these three live performances will introduce Julian Anderson to most US listeners, and given the absence of notice at amazon, I doubt it will be a major event. Decades ago British audiences were reluctant to step into the 20th century beyond Vaughan Williams and Elgar, later adding Arnold and Walton but never abiding the Second Viennese School or even much Stravinsky. thanks to the BBC, this has changed; the roster of contemporary music at the summer Proms is heavy with modern music and world premieres. Anderson, now 46, hasn't risen to the status of Ades, Birtwistle, Turnage, and Maxwell Davies, but he's gotten as far as being composer in residence of the London Phil. since 2010.
Vladimir Jurowski has said in interviews that if he had his way, the LPO season would be entirely contemporary music; brave but rather callous words if he implies disrespect to the great composers of the past. One imagines that this disc, which is unlikely to sell well, bows to his predilections, as past releases of Turnage did. Here's the program of three works:
world premiere recording
Vladimir Jurowski, cond.
The Crazed Moon
Vladimir Jurowski, cond.
The Discovery of Heaven
world premiere recording & performance
Ryan Wigglesworth, cond.
Fantasias, in five brief movements, relies a great deal on twiddling and chirping sounds, which have a long tradition, of course, from the Beethoven Pastorale Sym. to the manybirdsong-decorated scores of Messiaen. Since my copy is a download, I don't know if Anderson had birds in mind; there is a restless chipping away in this music that irritated me after two or three movements. One can do worse than say, as the Guardian critic did, that the music is "full of spectacular effects, textural sleights of hand and lightning-fast changes of direction." Pointillism comes to mind as an analogy to painting, although I was at a loss to see a picture among the dots.
The Crazed Moon, in one 14-minute movement, comes from an earlier period - it was premiered in 1997 - and is said to owe much to "French spectralism." It was inspired by the passing of a friend who died young. To be pragmatic, audiences take what their given when it comes to contemporary music and then give a quick reaction before blanking out what they've heard and moving on. Contemporary composers, with few exceptions, operate in a coterie of like-minded specialists. Here Anderson exploits, some deep, growling tones flecked with single notes from the harp and other bits of color. As is often the case, the title, taken from a poem by Yeats, gives little hint of the music itself - nothing here seems crazed or moon-like, although the static pace and gauzy spectrum could be called nocturnal and elegiac. Reading the notes would be a help, naturally. eventually the music becomes more manic and percussive, so crazy and lunatic might apply. As with Ades, the overall experience is fairly easy to appreciate as orchestral sound, if without comprehension.
The Discovery of Heaven, in three movements of roughly 7 min. each, feels texturally different from the previous works but rather the same, too, in that texture and color are all an ordinary listener is likely to grasp. Theme, variation, melody, diatonic harmonies, and so on are either absent or well buried beneath the bright, shifting surface. Generally, compositions survive on the strength of having a memorable personality. As with much else in contemporary music, these skillful, assured works need a great deal more exposure before anyone will know if Anderson has a chance to endure.
Like the Guardian critic, I'll take the safe way out, give four stars to acknowledge how well the whole thing is done, and try to grasp what I can as I listen.