Length: 24 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd = alto flute), 3 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd = bass clarinet), contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (brake drum, large bass drum, pedal bass drum, 2 bodhrans, sizzle cymbal, woodblock, large whip, large untuned gong, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, crotales, hand bells, tubular bells, tuned cow bells, djembe, 2 darabukas or 2 large bongos, large saucepan), timpani, harp, cimbalom, piano, celesta, strings, and amplified solo saxophone
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere)
Growing up in Essex, the county just east of London, Mark-Anthony Turnage was dubbed "Wolfgang" by his school pals, so obvious was it that he was destined to become a composer. At seven years old, he had begun improvising his own versions of the pieces he was handed for piano practice. While still a teenager he began studies with composer and conductor Oliver Knussen at the Royal College of Music; he later studied with renowned American composer and jazz aficionado Gunther Schuller at the Tanglewood Summer Academy in Boston.
It was the prolific German composer Hans Werner Henze, however, who gave Turnage his first big break, inviting him to compose an opera under Henze's aegis for the Munich Biennale in 1988. The resulting work was the parable Greek, a cockney-English adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex updated to the Thatcher-era East End of London. The piece was an immediate success and was in many ways a watershed work, establishing qualities which permeate Turnage's music: lyrical, jazz-inflected melodic writing, a fearless use of dissonance, rapidly-shifting moods, and a gift for drama, particularly parody.
Turnage has also made a habit of taking inspiration from works in other mediums. His orchestral piece Three Screaming Popes is his reaction to a triptych of paintings by Francis Bacon. Drowned Out was inspired by a nightmarish vision of a drowning man from William Golding's novel Pincher Martin. The impetus for Your Rockaby comes from a monologue by playwright Samuel Beckett, Rockaby, an old woman's lullaby to herself. If this is a lullaby, however, it would be the prelude to a bumpy night.
At the work's opening, a single pitch crescendos to reveal an upbeat, angular Allegro. It is short-lived, however, and a series of episodes alternately explosive and sublime is unleashed. Characteristic of Turnage, the sense of both tempo and phrasing is free-flowing, almost sounding improvised. The saxophone's music is virtuosic, complete with pitch-bends and almost imperceptibly fast scale runs à la the free-jazz styling of Ornette Coleman.
Conga drums usher in a section reminiscent of Gil Evans' eccentric jazz band arrangement of Porgy and Bess, or perhaps a Lalo Schifrin film score. A cimbalom, a Hungarian hammered dulcimer and a favorite orchestral oddity in the music of Bartók and Stravinsky, ushers in a ponderous Adagio. A four-note motive (a note followed by its upper neighbor, a repeat of the neighbor, and a return to the first note) is introduced in the flutes and taken up by the solo saxophone. This motive dominates the ensuing lyrical section, buttressed by glassy strings, gradually increasing in energy and building to almost cartoonish blasts from the orchestra. A kind of (intentionally) stumbling dance episode with the saxophone wailing over bass drums and cowbells is answered by a gamelan-like series of chimes from the orchestra.
The pitch which opened the work returns and a long soliloquy closes out the concerto. This section must have been inspired, at least partially, by the composer's life-long love of the music of Miles Davis. This song-like presentation recalling the gentle lyricism of Kind of Blue is actually a melodic setting of the old woman's lullaby minus the actual words, from the Beckett text. This haunting final section reveals Turnage's mercurial ability to digest the content of other artists and transform it into his own personal, quite moving mélange.
Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli is an Emmy-nominated composer and has served as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Publications Assistant.