Notes and Editorial Reviews
Michael Kamen's name will be most familiar to readers who turn to Royal Brown's column first—he is a prolific composer of film and television scores. He also has been enlisted when rock bands including Pink Floyd and Metallica have been looking for an orchestral sound; anyone who knows the former's The Wall has heard much of Kamen's work, whether he or she knows it or not. His most famous music, although far from his best, is the sugary "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Ballet scores also have flowed from his pen.
Kamen studied oboe at Juilliard, where he quickly distinguished himself as someone who was adept in both rock and classical genres. While at Juilliard, he formed the
New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, attracting the attention of Leonard Bernstein. Unlike other crossover artists who have come my way lately, Kamen is not an upstart with more moxie than talent and more arrogance than creativity—he's got credentials.
The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms is a "symphonic poem" commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, DC. It was inspired by a trip to Arizona's Canyon de Chelly, and by the Anasazi people who lived in the southwestern portion of the United States until about 700 years ago. The flute-playing Kokopelli is an Anasazi figure, and the "dance of life" in which he led the Anasazi people symbolizes the continuity of human existence; even as individual dances come to an end, the Great Dance, if you will, goes on. An eagle soaring above the Canyon today (as an eagle might have done in a.d. 1000) was another powerfully inspirational symbol for Kamen. Kokopelli is represented by an orchestral flute (here played by Toshiko Kohno), and the eagle by a solo cello (played by David Hardy). The title, in case you were wondering, comes from the Iroquois people on the other side of the United States; it alludes to the brightening of the dark new moon by the final waning of the crescent moon: The past illuminates the future. This work is dedicated to conductor Jean Morel, who inspired Kamen during his Juilliard years. It doesn't sound particularly Native American to me, except in the most generic sense. Then again, there's no reason why it should. The music moves between infectious dancing and states of both quiet and exultant wonder; it is "community music" of the many, not the one.
Mr. Holland's Opus is a movie seen by everyone except me. I gather it deals with a composer who makes ends meet by teaching music in a public high school and who discovers that his real "opus" is teaching young people to express themselves through music. Kamen has constructed "An American Symphony" in five movements from his score. The movements represent Mr. Holland's wife, Iris, deaf son, Cole, and (how's this for spin?) "a gifted student [Rowena] to whom he is attracted but forsakes in favor of his family." "Marking Homework" is a tour de force scherzo of rippling piano scales and Beethoven's "Fate" theme, and the Finale, oddly enough, rocks out with electric guitar, bass, and drums. The English horn representing Rowena is played by Kamen himself; Leila Josefowicz plays the violin in "Cole's Tune."
One could argue that both of these works are overscored, naive, noisy, and have as much to do with classical music as tuna-fish sandwiches have to do with haute cuisine. Nevertheless, what tasty tuna fish this is! Kamen knows how to write a good tune and how to get brave and stirring sounds from the orchestra. If you heard these works in the concert hall you'd be ready for a big tub of popcorn by the time intermission came around. If it was Kamen's intention to write orchestral music that would appeal to a broad audience (not just traditional concertgoers), I think he has been wildly successful by dint of his talent and showmanship. I don't think it was his intention to appeal to snobs and purists, who certainly will turn their noses up at this CD.
The performances certainly seem definitive; Kamen has known Slatkin since his Juilliard days. The engineering piles spectacle upon spectacle. You know by now whether this CD is for you.
-- Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE [5/2001]
Works on This Recording
Mr. Holland's Opus: An American Symphony by Michael Kamen
Simon Mulligan (Piano),
Pino Palladino (Double Bass),
Andrew Newmark (Drums),
Phil Palmer (Guitar),
Leila Josefowicz (Violin),
Michael Kamen (English Horn)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 06/19/2000
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London
Length: 17 Minutes 16 Secs.
Notes: Leila Josefowicz was recorded at Orbital Vox Studios, Tallinn, Estonia on August 28, 2000.
Orchestrated: Michael Kamen, Jonathan Sacks, and Blake Neely
New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms by Michael Kamen
Toshiko Kohno (Flute),
David Hardy (Cello),
F. Anthony Ames (Percussion)
National Symphony, Washington, D. C.
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 01/2000
Venue: Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
Length: 41 Minutes 6 Secs.
Notes: Orchestrated: Michael Kamen, Robert Elhai, and Brad Warnaar
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