Symphony orchestras whose operations are extensive enough to support resident composers naturally enough favor those who will make maximum use of their sonic resources. So it is with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra resident composers Anna Clyne and Mason Bates, who play to the orchestra's durable strengths in brass and percussion in a pair of works recorded live (at different concerts) in 2012 and combined on this Grammy-nominated release. Both are programmatic works. The more specific is Bates' Alternative Energy, which depicts, with the help of sound samples unleashed from a laptop computer, energy sources from the past, present, and future. The first movement, "Ford's Farm," offers car-motor samples and ragtime and proto-jazz rhythms weaving through the orchestral fabric: the Ford referred to is Henry. The second movement is set in 2012 and samples a Chicago-area particle collider, while the third movement is set in 2112 in China as a nuclear reactor seemingly melts down. The last movement envisions a return to more natural ways and perhaps alludes to Messiaen's evocations of birdsong. It's a pleasing, colorful work even if its arcs are simpler than those of Clyne's denser Night Ferry, in the composer's words a "sonic portrait of voyages; voyages within nature and of physical, mental and emotional states." Clyne uses no electronics and perhaps gives the CSO brass even more to do. Conductor Riccardo Muti deserves a lot of credit here: his performances are in no way phoned in, and he has championed the idea of the resident composer in a way the few other conductors have done, and probably none of his stature. Recommended for those interested in the survival of the symphony orchestra as an institution (which ought to be a good many people).
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim