For the past three decades I have started the compositional process by building a shape, or architecture, before coming up with any musical material. In this case, the shape was influenced by a desire to write a piece in which the entire work is conceived spatially. But I started simply wondering what dramatic premise would justify the encirclement of the audience by musicians, so that they were in the center of an arena. This started my imagination going, and quite suddenly a title appeared in my mind: Circus Maximus.
The Latin words, understandable in English, convey an energy and power by themselves.
But the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome was a real place - the largest arena in the world. 300,000 spectators were entertained by chariot races, hunts, and battles. The Roman need for grander and wilder amusement grew as its empire declined.
The parallels between the high decadence of Rome and our present time are obvious. Entertainment dominates our reality, and ever-more-extreme 'reality' shows dominate our entertainment. Many of us have become as bemused by the violence and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as the mobs of imperial Rome, who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show.
The shape of my Circus Maximus was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarity.
Circus Maximus was built to be a 35-minute surround sound piece. I had always wanted to write a piece in which the audience was in the center of the activity, unlike the traditional setup in which an audience watches and hears an orchestra play through a proscenium in one direction only. Circus Maximus was the result of this desire - a work with players scattered all around the hall, providing a dizzying live audio experience. Naturally, the only way to capture this in a sound recording is by recording and playing the work in surround sound. Blu ray finally offers the means to make this possible - and listeners at home can now experience a work in which they are truly surrounded by music. -- John Corigliano
This new Naxos audio Blu-ray is an astounding collection of sonorities, all the more remarkable in that both of the large scale pieces contained on it, the Third Symphony, otherwise known as Circus Maximus, and Gazebo Dances, are orchestrated for wind ensemble. . .
Corigliano takes an architectural approach to his composition, not only in the scores themselves, which are frequently assembled out of blocks of sound, but also in the inspiration which lights his compositional muse. As he states in his very interesting liner notes to this release, 'For the past three decades I have started the compositional process by building a shape, or architecture, before coming up with any musical material. In this case, the shape was influenced by a desire to write a piece in which the entire work is conceived spatially. But I started simply wondering what dramatic premise would justify the encirclement of the audience by musicians, so that they were in the center of an arena. This started my imagination going, and quite suddenly a title appeared in my mind: Circus Maximus.'
That quote should set audiophile heart (and ears) aflutter, for it points to a composer completely aware of what surround sound can deliver. But even that hint fails to completely prepare the listener for the outrageously effective panoply of sounds that at times almost assaults the ears throughout Circus Maximus. Divided into eight sections, which are played without pause, this piece is an encyclopedia of brilliant wind writing. At times we have plaintive shrieks which are almost reminiscent of the screaming violins of Herrmann's Psycho score. . . In the second movement, saxophones emit a bluesy jazz riff while various instruments declaim from every imaginable corner.
Circus Maximus is going to be a . . . dream of sorts for surround sound aficionados. Instruments dart to and fro, Corigliano actually has discrete bands moving through the soundfield, and the listener is constantly kept off guard as to what is going to happen next, and from where. The musical content may in fact be rather recondite, especially to those less schooled in the vagaries of modern compositional technique, but the actual experience of just hearing all these incredible sounds appear in startling spatial array is magical.
Much more accessible is the second piece on this disc, a sort of suite called Gazebo Dances. Corigliano originally wrote these as four handers for two of his pianist friends, but later orchestrated them for concert band. (Another version for orchestra is also available, but not included on this disc). This is a relatively early work of Corigliano's, from 1972, and as such it shows the brashness and flash of youth. But it's inerrantly appealing, from its Rossini influenced Overture to the very fun Tarantella finale. While this suite doesn't really provide the sonic overload that Circus Maximus does, it's much easier to listen to, and those unfamiliar with Corigliano's often pungent style may well want to start their trip to the circus with this little stopover at the park gazebo.
Take a chance on some modern music, and experience what a surround recording actually can deliver, especially when it's a recording of music which has been composed with a heightened awareness of space and movement. Corigliano certainly deserves a much wider audience, and my ardent wish is that this new audio Blu-ray helps to make that happen. Very highly recommended. --blu-ray.com, Jeffrey Kauffman, October 23, 2010