On this day in classical music: Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg was born in Helsinki in 1958. He first received recognition for two works completed in 1982: “Sculpture II” and “Action-Situation-Signification.” The clarinet concerto of 2002 has become one of Lindberg’s most popular scores. During the 2009-10 season, Lindberg was composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic. For his inaugural concerts as the orchestra’s new music director, Alan Gilbert premiered Lindberg’s “Expo.” Listen to Lindberg discuss his 2010 work titled “Kraft.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SswOOiNoStU
On this day in the musical theatre: The 1968 musical “Hair” was given a full-scale revival in 2009 and ran for 15 months. It closed in 2010. Very much a product of its era, with plot elements centering around the draft, recreational drugs, sex, nudity and friendship, the 2009 revival of “Hair” put to rest any concerns about how it would play four decades after being written. Galt MacDermot’s score, which featured lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, threw off numerous hit singles, from “Aquarius” and “Easy to Be Hard” to “Let the Sun Shine In” and the driving title song. The 2009 production won a Tony Award for best revival. The 2009 Broadway revival cast performs “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine In” on the David Letterman show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPLg5gA-9ck
Musical musings: Anthony Tommasini covered Alan Gilbert’s first concert as music director of the New York Philharmonic in September 2009. This “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast featured the world premiere of Lindberg’s “Expo.”
(Gilbert) began with the premiere of “EXPO,” an urgent, inventive 10-minute piece by the Philharmonic’s new composer in residence Magnus Lindberg. The last time the orchestra included a new piece on an opening-night program was in 1962, when it inaugurated Philharmonic Hall, as it was then called. Leonard Bernstein conducted the premiere of Copland’s “Connotations” on that occasion. Opening night is supposed to be a gala event. But what could be more festive, in a deeply musical sense, then beginning the season with a new piece.
Yet as Mr. Lindberg, a pragmatic composer, surely realized, this occasion did not warrant a gnarly, intimidating modern piece. Not that “EXPO” was some easygoing crowd pleaser. It is an intense, complex and elusive piece, yet somehow celebratory.
After a whip-crack from the percussion section to get things (perhaps including the Gilbert era?) going, the strings break into an extended passage of softly bustling figurations and busyness. Then, without warning, the brasses and woodwinds play a deceptively somber and harmonically murky chorale. And the piece continues to alternate quick bursts of strangely ominous fiddle-faddle with contrasting episodes of sonorous, thickly chromatic harmonies.
The musical language is quasi-tonal for long stretches. The contemporary edge comes from the thick layering of textures to make each chord, however grounded, diffuse. Mr. Lindberg is Finnish. But I picked up bits of Americana in his piece, including Coplandesque modal harmonies and hints of “Rhapsody in Blue” in a passage for muted trumpets and soulful clarinet.
Mr. Lindberg has said that he wanted the piece to capture the sense of expectancy that Mr. Gilbert’s coming to the Philharmonic represents. But the expectancy that this thick-textured, restless music captures is unsettling. The future looks enticing, but who knows? So let’s embrace the adventure.