Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Landmarks (41)

Richard Ayres: No. 37b (2003/2006).  Never mind the neutral title — this is a work of symphonic dimensions and classical formal proportions. The composer — as far as I'm concerned the most technically gifted composer of our generation — is an exuberant orchestrator, inviting the orchestra here to do everything that an orchestra can do well, and the performances I've heard have uniformly showed the orchestras honoring the challenge with equal exuberance.  He has made that rare thing: new music that orchestral musicians love to play.  The writing for the brass and string harmonics is spectacular, with some passages for the trumpets in particular touching my heart with a characteristic drag that resembled something in-between New Orleans funeral marches and mariachi playing.  (In this score, Ayres has also raised the process of muting a tuba to a cooperative musical skill of the first art. )  No. 37b  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 never look backward, but are sometimes detoured by cul de sacs and hairpin curves, seizing that same cinematic impulse that was captured in the some of the best works of early 20th century neo-classicism.  Why isn't real movie music ever this good?

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