It's interesting to compare this Clarinet Concerto by contemprary Swedish composer Anders Hillborg with the immortal Clarinet Concerto by Wolfgang Mozart. Both works challenge the virtuosity of the clarinetist and his ebony steed to the maximum, and both are products of the highest musical intelligence. There the similarity ends, and contrast takes over:
The polychrome ornamentation of Mozart's rococo palace versus the stark concrete-and-steel of Hillborg's suspension bridge over chaos. The order imposed on your memory by melody versus the instantaneity of acoustic fragmentation. The effortless confidence of the one versus the tense anxiety of the other. Gemütlichkeit versus Ängst.
Hillborg is not an extreme modernist. The Clarinet Concerto still works in a frame of harmonic expectations, consonance intensifying dissonance. It's the emotional colors of this piece that make it powerfully new - a searing pleasure, if you will. The clarinet has a lot of passagework all alone, almost an icon of modern social alienation, and when the orchestra enters, it's crushing in its intensity. The work seems to echo the three-part structure of the classical concerto in subliminal ways. For instance, in the central section, the clarinet explores its full range of timbres and pitches contemplatively over a nearly sub-audible timpani rumble. I actually thought of the Mozart adagio when I heard it. I'd wager that most listeners would be more comfortable with the Mozart Concerto than the Hillborg, but Mozart's world is gone and Hillborg is the voice of ours. If the comparison leads you to wonder whether life has been moving in the right direction, you won't wonder alone.
The second composition, Liquid Marble, is essentially a giant slalom of three-octave glissandos. Don't listen to it while you're standing on a cliff or at the rail of a ship. It's also an example of searing beauty, post-emotional in its sonic athleticism.
The Violin Concerto is Hillborg's most complex and also most acclaimed composition. It's a massive piece, and I haven't quite figured it out. I find it both thrilling and daunting. Anna Lindal, the violinist, pulls new sounds out of her fiddle in almost every bar. This is a piece of music I'll want to hear many times, but never while eating or tending my garden or doing anything but listening intently.