LPO reeds to suceed

Festival of Living Composers concert has soul in surround sound
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

By Chris Waddington

Contributing writer

If you're a fan of the clarinet, I hope you made it to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra's two-night stand at the Convention Center Theater this past weekend. The LPO's Festival of Living Composers included three jazz-themed commissions with significant parts for reed instruments, and climaxed with John Corigliano's "Clarinet Concerto."

Friday's concert matched riffing, percussion-driven works by Frank Proto, David Rimelis and Allan Zavod -- with established concert music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. The result was a swinging musical argument, one that underscored the long pedigree of jazz-classical fusions in American concert halls.

Both Gershwin's "Cuban Overture" and Bernstein's "Three Dance Episodes from On the Town," received crisp, articulate readings from the LPO. And both of these early 20th century works set a high bar for the contemporary composers.

Frank Proto cleared that bar with "Fiesta Bayou and Kismet," winning the jury prize on Friday: a commission to write a full-length orchestral work to premiere during the LPO's 2008-09 season.

In "Fiesta," Proto drives the music forward with jazzy rhythmic displacements and dissonant harmonies. He also creates wonderful settings for soloists: A muted trumpet floats on a cloud of strings and tolling from the vibraphone; a clarinet solo snakes amid tense, percussive harp plucking. Proto even leaves room for a long improvisation on double bass. And he knows something about rhythm, letting the orchestra find an organic groove that includes sudden silences, percussive blats, and throbbing counterpoint between tuba and bass clarinet.

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