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Comments from ACO’s May 24, 1998 concert at Carnegie Hall

This concert offered new music by four younger generation New York composers. Derek Bermel's newly commissioned Voices for clarinet and orchestra received its world premiere with the composer as soloist. "Bang on a Can" co-founder Michael Gordon was represented by his Romeo. Todd Levin brought his fond memories to life in Swirl. Tan Dun's multi-media Red Forecast, featuring soprano Susan Botti and video by Mike Newman capped-off the concert in its U.S. premiere. If there is a common element to the music heard on the program, it probably comes from the fact that popular culture figures into each of these composer's works. All grew up a part of the television generation and choose to make use of pop sounds and sensibilities in their music. The musical results as interpreted by our audience were decidedly mixed:

"I am really of the opinion that there should be a difference 
between classical music (music that effects you viscerally AND intellectually),
and pop music, amplified, repetitive and all essentially THE SAME!
"I don't think any of these pieces are likely to be performed 
at a concert 50 years from now--Mozart they ain't!"
"a lack of genuine ideas--heard it all before"
"The concert offered a wide range of music from quiet to forceful; 
disconcerting to peaceful; exhilarating to lyrical."

Michael Gordon: Romeo

Michael Gordon's Romeo combined a Rock beat with a literary theme:

"The Michael Gordon piece was most effective musically and emotionally--
especially in its integrating Rock and Classical."
"A Timeless Piece...Shakespeare being performed today."
"On the Job at the Corporation"

Todd Levin: Swirl

We received some far-ranging comments about Swirl. The work featured two narrators seated on a sofa in front of the orchestra. One narrator asks about the other's favorite memory. The second, narrator (the composer) relays a story about childhood family trips to northern Michigan, and the swirl pattern that fish made in the water as they swam away. This narration, repeated several times over a slowly building orchestral fabric of repeated phrases, enchanted some listeners, frustrated others, and puzzled still more:

"I loved Swirl"
"Detroit Techno in an orchestral setting!"
"Truly Dreadful: an exercise in the composer's imagined self-importance."
"Repetitive monotony"
"Todd fantasizes about his psychologist."
"Go Away..."
"Swirl was a repetitious memory."

Derek Bermel: Voices

The newest work on the program, Voices was commissioned by ACO with the composer performing as clarinet soloist. The title of the piece clearly made reference to the clarinet's part which frequently imitates human vocalization, something that Bermel picked up from his love of jazz. To these vocalizations, the orchestra responds, "goading me, or bullying me, or laughing at me," according to the composer. Many enjoyed the conversational style, the humor and flash of Voices:

"A great dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra. 
Derek Bermel is an outstanding artist."
"An American sweep, imagination and it's not academic"
"Voices has unusual humor and drive."
"Humor and vivacity"
"A substantial unified work"
"Funky grooves and hip rhythms"
"Funk and a half"
"Lyrical, rhythmic, enjoyable, complex sounds, fun"
"The Talking Clarinet"
"I think clarinetists will add this to the standard repertoire."

Still there were some who were skeptical, or at least cynical:

"Out takes from The Pink Panther meet Streetcar Named Desire"
"The ACO Live in Las Vegas!"
Voices should be called "Hey Mistah, ya wanna buy a bridge, cheap?"

Tan Dun: Red Forecast

"A spectacle!", "Timeless," "a new direction," and "very powerful," were typical of many of the comments we received about this work for soprano, video, and orchestra. But one dissenter called it, "pretentious baby-boom pseudo-spiritual Muzak for deadheads." For one thoughtful listener, the music compelled the comment, "I strongly feel that there is a unity of all knowledge with nature. Also we not only see with our eyes and hear with our ears, but our mind plays a very important role also. I enjoyed Red Forecast. It is quite innovative and had a spiritual quality which pleased me very much. The voice of Susan Botti helped in this respect."

There were many who found the video component of the work exciting and fresh:

"The mix of video, vocal and instrumental was effective in Red Forecast."
"The multi-media was a big surprise. 
I've seen lots of videos by visual artists so seeing and
hearing a piece by a musician comes from a different perspective
and Tan Dun used color effectively."
"As a look back in history, Red Forecast was most engaging."
"The visuals helped the music so much."
"Historic video showing historic moments with music."
"Images and music together punctuate our 60s montage memories."

Still, some found the visual element of Red Forecast less than successful:

"I thought the visuals were distracting--
and the piece itself too ambitious."
"I was surprised that I liked Tan's piece so much (musically, not visually)"
"Don't make us watch VH1 at a concert!"

Others commented on the unusual positioning of the musicians on stage (some musicians set with their backs to the audience) and around the concert hall (soprano soloist and conductor moved freely around the concert hall):

"The rearrangement of the players in the orchestra was surprising."
"Perhaps in 50 years using the stage in such an open, 
flexible way will be normal. It looked wonderful up in the balcony."

Many audience suggestions for an alternate title for Red Forecast picked up on the historical tumult of the times explored in the work:

"What fools these mortals be!"
"Maoist Hootenanny"
"The Life and Times of a World Then"
"Was + Is = Will Be?"
"Gratitude and Hope"

Pondering the question of whether Red Forecast was likely to be performed frequently in the future, some suggested:

"Might be performed again for staged concerts, TV/Cable broadcast or the Internet."
"Red Forecast is easily the piece on the program that would 
most likely be performed 50 years from now. The work is mature,
complete, and a brilliant representation of an identifiable
era of composition."
"Red Forecast will perhaps have value as a documentary such 
as Virgil Thomson's Plow that Broke the Plains, or Parade by Erik Satie.

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