British-born composer Bernard Rands started out studying in Italy with modernists Luigi Dallapiccola, Bruno Maderna, and Luciano Berio, then moved westward as his academic career took him to London, New York, Princeton, and San Diego. His musical disposition has also shifted over the years, from the continental avant-garde to electronic music to colorful neoexpressionism. Arguably the 58-year-old Rands, who now teaches at Harvard, reached his creative peak ten years ago, when his song cycle Conti del Sole won a Pulitzer. His paean to the sun shows a composer enamored with European modernist tradition: its texts are taken from musings by poets such as D.H. Lawrence and Boudelaire; its overall tone is hyperromantic yearning by way of Schoenberg. The same can be said of Le Tambourin, written in 1984, which leads this CSO program. The source of inspiration here is van Gogh; the title refers to his paintings of a disreputable tavern frequented by artists and writers. A number of other van Gogh works are also “transcribed” in this six-section piece, which is meant to convey the emotions–rage, anxiety, love, joy, depression–the painter must have experienced. Rands’s highly praised talent for tone painting should be apparent in this local premiere. The dean of postwar modernism, Pierre Boulez, will conduct. The bottom half of the bill features Bartok’s psychologically astute and musically rich one-act opera Bluebeard’s Castle, sung by Jessye Norman and the up-and-coming Hungarian bass Laszlo Polgar, also under Boulez’s direction; the collaboration between the maestro and a soprano in her prime should alone be worth the price of admission. And don’t skip the preconcert chats by Boulez, one of the most convincing spokesmen for 20th-century music; they start one hour before showtime. Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Christian Steiner.