Absolute Mix | Michael Daugherty, composer

Absolute Mix
Ccn’c/February 2000


Dead Elvis/Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover
Absolute Ensemble
Kristjan Jarvi, conductor



Absolute’ is the word. Kristjan Jarvi’s programming formula is right on target for humbling a young audience. To take just one example: in the wrong hands Michael Daugherty’s music can sound trite, contrived or downright silly. Here, however, Dead Elvis leaps off the page like the King himself. A solo bassoon takes the lead, with brass, percussion, fiddle and slapping bass in close attendance. The Dies irae chant registers first, thenIt’s Now or Never (or O sole mio for non-Elviseans), all set in a rag-bag world made up of jazz, rock, mock-Stravinsky and sundry varieties of musical kitsch. It’s utterly hilarious, whereas Sing Sing: J Edgar Hoover is black comedy in overdrive. The subject is Hoover and the FBI, and the meaningful voice samplings (inspired no doubt by Steve Reich’s Different Trains) tout such sinister lines as ‘we are as close to you as your telephone’ and ‘fear silences the voice of protest’. There are ringing telephones, obsessive rhythms, gunshots and droopingglissandos. It’s audio drama in miniature, searing montage and a riveting listen.

The first of James MacMillan’s … as others see us … – a parodied Tudor dance commemorating the callousness of Henry VIII – keeps up the pace. MacMillan’s second piece reflects, in vivid terms, on T S Eliot’s dual penchants for High Anglican ritual and 1920s jazz. Coleman’s Young Words opens in the mood of boogie, Nancarrow’sStudy for Player Piano No 2a posits notes and accents where you least expect to hear them (unless you really know your Nancarrow) and Adams bounds in with his hectic ‘Roadrunner’ (Chamber Symphony).

Jarvi opens his programme with the breathless first movement of Hindemith’s Kammermusik No 1 and chills out with Benno Sachs’s scaled-down instrumentation of Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune. The playing has colossal energy and the recordings have an up-front, ‘poppy’ character that fits the occasion. Most pieces are tailed by wild screams. It could be the start of a new trend. One lives in hope.

– Rob Cowan

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