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Composed: 2010
Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (4th = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 soprano saxophones, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, brake drum, side drum, sleigh bells, tambourine, tam-tam, tom-toms, tubular bells, and whip), harp, celesta, piano, bass guitar, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (U.S. premiere, Los Angeles Philharmonic co-commission)

Originally a wind player, Mark-Anthony Turnage wrote his first orchestral piece at the age of 20, while studying with Oliver Knussen. He honed his orchestral abilities under Simon Rattle as Composer in Association with the City of Birmingham Orchestra, and has become known for the color and flair of his orchestral compositions. He also has a great love of jazz, and has collaborated with many jazz musicians in his works, including John Scofield, Peter Erskine, Joe Lovano, and Dave Holland.

In Hammered Out, however, the influences come more from rhythm-and-blues, as Turnage explained in an interview. “This is a driven, obsessive work throughout – it’s a Beethovenian idea of exploring just one thing as far as it can go, like in my piece Scherzoid. It is very motoric and the main middle section is underpinned by a regular 4/4 dance pattern, though not in a minimalist sense, which I can’t do. The percussive hammering comes from my interest in James Brown and ’70s jazz funk, influences that can be heard right back in Blood on the Floor, but this is my most R&B work to date. The dance in the middle is almost like multi-tracking against a repeating rhythmic pattern, so it will be a real challenge to get tight playing, particularly from the brass, so things don’t go awry.”

The hammering becomes literal, where the composer specifies an auto brake drum to be hit with a hammer, and bass guitar and two saxes reinforce the pop sound. The tense, edgy opening is said to foreshadow Turnage’s forthcoming opera Anna Nicole (about the late Playboy model / troubled heiress).

There are other pop references. Co-commissioned by the BBC, Hammered Out had its premiere at the Proms last August from David Robertson and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. (Turnage was also featured at the Cabrillo Festival that month, as part of the celebrations of his 50th birthday year.) In a pre-concert talk Turnage mentioned “a few hidden things” in the piece, and many audience members and bloggers – though few classical critics – were struck by resemblances to pop diva Beyoncé’s 2009 hit “Single Ladies.” “Turnage told me he put the Beyoncé reference in as a nod to his young son, Milo, who loves dancing to ‘Single Ladies,’ but it’s more than just a quote. Indeed, the riffs and rhythms of the pop source infect every aspect of the orchestral work,” Tim Rutherford Johnson wrote on The Guardian’s music blog. There are now remixes and mashups on the Internet with Beyoncé’s hit superimposed on Turnage’s work.

– John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.