"[symphony orchestra] no longer a mainstream medium"
"orchestra something that has been basically static since before the first world war; as a medium it hasn't evolved and composers have"
"I'm very much aware that if I was a different creature as a composer, I would certainly have called this piece "symphony"
"I feel very uneasy with using the word "symphony" to describe a four-movement orchestral piece ... it just seems that it's rather a debased sort of word ... I can't take it seriously any more"I won't take the time to transcribe it all. Most of the rest is simple description of the four movements that boil down to
- Quick, melodic, flight
- Slow movement, taking refuge somewhere
- Contemporary dance, equivalent to a minuet in a Haydnesque symphony
- Slow, sort-of passacaglia
Now the piece itself isn't bad at all. It received the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2000. But the first commentator on the clip makes an interesting observation:
But I want to talk more about Adès' remarks than the piece, at least in this post. He comes across as rather too pleased with himself and too ready to disparage both the orchestra itself as a medium, and the venerable composers who created the instrument and the genre of the symphony. The ironies are manifest. First of all, the interviewer, before Adès makes his appearance, carefully lists the mammoth percussion ensemble that has been added to the symphony for the piece by Adès. As he says, it includes six tympani, roto-toms, tuned cowbells, water gong, two pianos (one tuned a quarter-tone flat), washboard and other even odder instruments. The irony comes with Adès' remark that the orchestra hasn't evolved since before the first world war. It certainly has. A lot of twentieth century symphonies don't call for more than a late 19th century worked with. But a lot, like this piece, certainly do. And still others call for a lot less, in a return to the Classical norm, as in Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony. So Adès remark is mere preening: we composers have evolved, but the poor old orchestra hasn't. What he means by saying that is it no longer a mainstream medium, I have no idea, unless he thinks that rock bands and sequencers are the mainstream medium. But it is more preening, in any case. As is the remark about if he were a different creature he might have named the piece a symphony. But then he goes out of his way to demean the symphony as such, saying it is a "debased" word. Only to you, Tom, only to you!All the effort is put into the surface. What the music 'says' is merely the conventional clichée of alienation, chaos, disruption, nihilism etc. etc. that has become de rigeur in 'established modern music' for half a century by now. Music is not about interesting sounds but about something musically interesting to 'say'. The snippets of musical lines in the midst of 'nice, interesting sounds' betray a longing to write real music... which was still possible at the beginning of the last century. Ades is a convincing symbol of the conventionalized modern music scene.
What he writes is, of course, the very model of a post-modern symphony, all tarted up with exotic percussion to give it a fashionably alluring surface, but underneath, it fulfills exactly the format of a classical symphony, the only departure being the choice of a passacaglia for the last movement, something that Brahms also did, of course.