Braxton's contract with Arista during the '70s allowed him a unique opportunity to perform and record a number of projects that would normally have been, considering his financial state of affairs otherwise, impossible to even think about. The most monumental of these was the present set, a single composition spanning three LPs and performed by four student orchestras from Oberlin College. Unfortunately, the results don't live up to expectations. "Composition 82" is written in an extremely dry academic style with little differentiation of its course. It is quite conceivable that a performance by a more polished orchestra or, better yet, one made up of creative improvisers would be a substantial improvement. And one must keep in mind that the piece is designed to place the audience in a central position, surrounded by the orchestras, and thus able to hear musical ideas and fragments tossed back and forth from one group to another. Still, the musical material itself sounds routinely dreary and uninspired, as if Braxton was declaring that he too could write music as sterile and vapid as his European contemporaries. One might more charitably, however, write this effort off as an interesting experiment that failed; ideas appear herein that would bear far more beautiful fruit in later works, including the Ivesian notion of having individual members of the ensemble playing passages from different compositions simultaneously. There is one short section about 15 minutes into the piece where, unlike any other portion, the orchestras play and maintain an utterly gorgeous and complex chord for a minute or two. Buried within that deep structure seems to be a wealth of rich material that one would have hoped to be explored further. Alas, it is abandoned and left behind as an enticing prospect of what might have been. It's also amusing to note in passing the pieces Braxton was planning and the projected timetable for them; one, scheduled for 1988, was to be played by ensemble on three planets! Another, intended for 2000, was to span galaxies. Never let it be said that Braxton was short on ambition.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick