A brilliant little overture, "To the Point," by Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon opens this varied and intriguing new release by Philadelphia's award-winning ensemble, Orchestra 2001. The ensemble, founded in 1988, continues to provide a major focus on the best new music of our time. "Orchestra 2001 occupies a place of such importance that a classical music community without it seems unimaginable" (Peter Dobrin, The Philadelphia Inquirer).
If Lincoln centre is midtown music (the audience) and Columbia is uptown music (the elites) then this music lays squarely at the renovated Starbucks on the corner of 85th street –with an order of a tall fat-free latte, no foam, to go. This smart alec crew of mostly, highly educated, Philly musicians have taken upon themselves to bridge this gap (between mid and up) that for the last 50 years, has accumulated a mile high heap of repertoire (complete with Pulitzer endorsements) to the point (no pun there) that one more piece and the whole anthill will come tumbling down. I sincerely wish all the people connected with this CD have stable jobs to bring stability in there crazy, balls-to-the-wall artistic endeavors. I could only imagine theory students today studying with these radical, Byronesque trailblazers and the kind of anti-establishment ideas that start to foment in their minds. I often could imagine, being at say, a 2001 orchestra concert and not only be thrilled with the players continuing the long stolid legacy of orchestral concerts (and their rightful center as the musical center of any, say, world-class city like Philly), but I also would know the next day my General Motors stock would be up, the trains were on time, and my wife/husband wasn’t cheating on me. Oh my God, I hope she isn’t. Is he?
The CD opens with the overture ’To the point’, by Jennifer Higdon. It’s
I to flat 7 progression amid Hanson/Hindemith harmonies and counterpoint making it reminiscent of English film composers of the 50’s 60’s, though is also has a pinch of the Tippett double string orchestra piece. Such solid command of all music’s’ technical warehouse make her a shoe-in for a Pulitzer—wait, she won a Pulitzer!!
The second cut is Andrew Rodin’s Concerto for Violin. This is a trip through time, via the sound world of Alban Berg, up and down, and back again, the streets of Vienna circa 1910-20. The grayness and uncertainty in the harmonies unveil perhaps an
individual searching for help --perhaps Sigmund Freud is free this afternoon. The lost, meandering quality is also similar to what one finds in over-ripe scores for 1950’s low budget sci-fi movies. Not to help matters, the violin part has a certain continuo quality—like a TV playing in the background of a meeting between a composer and his accountant (the orchestra part).
The next piece is clearly the most adventurous work-- Gunter Schuller Concerto da Canera .The 1st movement opens with thick multi-timbral, long sustain chords, reminiscent of Ligeti’s “Atmospheres’ or the later spectral music school. Shards of melody float by, like so much space junk, which lead into a more agitated second movement. The democratic spreading of pitches throughout the orchestration, webernesque silences, mysterioso undulations, followed by expressionistic climaxes puts it clearly in the post 1945 serial camp, It is a style popular with tenured composers in universities from 1960 to 2011 which usually leads to invitations to other universities and guest appearances in the odd summer festival. (To be fair, the history of music is awash with great music that is a backdrop for institutions, and social functions in the popular venues of the time. But maybe in the early 21thC. , there is a perfect storm where this is not the case).
The 4th track is clearly the most conservative--Romeo Cascarino’s ‘Blades of Grass’.
If one shuts one’s eyes, this is a 90’s TV movie of the week soundtrack with English horn obbligato part. It is historically sandwiched somewhere between Copland and Barber—but sounds vaguely unaware of either of their existence.
The final track is. Jay Reise’s ‘’The River Within’, a Violin concerto played by Maria Bachmann. It has the tradition three movements exploring a smorgasbord of styles—which prompts the question---is this a serial soviet era composer?
Alas, no, he’s living in the heart of Philly, goes to Flyers or Eagles games, and maybe even buys a hot dog there. This curious concerto artifact has crystallized a sound akin to a Bartok /Schoenberg /Shostakovich Pan-European travel guide-- and if you listen to this music carefully, you will see there is lots to know about Europe between 1920 and 1950. Although the music is so steeped –drenched-- in the classical tradition, it was difficult to know why a movement ended when it did, other than it was expressing the composer’s radical distain for any convention of traditional musicality. It is this kind of firebrand that gives new music a bad name with the more gentile concertgoers; although I’m sure he is somewhat of an enfant terrible in the eyes of his peers. Go Eagles Go!!!
Submitted on 06/24/11 by Mike Maguire