Monday, April 17, 2006

From Finland, Magnus Lindberg's Contemporary Music Feast

By Jeremy Eichler
From the New York Times - March 27, 2006

Magnus Lindberg, the plucky 47-year-old Finnish composer, is a major presence in Europe, though his music is heard too rarely in the United States. His best works fuse intellectual rigor with a sensual richness; he draws from the brainiest compositional techniques of the postwar decades but keeps the music's stitching on the inside. Listeners are confronted with swaths of bright primary colors, sometimes-velvety timbral detail and fast-breaking instrumental lines of great virtuosity. These essential qualities came through in the all-Lindberg program performed at Miller Theater on Friday night as the final installment of this season's excellent Composer Portraits series.
In recent years, Mr. Lindberg has been painting in more subtle strokes, but his catalog includes its fair share of aggressive music, especially from the early years. Friday's program fittingly began with "Linea d'ombra" (1981), a playfully caustic snarl of a piece that Mr. Lindberg, in comments from the stage, described as a "Here I am" work written just after he completed his studies at the Sibelius Academy. Clearly, Mr. Lindberg was eager to escape from the giant shadow cast by the namesake of his conservatory, and accordingly the piece opens with a primal yawp shouted by the players onstage and ends with whispered nonsense syllables and metal chains being dragged on a tabletop. In between, the work grabs the ears with its happy chaos of jumpy conversation among percussion, flute, clarinet and guitar. You could already sense the composer's gift for taut syntax and the mischievous twinkle in his extreme instrumental writing.
The teeming "Clarinet Quintet" (1992) uses none of the shock tactics of the earlier work but is a marvel of tightly interwoven construction and brilliant virtuoso filigree, especially for the clarinet. This is no accident. Over the years Mr. Lindberg has enjoyed a close working relationship with the outstanding clarinetist Kari Kriikku, for whom he wrote the quintet as well as the adrenaline-laced Clarinet Concerto released last year on the Ondine label. Mr. Kriikku's playing sets an impossibly high standard for Mr. Lindberg's music, but Joshua Rubin, the clarinetist on Friday night, still conveyed the liberated, open-highway feel of the solo lines, albeit with reduced tonal intensity.
"Related Rocks" (1997) and "Duo Concertante" (1992) made up the second half of the program and offered still more faces of the composer's work. The former is a voraciously eclectic piece, pooling two pianists, two percussionists and electronics, and revealing Mr. Lindberg's ear for minimalist gesture and rock-style rhythmic energy. "Duo Concertante," the largest work on the program, spotlights clarinet and cello soloists (Mr. Rubin and Katinka Kleijn), their lines finely echoed and refracted by the eight-piece orchestra. Timothy Weiss conducted the International Contemporary Ensemble, whose members also served as the versatile and exacting house band for the evening's chamber works.

Lindberg fans have more to look forward to this summer when Mostly Mozart presents the world premiere of his Violin Concerto, on Aug. 22.

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