. Above all, there's that "sublime confluence" of multicultural elements coming together logically, brilliantly, meaningfully.
Benjamin Pasternack, one of the great talents on the Peabody Conservatory faculty, gave an awesome performance at the piano, as impressive for the sheer technical stamina and security as for the dynamic phrasing. He was well-matched by the Post-Classical Ensemble, fluently and sensitively conducted by the organization's music director, Angel Gil-Ordonez.
Baltimore ought to have the chance to experience this concerto and hear it so persuasively delivered. For that matter, Baltimore ought to make room, in a variety of ways and venues, for a lot of Harrison's fascinating music. I think we've got some catching up to do.
PHOTO OF LOU HARRISON FROM EVA SOLTES' DOCUMENTARY 'LOU HARRISON: A WORLD OF MUSIC'; PHOTO OF BENJAMIN PASTERNACK COURTESY OF PEABODY INSTITUTE