Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For Classical Music Lovers, And Others Willing To Experiment


My life, my world, just got better. Here's why:

In 1972-73, I spent 18 months as a soldier at USARBCO - the U.S. Army Base Command Okinawa - as a reporter for the base newspaper.

It was a great time. I was in my early 20s, I was half a world away from home, I was single, I was free to become whatever me I chose.

In part, that meant discovering more of the joys of classical music. And one of the high points of that particular journey occurred when I came across a recording in the PX of a symphony by a modern Swedish composer whom I had never heard of - Allan Pettersson.

It was his Symphony #7, conducted by Antal Dorati. I bought it, took it back to my apartment, and from its opening measures, was transported by some of the most arresting, dramatic, and at times heartbreakingly beautiful, music I had ever heard, in a single movement lasting some 40 minutes.

Allan Pettersson became a hero to me, and his seventh symphony my model of what a symphony should be - which became important as I struggled to compose one (it remains unfinished).

Some time after I moved to Pittsburgh, and began hanging out in the Music Room of the main Carnegie Library in Oakland, I was able to check out the score, and experience the thrill of watching the music take shape on the page as I listened to it.

I fantasized about hearing a live performance - but Pettersson was still so largely unknown that I never got my hopes up.

Indeed, for years I never even found a recording of any of his other works. After a point, I stopped trying.

Now comes the happy part. I've just learned that a lot of other people have discovered Allan Pettersson. Much more of Pettersson's work has been recorded, beginning with multiple recordings of the 7th (the original Dorati recording reappeared under different labels). Beyond that, his other works have entered the catalogue, including a CD box set of all 16 (!) of his symphonies, featuring two orchestras (the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrucken) and seven conductors.

That set, which is definitely going on my Amazon wish list, dates from 2007. It will be joined by a competitor in 2018, when the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra plans to release a box set of Pettersson's complete symphonies, including the unfinished and previously unrecorded 17th Symphony.

Just knowing that there is now so much more Pettersson available makes the my life, my world, better.

I look forward to resuming my exploration of Pettersson's musical universe - and more than that, connecting with fellow Pettersson-philes (beginning, I hope, with "AP100", who, in 2011 - Pettersson's centennial year - set him/herself the challenge of listening to all of the composer's orchestral works).

For now, let me share with you the piece that introduced me to one of the 20th Century's leading symphonists: the 7th Symphony, performed by the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Antal Dorati. If it touches you the way it did me, you will also want more Allan Pettersson:

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