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David Bruce: The Next Osvaldo Golijov?

The New Osvaldo Golijov

Queen Dawn says, "I dub thee Sir David Bruce." Ka-ching!

I had never heard of David Bruce until I was assigned to review a concert by Art of Elan, a local concert series affiliated with the San Diego Museum of Art which presents lots of 20th-21st century music. Bruce had a world premiere on the concert.

From what I can tell in my far-off corner of the United States, David Bruce is racking up an impressive concert track record on the East Coast: Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center commissions, performances by new music princemaker Dawn Upshaw, etc.

Bruce’s new piece, The Eye of Night, is simply one of the greatest compositions for flute, viola, and harp I’ve heard in years. It’s bound to be picked up and recorded by the other Debussy trios out there. Hear it for yourself here.  Then, read my review here.

The concert also featured terrific performances of Nicholas Maw’s Roman Canticle (with Susan Narucki as the vocalist), the chamber music arrangement of Jolivet’s Chant de Linos, and a performance of a neglected Copland rarity, Elegies for violin and viola. The entire concert can be heard here.


Comment from bob d.
Time: January 23, 2011, 5:32 pm

I heard this piece and I don’t know what the fuss is. This music, like Golijov’s sounds is very well-crafted and very old-fashioned. It perhaps could have been from the pen of a French or Mexican composer writing in the 1930s at the Paris Conservatoire. As with Golijov’s lovely arrangements/compositions, all the gestures are familiar and conservative and could be cues from an evocative film score by Alexandre Desplat. Should we now expect another Salsa Mass or will it be a Celtic one from this composer.

Comment from Tom Jackson
Time: January 23, 2011, 5:46 pm

I was hoping “bob d.” could enlighten us by giving a few examples of what David Bruce should be doing instead. It’s hard for me to think of a current composer who doesn’t use gestures that are “familiar.”

Comment from Christian Hertzog
Time: January 23, 2011, 6:56 pm

I listened to The Eye of Night about 8 or 9 times (thanks Instant Encore–you are a blessing to reviewers!). Unlike Golijov’s music, which reveals diminishing returns (to my ears) upon relistening, Bruce’s music continues to work very well. By that alone, I am impressed. I can’t imagine listening to a Demase work 7 times in a row and it holding my interest.

Yes, his music is conservative. But unlike wishy-washy tonal composers today, Bruce writes full, gratifying melodies (perhaps illustrative of what Mizzy Mazzoli wished for in a recent editorial: ). And unlike pop-influenced composers who wink at us (like say, Paul Schoenfield or even some Golijov), Bruce is completely sincere. There is a direct honesty to his music. Check out his Carnegie Hall work, Piosenki.

It’s exceedingly well written and compelling.

I’m not arguing Bruce is a great composer–there aren’t many composers under 40 I would say that about (Ades maybe). But I am predicting that he will be very successful if he continues to write works like The Eye of Night and Piosenki. If you want novelty or an original voice, go elsewhere. But if you want some good solid tunes cast in sturdy forms, Bruce can provide that. And that IMHO is nothing to disparage.

Comment from Paul Pettigrew
Time: January 23, 2011, 10:24 pm

I note the creative “storm-in-a-teacup” discussion but all I can say is that it is truly amazing here in far-off Western Australia to be able to hear all this musical activitiy freely available on-call. Has anyone sampled the Carpe Diem String Quartet programmes on IntantEncore. Maybe a trifle too “old-fashioend” for some but truly bloody beaut (and heartfelt) to listen to!
My only complaint is that the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Commissioned Composer series doesn’t specify exactly WHAT is being played other than to name the pieces “track 1″, “track 2″, etc. Superb to listen to but what exactly ARE Julia Wolfe’s tracks 1-5 in Guard My Tongue? Kind of spoils the listening experience??

Comment from Jeff Harington
Time: January 24, 2011, 4:06 am

The thing about this new generation of melodic composers, is that I often get the feeling that they don’t understand that you live and die by your material, and given that, I just don’t get the need to go back and hear it again. Really good melodic music makes you just love it, like a good pop song or rock song. You hit replay immediately at the end. We should be getting these types of emotional reactions – if the material was great. This is just simple nice stuff, but it would be B-Side stuff for a rock or pop group. Classical music of the past and rock music of the past is loved now, not only because it’s ‘great’, but because it’s lovable. It invites adoration. You can’t get it out of your head! ;)

And since they’re still claiming that this is ‘classical music’, how about a contrasting section, proof in some manner that your material is not only superb, but is plastic and mutable; that you can control the listening experience. Otherwise, it’s really just crossover pop music. Thanks for introducing this composer to us and thanks for your much warranted enthusiasm.

Comment from Frank J. Oteri
Time: January 24, 2011, 8:48 am

You might be interested in a talk I did with David Bruce last year during one of the bad snow storms; I think he had some really astute stuff to say…

FJO (in the press room at MIDEM trying to catch up with Seq21 during a lunch break)

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: January 24, 2011, 11:14 am

Gee, the next Golijov already, when Golijov himself has barely had time to be the first! ;-) …Notice his mentions have grown much rarer the last couple years.

Comment from dieter ammann
Time: January 24, 2011, 9:10 pm

In my opinion, the discussion concerning aesthetics and style in contemporary music is very different in the USA than it is in (Western)Europe. Anything goes….

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: January 24, 2011, 10:18 pm

Dieter, I’ve heard and had so many of the same questions, conversations and debates the past decade or two, that I think I might do just as well to send everyone to read this blog al the way through:

Comment from zeno
Time: January 25, 2011, 10:23 am

“Notice his mentions have grown much rarer the last couple years.”

J.S. Bach also apparently had a similar problem after his trip to Sans Souci didn’t pan out as he had expected and blindness started setting in. And then there were his pesky but talented kids and their musical fads.

Comment from dieter ammann
Time: January 25, 2011, 8:31 pm

Thank you, Steve. Very interesting AND funny at the same time. Did’nt understand everything at all, but liked the things I understood…;-)