LENE GRENAGER (b.1969): The Operation for Percussion and Orchestra, Smilodon for Contrabass Clarinet and Orchestra, Cello Concerto.
Catalogue Number: 01R072
Description: Grenager is clearly a composer unafraid of provoking or confronting her audience. One can readily imagine certain members of an audience schooled in cerebral academic modernism storming out of a concert of these works with much the same shocked expression as genteel lovers of Mozart who had inadvertently wandered into a punk-rock club. Which is not to say that the music is by any means unapproachable, but there is no shortage of visceral, combative impact. The three pieces, while very different, are a curious hybrid of extreme, extended-technique noise, pounding rhythms, sudden unexpected consonant outbursts or gestures and what would be relatively conventional, even tonal music were it not enveloped in unrelated, harshly dissonant decoration. Not infrequently the music recalls large-ensemble free jazz. The Operation dissects a cello - sonically, if not literally - treating it exclusively as a percussion instrument. Passages that use the orchestra as a huge percussion instrument, turning the operating room into a factory floor with sawing, hammering machines predominate in the first movement - the piece clearly divides into a conventional concerto form, unlikely as this might seem - while the 'slow movement' consists of a surreal landscape of strange, shifting soundfields over microtonally inflected electronic drones and gliding tones. The finale is an agitated, tumultuous toccata of flailing intrumental and electronic gestures. The giant prehistoric sabre-toothed tiger that gives the contrabass clarinet concerto its title can perhaps be heard in the solo instrument's breathing and basso profundo growls; the landscape through which the giant cat stalks is atmospherically depicted, gloomy and oppressive, with wolves howling in the wind, while a raucous central climax is certainly an attack, though not without a cartoonish, humorous quality. The concerto is no less unconventional than its less traditionally titled brethren, though here the work's material is based on the folk-fiddle tradition of Norwegian Slåtter, with its uneven, energetic dance rhythms. Beginning with amorphous noise textures from the soloist, the folk element is gradually, if emphatically, introduced and a sudden hair-raisingly unexpected gesture - not at all what you were expecting, let us say - ushers in a massive, increasingly forceful folk dance in distorted rhythms and timbres, the festivities of rustic trolls or giants. Håkon Stene (percussion), Rolf Borch (clarinet), Tanja Orning (cello), Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra; Peter Szilvay.