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 and revamp the idea of a fanfarish concert opener, and the music he goes on to cite as examples—by Ligeti, Beethoven, Walton and 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 and 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 and 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, was first-rate, yet Turnage doesn’t half make them sound like a school orchestra.
For this piece, and all this year’s Proms premières, you can have your say on the polls page.
HAVE YOUR SAY
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