This evening, Roland Kluttig conducted a brilliant program with the hr-Sinfonieorchester: Elliot Carter: Three Occasions, Earle Brown: Cross Sections and Color Fields, Richard Rijnvos: Times Square Dance, and Richard Ayres: No. 37b.
Having the Carter and Brown played side-by-side by an orchestra that has the chops in ready reserve to go beyond reading the scores and offers reasonable rehearsal time to actually make real music was instructive. I have never heard orchestral works by either composer played as well, and when well-played, the differences in the achievements of the two composers were a revelation. Although the three Carter pieces were models of a certain style -- which might be called academic, with each note probably the product of reason and craft, each line appearing to do just what a well-made line should do, and the ensembles holding those lines together (or letting them come apart, as is often the case) with considerable clarity -- the pieces just didn't sound, with chord after chord just falling flat with a lack of resonance and character. Further, the amount of work given to the musicians in order to realize their notated parts suggests inefficiencies that are a scarce return on the investment.
I have not had a good handle on Brown's music, until this evening. I had played a number of pieces from Brown's early Folio, in an ensemble including the composer, in Hartford many years ago, and as much as I enjoyed, indeed treasured, his company, the music never really came together and he was far from clear about how we were to navigate the graphic notation. But tonight, the orchestra and conductor were both tightly together -- with sonority after sonority just taking off in terms of resonance, beating, and overtones popping out of the texture -- and flexible enough to place the extemporaneously-selected elements into a lively and intense sequence. The orchestra that played the Brown was cheerfully musical and this was due to the formal efficiency of the score, more than a few extraordinary sounds, and the clear direction from Kluttig. There are weaknesses in the piece -- the sequencing is in the conductor's hands, so there is some inevitable delay in ensemble articulation and the effect is usually monolinear -- but it was as if it were an entirely different orchestra from that which had played the Carter.
The News of the Day, however, was Ayres No. 37b (2003/2006) which -- never mind the neutral title -- was symphonic and of classical formal proportions. The composer, a gifted and exuberant orchestrator, invited the orchestra to do everything that an orchestra can do well, and the orchestra honored the challenge with equal exuberance. The writing for the brass and string harmonics was especially good, some passages for the trumpets touched my heart with a drag that resembled something in-between New Orleans funeral marches and mariachi playing. Ayres has also raised the process of muting a tuba to a musical skill of the first art. Ayre's score is a more than a bit of a madcap adventure, comic in genre, but with the entire range of comic expression in use, from droll to intense and from gentle to slapstick. A comic symphony is naturally more classical than romantic, and the rapid cuts and transitions, always moving forward, if sometimes detoured by cul de sacs and hairpin curves, seize that same cinematic impulse that was captured in the some of the best works of early 20th century neo-classicism. In fact, I kept asking myself: Why isn't real movie music ever this good?
I agree Ayres is a genius and Brown beats Carter any day. He was just more musical than old Elliot.
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