Just over a week ago, the Proms was introduced to a brand new orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, bringing to an end their inaugural concert tour. Having come via Moscow & St Petersburg with Valery Gergiev at the helm, & with works by Tchaikovsky & Shostakovich featured in the concert, it was perhaps not surprising that composer Sean Shepherd would find Russia a dominating inspirational force. Shepherd’s new work, Magiya (Russian for ‘magic’), seeks to tap into the spirit of (in the composer’s words) “the great tradition of the Russian overture” as well as its narrative impetus, “a specifically Russian sense of magic … in the stories, folklore and literature (old and new) of the country, a kind that often gets no explanation or justification; a ‘normal’, everyday magic”.
Magiya essentially comprises two ideas, the first of which, announced with brushed accents, is full of urgency from the get go. It’s heavily pulse-driven, dominated by quasi-fanfaric material in the brass, forming chords from overlapping sustained notes. With a minimal amount of toing & froing, this persists for the first third of the work before switching to the second, potentially more melodic idea. It emerges from the upper strings, soft & slow, while the rapid pulse continues beneath; having gained a little pace, the strings yield to lower strings & tuba. Once again, having set up the basics, Shepherd then allows the instruments to continue in essentially undifferentiated vein for several more minutes, the accompaniment limited to chirpy asides, brass guffaws & playful percussive spittoons. It’s nice to hear a tuba given such responsibility, but in this context—despite the formidable best intentions of the player—the poor instrument sounds muddy & unconvincing. Then we’re back at the opening idea again, the fanfaric material develops somewhat, the orchestra attains a state of impressive busyness, but for all the activity there’s not really anything that protrudes or distinguishes itself enough to become interesting. Arguably it ends in the only way it can, with that most commonplace paradox of the contemporary composer’s palette, the unexpected yet all too predictable thud.
If Sean Shepherd had treated the material with a bit more restraint—not just allowing basic ideas to run on & on like bland machines—or thrown in one or two really memorable or even vaguely ear-grabbing bon mots then Magiya might have made for a more engaging experience. As it is, it’s a bloated, irritating creation that vainly puts its faith in incessant friskiness as a substitute for substance. The real talent on display here came entirely from the orchestra; despite the work’s abundant flaws, Magiya is clearly a tough piece to play, but the NYO-USA proved their abilities to be outstanding; an orchestra with a very exciting future.
Sean Shepherd – Magiya (European Première)
Magiya is a celebration of a wonderful new orchestra and an exciting tour, and is a humble nod to a brilliant musical tradition.
— Sean Shepherd
Sean Shepherd – Magiya
- Loved it! (14%, 3 Votes)
- Liked it (50%, 11 Votes)
- Meh (23%, 5 Votes)
- Disliked it (9%, 2 Votes)
- Hated it! (5%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 22