The 2012 Proms season was launched this evening with the world première of a new work from Mark-Anthony Turnage. Titled Canon Fever, the piece is an unabashed concert-opener, as Turnage explains:
What constitutes a good concert opener? […] The music is irreverent; it doesn’t behave itself, it wakes the audience up. I hate well-behaved fanfares, the sort with clever little harmonic sidesteps and neat academic counterpoint. Give me messy, give me dirty. […] I wanted [Canon Fever] to be virtuosic but also slightly tongue-in-cheek and, hopefully, fizzy. […] I wanted to pack a lot in but not be too careful, so I let it spew out all over the place; there is a cascade of notes that fill up to breaking point. I could have been perverse and added metal scaffolding (brake drums and old-style hunting horns) but I wanted something useful, something that could be played by any orchestra, anywhere. (from an article in yesterday’s Guardian)
There’s something admirable about Turnage’s intentions both to rekindle & revamp the idea of a fanfarish concert opener, & the music he goes on to cite as examples—by Ligeti, Beethoven, Walton & Bernstein—make the prospect all the more exciting. Yet what Turnage delivers is a little under three minutes of essentially empty bombast. Trumpets lead the way throughout, kick-starting the work with tambourines, ushering it along over a persistent ‘oom-pah’ set up by the heavier percussion, all the while rising & spilling over each other. There’s a momentary retreat, heavily repetitive, before they instigate a final crescendo leading to the work’s conclusion. As far as the title’s concerned, ‘Fever’ is right; the piece is filled with endless motivic repetitions that certainly seem a little unhinged; but ‘Canon’ is a complete red herring—hockets, imitations & responses do not a canon make. Moreover, Turnage’s reliance on mere gestures throughout completely blunts the sharp edges he clearly wants the work to possess; where’s the focus? what are we listening to? Perhaps, being generous, music like this cleanses the aural palate to some extent; it certainly makes one appreciate what comes after it. But whether that makes it a successful concert opener is debatable. As Turnage states, he didn’t want the piece to be “too careful”, nor did he want it to be “clever”; Canon Fever is most definitely neither.
Tonight’s première was given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner. Their playing, as one would expect, is first-rate, yet Turnage doesn’t half make them sound like a school orchestra.
For this piece, & all this year’s Proms premières, you can have your say using the poll below.
Mark-Anthony Turnage – Canon Fever
- Loved it! (8%, 5 Votes)
- Liked it (14%, 9 Votes)
- Meh (32%, 20 Votes)
- Disliked it (21%, 13 Votes)
- Hated it! (25%, 16 Votes)
Total Voters: 63