Recent Orchestral Highlights
A selection of new and recent orchestral work now available from the Wise Music Group.
A Big Impression
Large-scale orchestral works by leading composers of our time
Composed during lockdown, Vers le Silence by Hans Abrahamsen is the composer’s first new purely orchestral work since Nacht und Trompeten written nearly 40 years earlier. The 28-minute work is an exercise in reduction in which each of the four movements moves from music of dense complexity to crystalline chamber-like textures. 2020 saw the completion of Abrahamsen’s Ten Pieces for Orchestra, a series of ingenious re-workings of the composer’s piano pieces undertaken intermittently over the course of six years. Performed complete, the Ten Pieces last around 40 minutes.
A drive along the California coast provided the inspiration for Vista, the latest orchestral work by Kaija Saariaho. The Finnish composer deliberately omits several of her ‘signature’ instruments and emphasises the woodwind section in the 25-minute diptych, which takes her work in a new direction.
In the words of its composer, Second Symphony by Bent Sørensen opens with a scream and closes with a farewell song. The 35-minute work features on an album of Sørensen’s music that also includes the Grawemeyer Award-winning L'Isola della Citta, released on the Dacapo label earlier this year.
The two movements of Gemini by Esa-Pekka Salonen are inspired by the mythical twins Castor and Pollux. Like their namesakes, they share musical DNA but have very different characters. The composer describes Pollux as ‘slow and quite dark in expression’, while Castor is ‘mostly hyperactive, noisy and extroverted’. The movements can also be performed individually.
An Atlas of Deep Time by John Luther Adams grew out of the composer’s desire ‘to hear the older, deeper resonances of the earth’ and offers thought-provoking perspective on the evolution of our planet. Adams divides the orchestra into six instrumental ‘choirs’ which surround the audience in this gradually evolving work, each of whose 42 minutes corresponds to 100 million years of the earth’s existence.
Two recent orchestral works by Anna Thorvaldsdottir build on the Icelandic composer’s reputation as one of the most original voices working today. The core inspiration behind CATAMORPHOSIS was the fragile relationship we have with our planet. The Guardian praised the piece for its ‘Sibelius-like evocation of the fragility of nature and its impending destruction’ as well as its structure which gradually unfolds over a 20-minute span. ARCHORA, which premiered at this year’s BBC Proms, ‘centres around the notion of a primordial energy and the idea of an omnipresent parallel realm’ and is a dramatic study in orchestral sonority.
Shorter orchestral works
Whether opening a concert or providing a foil to familiar repertoire, these shorter orchestral works reflect the melting-pot of styles and influences in today’s music.
Memoria by Donnacha Dennehy is a reflective 12-minute work whose hidden theme gradually emerges at its conclusion. It is dedicated to two of the Irish composer’s most important mentors, Louis Andriessen and Hormoz Farhat.
Recollections of childhood visits to North Africa inform Trances by Tarik O’Regan, a fast-paced and percussive exploration of the music of the composer’s youth and heritage imagined through the haze of memory. The work’s final movement, Recalcitrance, can be performed separately as a concert overture.
A glittering concert-opener, Bright Idea by Nico Muhly is a celebration of the orchestra, which opens with a single note performed by one player and ends with the same note performed by the whole ensemble. One Line, Two Shapes features a similarly elegant formal design; in this case a slow-moving chorale which is punctuated by arresting chords derived from the same musical material, to haunting effect.
Parallel Universes by Britta Byström takes its inspiration from theories about the multiverse proposed by physicist Max Tegmark. In response, the Swedish composer creates a musical multiverse in which seemingly disparate elements coexist in enchanting harmony. In recent years, Byström has become known for her ‘walks’ series of short concert pieces, which fuse her own music with that of other composers, among them A Walk to Beethoven.
The Ring of Fire is the name given to both the volcanic belt around the equator and the effect created during a solar eclipse. In The Ring of Fire and Love, Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen draws together these natural phenomena with the theme of childbirth, effortlessly fusing the universal and the personal in a way that has become a hallmark of this composer’s style.
The frozen, labyrinthine world of Tarjei Vesaas’ novel The Ice Palace was the starting point for Helen Grime in Limina. The 12-minute piece is characterized by a constant sense of transformation and urgency, as if leading the listening through the palace’s icy chambers.
The music of JS Bach continues to provide as much inspiration for composers as it does solace for listeners. In Fog – now available in a version for chamber orchestra – Esa-Pekka Salonen weaves a fantasy around the E major Prelude from Bach’s Partita in E for solo violin. For Betsy Jolas in Letters from Bachville, the impetus was biographical, the nonagenarian composer recalling the works that have inspired her as she imagines roaming the city of Leipzig where Bach once lived.
Mari by Bryce Dessner is an eighteen-minute concert opener for large orchestra, dedicated to Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic and named after the Basque goddess of the forest, Mari. It is a is a reflection on the pastoral, and it weaves together several textures and fragments of material from historic works through a kind of abstraction and altered context to something new, most audibly a melody from the first movement of the New World Symphony by Dvorak and textures from the 4th movement of Mahler’s sublime Symphony No. 3.
From the stage to the concert hall
Music from opera and ballet now available as concert works and suites
Eurydice by Matthew Aucoin was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and Los Angeles Opera. The 18-minute Eurydice Suite takes us through the action in four movements. Drawn from the same myth, the ballet Orpheus Alive by Missy Mazzoli was first performed by the National Ballet of Canada, from which the composer has created the two-part Orpheus Undone for orchestra. L'Enigma di Lea by Benet Casablancas opened at the Liceu Opera Barcelona in 2018. Scored for soprano and orchestra, his Canti ed Estati di Lea, captures the most ecstatic moments of this tale of love, grief and passion. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen by Hans Abrahamsen was premiered at the Royal Danish Opera in 2019. Abrahamsen’s Three Scenes from The Snow Queen captures the fable’s magical setting in the composer’s unique style.
State of Play
A selection of orchestral works that engage with issues that define our era
Scenes from the Wild by Cheryl Frances-Hoad is a song cycle for tenor and chamber orchestra based on Diary of a Young Naturalist by 15 year-old Dara McAnulty. The 70-minute piece charts the changing of the seasons seen through the eyes of the young author, whose close inspection of the natural world reflects not only on our relationship with nature, but also each other. The piece was winner in the Large Ensemble category of the Ivor Novello Composer Awards 2022.
Similar themes are taken up in another orchestral song cycle, Earth by Aaron Jay Kernis. The first movement, told in the words of Kai Hoffman-Krull, is the story of a farmer’s relationship to the land, while the second takes a more universal approach in a setting of Wordsworth’s poem Tintern Abbey.
The title of Pictures from a Sinking City by Maja S K Ratkje came from a newspaper the composer was reading at the time concerning the flooding of Venice. It provided the perfect metaphor for this 18-minute portrait of the precarious balance between beauty and destruction that can be applied not only to the climate emergency but also to many other human behaviours.
Sarah Kirkland Snider describes Forward Into Light as ‘a meditation on perseverance, bravery, and alliance.’ The piece was inspired by the American women suffragists, its composer imagining their inner battles and the struggle between hope and doubt, inspiration and exhaustion, faithlessness and resilience.
From her home in California, Gabriela Lena Frank has witnessed devastating wildfires at first hand. Contested Eden is her response; a two-movement work that is in part an alarm call but also a celebration of survival.
Bush(fire) Requiem by William Barton and Véronique Serret is a similar call-to-arms from Australia. Scored for digeridoo, violin solo, narrator and orchestra, the piece features words by Barton’s mother Delmae M. Barton in a celebration of the Australian landscape and urgent reminder about humanity’s role in its preservation.
Introducing Ross Edwards
Australian composer Ross Edwards (b. 1943) is the latest addition to the Wise Music Group’s international roster of composers. One of Australia’s best known and most performed composers, Edwards’ orchestral catalogue includes five symphonies, as well as concerti for violin, oboe, alto saxophone and shakuhachi.
Please see our special feature about his orchestral work: The Orchestral Works of Ross Edwards - Wise Music Classical
The above selection represents a small fraction of the works for orchestra to be found in the Wise Music catalogue. To browse the complete catalogue and refine your search by duration, theme, gender, nationality and many other criteria view the catalogue.
Please also see our feature New works for soloist and orchestra.