“Of the countless pieces of music inspired by Chicago, none that I have heard captures the true grit of our town better than Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Chicago Remains. Perhaps it took a visiting outsider from Britain to get it right.” So wrote the Chicago Tribune of Turnage’s new orchestral work, premiered by the Chicago Symphony under the baton of Bernard Haitink on 25 October – a highlight of the composer’s residency with the orchestra.
“… a 16-minute soundscape that is big, busy and outgoing... Turnage’s punning title refers both to the tough grandeur of the city — particularly as extolled by Carl Sandburg in his famous Chicago Poems — and its fabled ability to reinvent itself. The composer hears Chicago as a Nelson Algren-like city on the make, a modern metropolis of pile-driver shocks, perpetually shifting meters and blunt, unruly beauty.
“With guttural clarinets, marimba, sandpaper blocks and pizzicato strings spitting out eighth-notes, the city grunts itself awake. This sharply accented 10-note scale, reappearing in various forms throughout the piece, is answered by swaying syncopations… Pealing trumpets circle the orchestra like gulls. Rattling gourds and clanging Japanese temple bells suggest the restless winds that whoosh through the concrete canyons of downtown.
“Turnage’s pounding percussion spurs the music to ever louder and more frenzied levels of activity before the music sinks, exhausted, into the quiet final third of the piece, a kind of spent benediction heralded by winds singing over the undertow of gently rocking strings… When Chicago Remains was over, I wanted to hear it again… Turnage has added an impressive new piece to his considerable oeuvre.”
Also unveiled in the autumn was Turnage’s A Prayer Out of Stillness, coupling virtuoso bassist John Patitucci with string orchestra. Following its premiere in October by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra the work was performed at the NYDD Festival in Tallinn, by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra.
Photo: Turnage with Bernard Haitink at rehearsals for Chicago Remains (Image: Dan Rest)
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