Alan Rich, the music critic of the LA Weekly, celebrates today his eightieth birthday. The original music director of Berkeley’s legendary KPFA, later a critic at the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, Newsweek, and New York, Alan is a listener of vast experience who has somehow retained the enthusiasm of a hungry novice. He's that rare classical critic who never sounds as though he’s intoning mumbo-jumbo from a spurious pulpit; he writes straight across, not from above. Here is a passage from one of his recent columns, on a significant premiere at the LA Philharmonic:
About Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Wing on Wing, which had its first performance in a one-time-only concert last Saturday, I will have more to say later; the Philharmonic has granted the rare indulgence of a repeat performance this weekend, the season’s final program. The work’s title comes from sailing; its hero is Frank Gehry, his idealistic and creative dreams, his passion for sailing and for designing beautiful concert halls. The setting is oceanic; the words of Gehry, straight or processed, mingle with wordless siren songs sung (wonderfully) by sopranos — Jamie Chamberlin and Hila Plitmann — who wander through the hall. This all seems to float on a billowing orchestra that laps up against Debussy now and then and even crackles with a few Sibelian icicles — without ever once sounding like anything but what it is: exhilarating new and original music by a consummate master of his orchestra and its surroundings.
Reading this, and witnessing MTT’s feats in San Francisco, I once more get that wistful feeling: if you want twenty-first- century orchestra concerts, you must go west. The New York Philharmonic’s latest fit of incoherence makes that ever so painfully clear. Anyway, many happy returns, Alan.