Still, this concerto does deserve to be better known. I've witnessed half a dozen performances and can attest to its sway over audiences from Ventura to Boston. No other American piano concerto, I think, is its equal. Edward MacDowell's are historical potboilers. Aaron Copland's is an early work. Henry Cowell's is exciting but not so grandly encompassing. George Gershwin's is uneven. Roger Sessions' is worthy but not great. Elliott Carter's is impressive but impenetrable. Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" is more symphony than concerto. Samuel Barber's tunes can't hold a candle to [Lou Harrison]'s.
Harrison begins his concerto with a grand, Brahmsian gesture. Both composers were plump graybeards in their old age. Both looked back to the Baroque, but Harrison looked harder and here asked for a piano with an equal-tempered tuning that harks back to Bach's time. He called for a "selected" orchestra, namely instruments, such as strings and trombones, than can most easily adapt to this tuning.
The first half of Wednesday's all-Harrison concert went back and forth between the effusive and reflective sides of the composer. It began peculiarly with "Bubaran Robert" for piccolo trumpet (Barry Perkins) and Javanese gamelan (the Harvey Mudd College American Gamelan), which Harrison wrote as music to be played as an audience leaves a hall. Segerstrom is not a gamelan-friendly environment, but the piece might have proved a sensation played in the lobby, requiring us to linger as we left.