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Esa-Pekka Salonen and S.F. Symphony explore Ligetis music online / San Francisco Chronicle

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The San Francisco Chronicle's Joshua Kosman writes……The San Francisco Chronicle's Joshua Kosman  writes……The music of the Hungarian-born modernist composer György Ligeti came into the public consciousness with the 1968 release of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” for which director Stanley Kubrick had used some of his scores for the sound track. Just as Strauss’ tone poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra” became associated with the film’s big black monolith, the buzzing sonic nebula of Ligeti’s choral masterpiece “Lux Aeterna” seemed a perfect fit for the psychedelia of space travel.

So there’s a certain historical aptness to the imagery in “Ligeti: Paradigms,” the trippy new online release from Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony. The 40-minute video, which features “Lux Aeterna” and two other Ligeti works, goes live Tuesday, Jan. 18, on SFSymphony+, the orchestra’s free streaming service.

There’s a lot packed into this project, including a glimpse of Salonen’s interest in tech, AI and the rest. But the primary rewards are musical — an all-too-rare chance to hear Salonen and members of the orchestra and the Symphony Chorus dedicating themselves to the work of one of the 20th century’s most distinctive and innovative creative voices.

“Lux Aeterna” represents one of Ligeti’s key uses of the technique he dubbed “micropolyphony,” in which distinct musical strands combine into a densely woven mesh. The piece produces a powerful effect even in the concert hall; in a state-of-the-art recording, with the voice of each individual singer separated and painstakingly situated in an acoustic spatial map, the results are little short of thrilling.

A member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus in “Ligeti: Paradigms,” streaming on SFSymphony+Photo: Courtesy SF Symphony

The two other pieces also thrive on Ligeti’s carefully constructed compositional processes. The rarely heard “Ramifications” counterpoises two string ensembles, each a quarter-tone out of tune from the other.

“Clocks and Clouds,” finally, shows the influence on Ligeti of early minimalist music — particularly Terry Riley’s pathbreaking 1964 composition “In C,” whose hammering rhythmic pulse is echoed almost explicitly in the opening strains. In a sumptuous blend of instrumental textures and choral voices, Ligeti contrasts the two modes of the title, setting the mechanical techniques of the one against the blurry, impressionistic character of the other.

For this multimedia project, Salonen drew on the contributions of the AI scientist Carol Reiley (one of the Symphony’s eight Collaborative Partners) and media artist Refik Anadol. One can take on faith that this collaboration was fruitful without quite feeling that it has added much to one’s experience of the music.

An AI learning algorithm was evidently harnessed for the creation of the “Lux Aeterna” video, but it’s not entirely clear that the result is more interesting than what a human creation would have done with the same input. And although the cloud imagery that Anadol crafted for “Clocks and Clouds” is beguiling enough, it largely offers a visual counterpart to what the music is already telling us.

CLICK HERE FOR “Ligeti: Paradigms”: Available to stream starting 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18. Free.

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