it is a masterpiece of organic architecture, in which gleaming towers of brass emerge from gaseous clouds of instrumental activity. In a kind of reverse teleology of music history, the avant-garde engenders a new Romanticism.I'm not sure exactly what he means by the first bit as a lot is going on. What I hear above all is a loud, brief exclamation from the brass at the beginning and at intervals after that sounds oddly like the opening motif of the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven speeded up and inverted. I guess a lot of what we hear in between could be called "gaseous clouds". That second sentence? I have absolutely no idea of what that could mean. Teleology is a philosophical term referring to the direction of things towards an end or goal. A 'reverse teleology' would seem to be an incoherent notion. I suspect what Alex Ross is trying to say in "New-Yorker speak" is that he finds a kind of new Romanticism in Lutosławski, a withdrawing from the wilder edges of modernism, perhaps?
I don't hear that myself. Lutosławski seems to me to be a characteristically modernist composer with the fractured rhythms and tortured dissonances of his brethren. I like that recurring Beethovenesque snippet because it seems almost the only element that has some easily graspable significance. I'm sure there are all kinds of underlying complexities here, but if I don't hear something that makes me want to listen further, then I probably won't listen further.
The problem I have with modernism is that the only thing they seemed interested in was the syntax of music: how to put it together in the most intricate fashion. They seemed terrified of the semantic of music, what you might call the 'content'. Now I know that I often say that music is not a language and has no semantic content as such, but it can have a sort of 'feeling' content. When Ross, later on in the note refers to "Beethovenian fury" he is referring to the feeling content of Beethoven's music which many hear as having a kind of driving impetus. Similarly the music of Shostakovich often has a quality of gripping the listener, projecting a strong feeling content.
Lutosławski? Well, I don't hear a lot of that. But I do find that recurring snippet interesting. Here is the first part of his Symphony No. 3. What do you hear?