New York Newsday, 1989 November 18, p. 15-17
Avant Works For Symphony
New Music America. Music by John Zorn, Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Robert Moran, Gloria Coates, Moondog, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Tania Leon, conductor. Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, Thursday Night. Majestic Theater, Fulton Street, Brooklyn.
What happens when the most avant of the garde write for the most conventional of music ensembles, the symphonic orchestra?
New Music America and the Brooklyn Philharmonic offered that opportunity to five composers - three of the works were commissioned either by the orchestra or by the festival - and the results were presented Thursday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Majestic Theater.
The results, however, could most charitably be described as disappointing. Faced with composing for an orchestra, John Zorn, Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Robert Moran and Gloria Coates turned out music that not only did not sound original, but was less interesting than recent work played by the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the American Composers Orchestra. Only nine short numbers by the blind, fork-bearded Moondog (Louis Hardin) livened up the evening.
Zorn's "For Your Eyes Only", commissioned by the Brooklyn Philharmonic and getting its world premiere, had its moments. The nine-minute work for small ensemble of strings, brass, woodwind, harp, piano and percussion, gathered tiny phrases, from Gene Krupa, Rachmaninoff, circus bands and Viennese Romantics. The result was good-humored and moderately funny, but it could as easily have been written by many of the more sober-minded serialists of the late '60s. Zorn, perhaps not incidentally, devoted his program biography to a scornful attack on New Music America for pandering to yuppies and corporations. Nevertheless, he has not returned his $10,000 commission.
Morris' "Dust to Dust", also given its world premiere, used a larger ensemble with more strings and his "conducted improvisation": The conductor can modify the music during performance. The initial sound was warm and impressionist, then thickly romantic, but the orchestra quickly sounded unsure of how to proceed.
The program note for "Open Veins" cites Tacitus' account of the suicide of Petronius. The music, led by Moran, was dominated by the pounding of two sets of drums, which drowned out whatever the violinist and wind player were doing. As far as I could tell, it was early minimalism under a stream of lava.
Gloria Coates' "Music on Abstract Lines", also a world premiere, opened with queasy glissandos from the low brass. The three sections of the work were also similar in sound and harmonic structure, using glissandos to make a distorted sound like a warped record. After a while, it all sounded like an exercise, and not an interesting one.
Tania Leon, who led all the works except Moran's and Moondog's, could not make them more exciting.
Moondog led the orchestra by pounding a bass drum on a platform at the side of the stage. His nine little numbers generally combined that quick, steady beat with pleasant, '30s Big Band melodies treated canonically. It was alternately cheerful and gypsi-romantic, fun to hear and pleasing to watch the frail, 73-year-old composer giving cues by touching his heart.