Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)

Started by Brewski, May 02, 2007, 07:24:31 AM

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Brewski

Last night I heard an absolutely stunning performance by the New York New Music Ensemble of Eight Songs for a Mad King, so I thought this would be a good excuse to start a thread on Peter Maxwell Davies.  This concert reminded me that I don't really know much of his music, although the NYNME did his Vesalii Icones a few years ago.

The concert was an excellent, all-British program, but the Maxwell Davies just blew the roof off the second half.  The singer was soprano Haleh Abghari, a regular presence on the contemporary music scene here, and an intriguing choice since the part is written for a male voice.  But it didn't matter in the least.  If anything, the gender switch only enhanced the sense of unease and craziness. 

Just to give a flavor of the performance: at the start, she was escorted out and tied to a chair, straitjacket-style, with a gag.  As the lights went up, she lifted her head, gazing out into the audience and looking totally, chillingly and completely mad.  The vocal part gives her opportunities to sing, speak, whisper, chatter, rasp, whistle and pretty much anything else she is capable of doing.  This part really needs a singer who can be a bit unconventionally theatrical, to say the least, and it was one of the most virtuoso performances I've seen in a long time.

The musicians did a fantastic job (conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky), given that they are also required to dance and interact somewhat with the vocalist.  Maxwell Davies' score uses what sound like fragments of Renaissance dances here and there, mixed with freely atonal elements, but the focus remains squarely on the voice.

Peter Maxwell Davies' website

--Bruce
"I set down a beautiful chord on paper—and suddenly it rusts."

- Alfred Schnittke

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Maciek


Hector

The man's an idiot, Master of the Queen's Musick and an idiot. Oh, I already said that.

Can't say it enough times though: the man & his music is/are an/a idiot. Avoid! >:D

Todd

Based on the comments from both Bruce and Hector, it seems I should investigate this composer as soon as possible.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem - US Treasury Secretary John Connally to European Finance Ministers, 1971

karlhenning

Quote from: Todd on May 03, 2007, 06:05:08 AM
Based on the comments from both Bruce and Hector, it seems I should investigate this composer as soon as possible.

:-)

Robert

Quote from: Hector on May 03, 2007, 05:56:29 AM
The man's an idiot, Master of the Queen's Musick and an idiot. Oh, I already said that.

Can't say it enough times though: the man & his music is/are an/a idiot. Avoid! >:D
WOW strong words...I happen to enjoy Max....Any facts to back-up this harsh statement. The only IDIOT I have come in contact with was Dostoevsky's brainchild....

lukeottevanger

#6
Even PMD's supposedly lesser works like the Naxos Quartets, which rveal more and more on each listen, are serious, powerful, imaginative and rich enough statements to make most contemporary composers embarrassed. His best ones are really beacons of the late 20th century rep. - literally so in the case of a masterpiece like The Lighthouse, quite simply the best opera of its sort I've ever heard.

Any composer who can 1) eat the Queen's swans and 2) write an opera (Resurrection) incorporating silent film chase music, catwalk cocktail jazz, mock-Elgar patriotism, Dixon of Dock Green close harmony whistling, apocalyptic Jesus army songs, Straussian imitations of squeaking condoms and flatulence and a winding-down 78 of Maggie Thatcher a la Clara Butt (just ofr starters) gets my vote.

karlhenning

He ate the Queen's swans?  Don't they have animal protection society in Groit Britain?  8)

lukeottevanger

#8
I may be wrong, but I think all swans are the Queen's, technically. Something on those lines, anyway. Also a protected species, I suspect. And Max, newly installed as a (Republican ;D) Master of Liz's Music[k] finding a dead swan near his house, took it home for the pot. And promptly got in trouble of some sort.

Ah, yes, here you are: Swangate

More Googling reveals that I was close with my first sentence: swans with unmarked beaks belong to the Queen, apparently, and are in general a protected species in this septic isle of Groit Britain [ ;D sic]:

Quote from: BBCThe Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open waters but the Queen only exercises her right on stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries.


not edward

PMD is one of those composers I've never managed to get into. The Songs for a Mad King always seemed too hectoring and over-the-top for home listening (though I bet it's astonishing live). I think the only other major works I have recordings of are the Violin Concerto (have the Stern recording and find the piece only intermittently inspiring) and the 5th symphony--of which I can remember nothing.

I'll give the symphony a spin tonight.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
-- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

lukeottevanger

Do try The Lighthouse. I'm repeating myself already, but it is the most perfect piece of PMD I've heard, more so than any of his abstract scores. I can't imagine anyone tuned in to contemporary music not falling for it - a gem in every detail and from every angle which I'd happily spend a thread talking about. There are, it is true, elements of 'Eight Songs'-ish vocal writing, but nothing quite so extreme, and in fact they are not really audible as 'extended techniques' on the recording, though the score reveals them as such.

'Hectoring', in the context of a comment earlier up this thread, was a good choice of adjective, BTW ;D

not edward

I'll take a look for it. I see it's one of those vanished Collins releases: any chance of it reappearing on Naxos or NMC, do you know?
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
-- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

lukeottevanger

No idea, sorry - I hope so. I'd forgotten the whole Collins issue. What a pain.

Al Moritz

#13
How nice to have as my first post on this board one on this composer.

I second Luke's strong recommendation of The Lighthouse. Also, his symphonies # 1 through 4, as well as # 6, are terrific. I don't enjoy # 5 yet.

I was lucky to obtain all my Collins recordings from Berkshire Record Outlet around the time they were discontinued, for $ 4 to $ 6 a piece.

I consider PMD one of the major composers of the second half of the 20th century, just a bit below the top tier. He does have some limits of gestural language, but these become evident only upon exposure to a wider range of his output -- and Carter and Xenakis have their limits too (... Al ducks for cover).

Al

Wendell_E

Quote from: edward on May 03, 2007, 01:08:07 PM
I'll take a look for it. I see it's one of those vanished Collins releases: any chance of it reappearing on Naxos or NMC, do you know?

You can download, or purchase "custom CDs" of many of his works, including The Lighthouse here:

http://music.maxopus.com/

karlhenning

Quote from: lukeottevanger on May 03, 2007, 12:34:41 PM
I may be wrong, but I think all swans are the Queen's, technically. Something on those lines, anyway. Also a protected species, I suspect. And Max, newly installed as a (Republican ;D) Master of Liz's Music[k] finding a dead swan near his house, took it home for the pot. And promptly got in trouble of some sort.

Ah. Road-kill  ;D

karlhenning

Quote from: Al Moritz on May 03, 2007, 01:44:57 PM
How nice to have as my first post on this board one on this composer.

Welcome, at last, Al!

karlhenning

Quote from: edward on May 03, 2007, 12:41:32 PM
PMD is one of those composers I've never managed to get into. The Songs for a Mad King always seemed too hectoring and over-the-top for home listening (though I bet it's astonishing live).

My experience pretty much aligns with this.

There was a spell during which I thought even better of Miss Donnithorne's Maggot, but in that case, I didn't stick with it longer term, and could not venture a "live" opinion.

Hector

Quote from: edward on May 03, 2007, 12:41:32 PM
PMD is one of those composers I've never managed to get into. The Songs for a Mad King always seemed too hectoring and over-the-top for home listening (though I bet it's astonishing live). I think the only other major works I have recordings of are the Violin Concerto (have the Stern recording and find the piece only intermittently inspiring) and the 5th symphony--of which I can remember nothing.

I'll give the symphony a spin tonight.

Hey, don't take my name in vain, no matter how right you are.

Al Moritz likes it so it must be crap!

Al Moritz