01 Crazy Weather, double string orchestra (2004) - I. Allegro 02 Crazy Weather, double string orchestra (2004) - II. Adagio 03 Crazy Weather, double string orchestra (2004) - III. Steadily driving 04 Chamber symphony 'City of Shadows' (2006) 05 Symphony 'Northern Lights' (1987) - I. Fast and driving 06 Symphony 'Northern Lights' (1987) - II. Still and granitic 07 Symphony 'Northern Lights' (1987) - III. Fast and light
Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose
Scott Wheeler (b. 1952)
Gramophone | Laurence Vittes | February 1, 2015
A wonderful tensile energy operates on a subliminal aural screen behind the main episodes in Boston-based Scott Wheeler's music; perhaps they are musical particle traces of the dancers' and singers' bodies 'that are the medium for the stage composer's work', as Wheeler modestly describes himself in the booklet-notes. In fact, Wheeler turns out to be a highly effective composer of classical music by virtue of a vivid aural imagination whose ingenious, garrulous products he crafts into absorbing symphonic soundscapes that make the hip Boston Modern Orchestra Project sound great.
Wheeler counts Stefan Wolpe, Franco Donatoni, Sondheim, late Mozart, Sibelius, Schoenberg, Copland, Weill and Bruckner among his influences and cautions, 'If you hear echoes of their music in mine, it's because I learned so much from their passion and their skill.' In truth, however, his musical language is his own. it can flare up wild and romantic, but at other times, as in City of Shadows, it is delightfully rich in comic-book scurrying around and dusted with hints of Britten.
Wheeler adapts with impressive ease to the three works' different territories: City of Shadows is a chamber symphony dedicated to Kent Nagano, while Crazy Weather for two string orchestras and Northern Lights for a very large orchestra were both Koussevitzky Foundation commissions. The performances are more than authoritative. Wheeler's music has an off-kilter attitude which suits the orchestra's own cool jazz-influenced musical sensibilities; they react quickly to Wheeler's sometimes audacious shifts in mood and get to display their very outstanding chops.
American Record Guide | Robert Carl | January 1, 2015
Scott Wheeler (b. 1952) has been a continual "point of reference" for new music in Boston for decades, as composer, conductor, teacher. He has an enviable (and enviably diverse) set of teachers, including Lewis Spratlan, Arthur Berger, Olivier Messiaen, Peter Maxwell Davies, and Virgil Thomson! His own baseline aesthetic is what one might call neoclassical, but as the above list of mentors suggests, it is not some sort of throwback to the 1940s. Rather, he has a taste for the focused, the economical, the pure and direct, and it emerges in a body of work that the French would call "scrupulous" (a very high compliment indeed). His most prominent profile is as a composer of vocal and dramatic music, but this release spotlights another side, the orchestral works.
The program opens with Crazy Weather (2004) for double string orchestra. The piece opens with a rush of energy, and its bright, brittle writing reminds me of a work I love, Charles Wuorinen's Grand Bamboula. Even when the music opens into slower or more expansive realms, it always projects a sense of being taut and wrought. City of Shadows (2007) is a single-movement work whose sections that suggest a mini-symphony. It's distinguished by its sense of multiple time-worlds coexisting, as in the brass chorales combined with skittering strings in the opening, or the following plaintive string lines against delicate percussive clicks. This work has the most evidently "new English" sound of the program — I realize it's a fun, albeit inadvertent, as of course it references Wheeler's home region, but I also mean that I hear gestures and harmonies that remind me of Maxwell Davies and his school. But the piece has a surging, relentless energy that frankly is quite American, and does sound the least bit derivative. And the way its storm clears for the last three minutes, leaving a vast space filled with delicate and disparate sounds, is magical.
The concluding work, Northern Lights (1987) is the earliest on the program — and it's definitely the work of a younger man, brimming with a certain jazzy swagger. The first movement, with its repeated cymbal riffs, even suggests a whiff of Bernstein. The second movement grows more pensive and dark, opening with a "trilogue" between that insistent cymbal, orchestral hammer-strokes, and keening lines. This in turn finally erupts into more intensity and ecstasy, with harmonies and gestures that owe a bit to John Adams. The third movement seizes this line without pause, and pushes to a conclusion in music that is simultaneously breathless and surging, and also expansive (an apt description of Sibelius's music, and influence the composer acknowledges and a connection to the work's title).
This is music packed with ideas, yet it remains clear, and its transparent scoring allows different levels of activity to coexist and reinforce one another healthily. Wheeler shows that his dramatic instincts can successfully guide more "abstract" forms. he's a composer who takes every note seriously, but never loses his sense of play. The result is a bracing ride, delivering thrills and pleasures.
As usual, the BMOP performances by Rose and his band are exceptional.
Musical America | November 23, 2014
As evidenced by Heavy Weather [sic], Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s latest recording of music by Scott Wheeler, the composer really knows his way around percussive sounds. Even on pieces for strings like the title track, there is the ‘thwack’ of pizzicatos and bow slaps to help propel the proceedings. Pacing is another strong suit of Wheeler’s. The shadowy passages of City of Shadows are balanced by flurried gestures that enliven the music and help to articulate the work’s overall architecture. The outer movements of Northern Lights give the impression of intense and quicksilver slalom runs, while the middle movement, marked "Still and Granitic,” provides a portentous counterpart.
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