Michael Gordon’s new album Dystopia

February 25, 2015

WQXR/Q2’s Album of the Week
click here to stream the album and read their review

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.”

You can listen to Michael Gordon talk about Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in this podcast.

Click to peruse all 3 scores Click to watch excerpts of
Bill Morrison’s film Dystopia