Michael Gordon's newest album, Dystopia, which includes Rewriting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (plus an iTunes exclusive, Gotham), includes some of his most ambitious orchestral projects to date. These works are monumental statements of Gordon’s passion for pushing the modern symphony to its extremes.
The title piece, Dystopia, a city symphony for Los Angeles, was commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This live, uncut recording of the world premiere was conducted by David Robertson at Walt Disney Concert Hall in January 2008.
The second work, Rewriting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, is also presented in its live and uncut form from the 2006 world premiere at the Beethovenfest Bonn, where it was performed by the Bamberger Symphoniker, conducted by Jonathan Nott.
Gotham is Gordon's city symphony for New York; it is performed here by conductor Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra, recorded live at the Roundhouse in London in February 2012.
Both Dystopia and Gotham are part of an ongoing collaboration between Michael Gordon and filmmaker Bill Morrison to capture, as Gordon explains, "the aura of a city through music and imagery." Their third city symphony, El Sol Caliente, was commissioned by Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony and premiered this past January at the New World Center in Miami Beach.
In Dystopia, Gordon explores "the gray areas between harmony and dissonance, where pleasure meets pain. I thought about the sound of a phonograph record speeding up and slowing down — that point where you hear the beauty of the music but also its altered state." In his review ofDystopia's premiere, Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times) called the piece "a drunken fugue of the future."
In a similar fashion, Gotham explores New York, the city where both Gordon and Morrison live. "One doesn't live in New York City because it is beautiful or an easy life. Those aren't the reasons. It's intense, it's noisy, it's exciting, it's dirty. It really juices you up. In Gotham, we took a fresh look," Gordon says.
Gordon found equally jolting possibilities in Rewriting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, for which he took one musical idea from each of the original movements of Beethoven's work and transformed the classical themes with his own post-modern take.
Commissioned by the Beethoven-Bonn Festival and premiered by the Bamberger Symphoniker in 2006, Rewriting Beethoven's Seventh Symphony filters one of the classics of the symphonic repertoire through the lens of the 21st-century. Not looking to improve on the work's timeless quality, Gordon imagined "what if someone unknowingly used this material in the course of writing his or her new work?"
"Beethoven's brutish and loud music has always inspired me," he explains. "At the time it was written, it was probably the loudest music on the planet. The raw power of his orchestral writing burned through the style of the time."
David Lang's music is featured in the upcoming film, Youth, by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino — 2014 Oscar-winner for best foreign film (The Great Beauty). David scored the new film (about a contemporary composer), and one of his recent pieces 'just (after song of songs)' is the music for the official trailer! It was commissioned, premiered and released by the Louth Contemporary Music Society and is performed by vocalists Trio Mediaeval and Garth Knox's Salterro Trio.
“[Anthracite Fields] captures not only the sadness of hard lives lost…but also of the sweetness and passion of a way of daily life now also lost. The music compels without overstatement. This is a major, profound work.”
Cited by the committee as "a powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the 20th Century," the work premiered at the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia last April followed by a performance at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL in May. It was met with rave reviews. The New York Times wrote, “In Ms. Wolfe’s polished and stylistically assured cantata, the overall coherence of the musical material helped her expressions of outrage to burn cleanly and brightly.” The Philadelphia Inquirer praised the piece for creating “an alternate universe.” Anthracite Fieldswill be released on Cantaloupe Music this September, in a recording that features the Bang on a Can All-Stars and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street with Julian Wachner conducting. The next performance will be in March 2016 with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
"My aim with Anthracite Fields,” Wolfe writes, “is to honor the people who persevered and endured in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region during a time when the industry fueled the nation, and to reveal a bit about who we are as American workers."
Named after the technical term for the purest form of coal, anthracite, Anthracite Fields was written after Wolfe did extensive research about the coal mining industry in an area very near where she grew up in Pennsylvania. She writes, "In some ways the piece is a return to my small town Pennsylvania roots. In looking north – the left turn onto route 309, the road-rarely-taken – I delved into a local history.”
Anthracite Fields is written in five movements:
Foundation: The singers chant the names of miners that appeared on a Pennsylvania Mining Accident index 1869-1916. At the center of Foundation is text from geological descriptions of coal formation.
Breaker Boys: In the center of this movement are the words of Anthony (Shorty) Slick, who worked as a breaker boy. The interview is taken from the documentary film America and Lewis Hine, directed by Nina Rosenblum. Hine worked for the National Child Labor Committee and served as chief photographer for the WPA.
Speech: The text is adapted from an excerpt of a speech by John L. Lewis, who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America.
Flowers: Flowers was inspired by an interview with Barbara Powell, daughter and granddaughter of miners. In one interview Barbara said, “We all had gardens,” and then she began to list the names of flowers.
Appliances: Even today coal is fueling the nation, powering electricity. The closing words ofAnthracite Fields are taken from an advertising campaign for the coal-powered railroad. In 1900 Ernest Elmo Calkins created a fictitious character, a New York socialite named Phoebe Snow, who rode the rails to Buffalo. It used to be a dirty business to ride a train. But with the diamond of coal her “gown stayed white from morn till night, on the road to Anthracite.”
Anthracite Fields was commissioned through Meet the Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program, which is made possible by generous support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Helen F. Whitaker Fund. Additional support was made possible through the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia Alan Harler New Ventures Fund; The Presser Foundation; The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage; the National Endowment for the Arts; The Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.