Carlos Kalmar

Aaron Jay Kernis: Symphony in Waves

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Chicago's Cedille Records, which draws on the talent and scenes of the City of Neighborhoods, may offer an ideal blueprint for classical music's revival. Releases like this document music-making that has succeeded with audiences in a specific time and place, and the label has highlighted performers who have a knack for finding contemporary music that resonates with audiences. The Grant Park Orchestra heard on this disc is the top-notch ensemble heard in the massive free concerts heard in the summer on Chicago's lakefront, and the two shorter Aaron Jay Kernis works at the beginning of the program, Newly Drawn Sky and Too Hot Toccata, were actually recorded live in the unusual shell in the new Millennium Park area adjoining the original Grant Park, and Newly Drawn Sky was written expressly for outdoor performance. Despite what were probably difficult performance and recording conditions, the orchestral strings maintain impressive control. It works beautifully, and you wonder why so few other contemporary composers have thought of this. Kernis has an eclectic, tonal style that has come as close as the work of any other composer to being both crowd-pleasing and rigorous. This trio of pieces showcases contrasting aspects of his output, which shows traces of influence from Mahler (the ultimate maximalist) as well as minimalism. In the kinetic Too Hot Toccata he draws on the motor rhythms of popular styles without resorting to a popular aesthetic. The major work on the program is the five-movement Symphony in Waves (1989), one of Kernis' most frequently performed pieces. It represents both waves in water and the more abstract waves of sound and energy, and it moves in broad strokes that appeal to a general audience, but do not manipulate the listener. The entire program is infused with the spirit of direct communication with the audiences that were in the room when the recordings were made. Not only Kernis fans, but also those in search of organic relationships between classical performing organizations and the communities in which they work, should hear this disc.

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