5 August 2004

Notes: Seven (2004), Tony Banks

Cashed in a b-day gift card and got the new Sonic Youth, Philip Glass's 3rd Symphony (1995), and this CD of Tony Banks' recent orchestral work.

It's a suite of seven pieces for orchestra, orchestrated by Simon Hale and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Mike Dixon.

I've only listened to the first four pieces, but I can't recommend this CD. The music is well-crafted, but very tonal and unsurprising. He had written movie music before, and that style of writing is present here in his orchestral suite. Unlike some movie music which wanders in repetition, because it so often can, the Banks' pieces progress and develop their musical ideas. Themes are presented, contrasted, restated with variation and modulation. Unfortunately, the basic harmonic language is too limited.

It's very easy to write tonal music, and that ease can be too often communicated to the listener as boring. I don't want to sound too harsh, both because there were some very nice sections and because music always requires several hearings.

This CD brings up many questions. How are these compositions different from those he wrote in Genesis? Specifically "One For The Vine," "The Fountain of Salmacis," and "Firth of Fifth." Do the pieces not work for orchestra (although that was his passion while composing these)? Compositions always work in chamber or solo arrangements, is an orchestral sound too big for these? Ravel, once he began orchestrating his works, could never go back to solo piano writing. That didn't diminish his piano works, nor did it mean that the works weren't appropriate for orchestra. They could go either way. Bach arranged for modern orchestra is interesting but flawed. The over-full sound washed out the clarity of the pieces originally written for chamber orchestra.

Tony Banks wrote the liner notes. In them, he explains how the project began:

This time I wanted to make sure that the pieces ended up being a true representation of what I had originally written, even though I knew I was going to need the help of an orchestrator. I therefore recorded fairly detailed demos of the pieces, which I then gave to [orchestrator] Simon Hale.
And what problems he encountered with recording:
Having worked for over thirty years in the studio recording with Genesis and others, I was unprepared for the method of working in this situation. In the time the [rock] group would take to have perhaps got their instruments working, the orchestra is expected to have done a finished recording of maybe twenty minutes of music of which they previously had no knowledge. At the same time we were making frantic changes to the score, both to correct typographical errors and more importantly to improve parts. ... After recording four pieces and listening to them many times afterwards I realised I would have to start again.

What he's done--moved from rock to orchestral composer--is wonderful, and on Naxos 21st Century Classics, too. But I had hoped for music more akin to Walter Piston or Ned Rorem than that of Vaughn Williams.

[ posted by sstrader on 5 August 2004 at 11:17:04 PM in Music ]