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Old 10-01-2004, 02:12 PM   #1
Rocket Scientist
Join Date: Jan 29, 2004
Location: the urban northeast
Posts: 577
Icing is on a distinguished road
Default Elvis Costello on Symphony Hall (!)

Yes, that Elvis Costello!

In case you weren't paying attention , Elvis Costello, the famous pop singer, has now joined the ranks of classical composers with the release of his orchestral work Il Sogno, a ballet in three acts based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. He appeared on Symphony Hall with host Brian Atwood to talk about the work.

I thought the interview was pretty interesting. I was particularly happy to hear that he actually wrote the whole thing himself (with revision inspired by advice from Michael Tilson Thomas, who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the recording). For that he earns points in my book since many "crossover" artists do only a sketch of their work and have other more formally trained musicians work out the details.

Hearing the piece itself was a mix of likes and dislikes for me. I was impressed with the orchestration, which evinced the lush and deliacte textures of the impressionists. The melodies spoke true, but the harmonic content often seemed trite, reminding me of a cookie-cutter Hollywood soundtrack. Overall, I found the piece a little shapeless, as if it were composed of fragments pasted together without a larger plan. I'm sure there is one, but it eluded me. Maybe that's my fault.

I rolled my eyes at the jazz sections. Been there, done that (see Oswaldo Golijov's "Passion according to St. Mark"). That doesn't mean it can't work; I just disliked this attempt at it. If this kind of cross-genre integration is not artfully executed, it comes off as nothing more than gimmickry. It sounds like Costello saying "listen to how cool I am including jazz in my classical piece".

I suspect this piece would be very enjoyable when coupled with a ballet performance, as it is intended. But Costello said in the interview that he wanted it to be considered a piece of concert music by itself. For me, it was lacking a bit in that regard.

All that said, I did enjoy the experience. I didn't get to listen as closely as I would have liked, so perhaps this is not a fair review. I see that I can listen to the piece online in the "Music" section of Costello's web site. Perhaps I'll give it another try. I did really like the orchestration.

Thanks to Symphony Hall and Brian Atwood for bringing us this listening opportunity. I hope they will do it again with other living composers.

Did anyone else hear this? Opinions?
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Old 10-01-2004, 07:30 PM   #2
Rocket Scientist
Join Date: Dec 05, 2003
Location: Southeast
Posts: 665
gbjb is on a distinguished road

I did not hear it, sadly, but appreciate your thoughtful and though-provoking review. Given the tendency of Brian Atwood and Preston Trombly to delve into modern classical music on occassio, I am sure to hear this piece during the daytime in the near future. If so, I will add my thoughts here.
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