All "classical" music was composed by guys who have been dead for over a hundred years, right? Wrong-o, Jimbo! The three pieces of Works for Violin, Flute, & Violoncello were all written in the last five years. They must be that awful a-tonal stuff that sounds like a traffic accident, right? Wrong again, Phenergan! While this music isn't exactly for frail old ladies, it is a far cry from the harsh sounds one normally associates with "new" classical music. Composed by internationally revered conducted Lorin Maazel, the three pieces on this disc are all one movement program pieces written in sections, complete with liner notes by the composer that help illuminate the meaning of the music without forcing the listener into one strict interpretation.
The first piece is "Music for Violoncello [cello] and Orchestra". Dark, foreboding, and absolutely nightmarish, this piece owes a lot to Bartok and his "night music", with the frightening sounds of some great, unseen evil lurking just outside the reach of the camp fire. The listener is taken on a Geigeresque joy-ride through "the vulgarities, horrors, and capriciousness of 'real life'" that is both scathing and exhilarating. "Music for Flute and Orchestra" (with the flute played by James Galway) is a little more joyous with a tranquil, flowing, and beautifully mysterious solo flute song that hold the entire piece together (that is, before it is brought crashing to the ground in heart-wrenching reality by the orchestra). "Music for Violin and Orchestra" finds Maazel showcasing his own talents on the violin as this small, passionate violin tries unsuccessfully to bring down the massive orchestral monster, only to end up bruised and changed by the battle.
Thematically, you won't find a lot of optimism on these pieces as Maazel seems to write exclusively on the futility of life. For all it's darkness, though, his experience as a master conductor shines through in the expansive tone colors. Unorthodox instruments such as the harpsichord, tuned bongos, Indian rain tube, and accordion all add their unique sounds to these unorthodox pieces. While you won't find catchy melodies, you will find real angst, sorrow and pathos in these nightmare visions, and perhaps you'll find a favorite composer.
This article first appeared in WhatzUp, March 1999.