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Like Karlheinz Stockhausen and other European avant-gardists, the noted Italian composer Luciano Berio has extended the postmodernist search for new sounds by experimenting with the seating arrangement for an orchestra. His latest effort in this direction is Continuo, which was commissioned in 1989 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its centennial but is only now receiving its belated premiere due to last season's musicians' strike. For this half-hour piece the instruments are grouped unconventionally yet sensibly: several clarinets and a contrabassoon are placed next to the conductor and circled by the strings. Around the periphery are four clusters of instruments: two brass bands at opposite ends of the stage, and between them are two wind bands, each joined by a saxophone. The percussions are scattered throughout. (Berio's written score, I'm told, graphically depicts this pattern.) Berio says the overall architectonics is based on a grid of "recurrent modules"--a "continuous sound space" broken only by a procession of "windows." Musically, Continuo unfolds as a lighthearted, ethereal adagio. Though unintended, the piece can be taken, says Berio, as an homage to the post masters of Chicago architecture. CSO's head honcho and new-music apostle Daniel Barenboim conducts. The program's latter half consists of Brahms's Second Piano Concerto, also a monument of musical architecture. Yefim Bronfman will solo. Thursday, January 7, 8 PM, Friday, January 8, 1:30 PM, and Saturday, January 9, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666 or 435-8122.

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