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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Daniel Hope’s Music For A New Century Misses More Often Than It Hits

By Norman Lebrecht on May 26, 2023

From the album cover

Music for a New Century (DG)


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The San Francisco-based New Century Chamber Orchestra, now in its 30th year, has a strong inclination for commissioning new work. A good thing, right? That depends on the work.

The four pieces presented here are not so much a mixed bag as a Walmart display assembled by AI. The third piano concerto by Philip Glass veers between nursery-rhyme puerility and elevator Muzak. I have an open mind about Glass, but this is the most trivial piece of his that I have heard in years. Its third movement is dedicated to fellow-minimalist Arvo Pärt, who has the right to feel insulted by its emptiness. The concerto lasts in all 36 minutes, hours, days, years.

Tan Dun’s double concerto for piano, violin, strings and percussion contains some Kurtag-like asperities and pentatonic folk melodies. With Daniel Hope and Alexey Botvinov as soloists, it mingles propulsive rhythms with meditative longueurs, and not entirely in a tedious way. The finale is pleasingly deceptive, going from bucolic torpor to a frictive, Chinese confrontation.

Mark-Anthony Turnage, who is incapable of writing a dull phrase, has turned in a 13-minute Lament for violin and string orchestra that amounts to a requiem for all that we have lost in the race towards virtual reality. To my ears, it’s a haven from the lemming world, with exquisite solos for Daniel Hope.

The fourth piece is a neoclassical overture by Jake Heggie. Heggie, however, is no Stravinsky. The overture is a dead loss. Turnage’s Lament is a must-hear, the rest is a can-leave.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.


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