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2011 release from the former Beatle, an orchestral piece commissioned by the New York City Ballet. The recording was conducted by John Wilson, produced by John Fraser and performed by The London Classical Orchestra. Ocean's Kingdom is the first time Paul has written an original orchestral score or any kind of music for dance and is the result of a collaboration between Paul and Peter Martins, the Ballet Master in Chief of the New York City Ballet, who have worked together to present the world premiere of a new ballet for the company's 2011/2012 season.
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I am really pleasantly surprised by this album. No one should be expecting huge classical scope here. But for what it is -- tuneful, engaging orchestral music designed to drive a storyline in a ballet context -- I found this to be pretty darn good.
McCartney uses the tricks of the trade well. It starts out with a sufficiently watery-sounding opening that vaguely recalls the atmosphere of the underwater opening of Wagner's "Rheingold". Dramatic sequences use the percussion section well -- tympanis and xylophones beat out rhythmically driving, somehow corporate-sounding themes representing the bad guys in the storyline of the ballet.
The ballet itself has an environmental theme about a happy underwater kingdom being invaded by an army of aggressive landlubbers. This represents, of course, mankind's pollution of the seas, as McCartney said in a recent interview I read when the ballet premiered a few days ago.
I came to the album with some skepticism, half expecting it to be clumsy and amateurish. But it's really well done. McCartney brings his outstanding talent for writing tunes to a complex, satisfying work that seems like it would serve its storyline well in the ballet hall. Of course he's not Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky -- the two composers who were held out to him as examples of melody and rhythm when he accepted the commission to write the ballet. But he's Paul McCartney and he found his own way.
If you're getting the MP3, pick up the version with the digital booklet. It has a synopsis of the action and good background on how the ballet was commissioned and written.
Note the track times given by Amazon, which also show up in the Cloud Player, are off. The tracks are in fact much shorter than listed. The real track times are:
I imagine Amazon will be fixing this soon.
I'm afraid usual McCartney fans might not be attracted to a classical work, and classical music people might turn their noses up at this, because as McCartney himself said, he wrote this without "knowing how things are supposed to be done". But I'm very glad to have picked this one up. Recommended for anyone prepared to give up their preconceptions about Paul McCartney on the one hand, or about classical music on the other.
I was never impressed with his classical work--though I bought it because I am indulgent and a fan. I felt Ocean's Kingdom (OK) would be the same incipid, bland, sometime interesting stuff he normally puts out with this genre--but I was wrong.
I had an evening winter's drive this past january in a car with an excellent stereo--popped in the CD and was overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of OK. I have listened to it about a dozen times a week since and given it out to friends as a gift.
It reminds me of Ravel's Boleo in that one melody weaves its way thru the entire piece--but each time it is different in that the orchestra plays it with different instruments or greater richness or feeling. One can even feel the ocean roiling at times. Profound mental images of what is happening--for it is a story and PM does especially well when telling a story or focused on a theme (i.e Sgt. Pepper, Band on the Run, Tug of War, Electric Firemen).
Recommend it heavily. In fact, I am surprised the local classical station has not picked it up and played it. It is really a nice work.
PM....what a treasure of talent and of humaity in that he never rests on his laurels--and takes chances and once in a while hits it out of the park.
A great piece of work.
To start, I'd like to say that I disagree with the reviewer who seems to think that simplicity in music is, by nature, always a fault. I can assure you that it is not. (Also, simplicity needs to be defined before we can argue its merits and disadvantages) Paul has written hundreds of songs for guitar, bass, and piano/keyboard. They are not technically the hardest, most finger-tying, mind-bending parts but do we all still love and adore them? Oh, yes. Paul isn't a good piano player by most standards but his music as a whole makes his supposed lack of technicality irrelevant. Tell me that you don't go around humming "Eleanor Rigby", that you don't enjoy "Too Much Rain", that you don't exalt gems like "Jet" and "Band on the Run" (or my personal favorite from The Firemen, "Sing the Changes." The same goes for this piece, it may not use the full orchestra most of the time, but you don't necessarily need to. It's beautiful anyway.
It lets each instrument speak for itself. You have the trumpets singing and articulating their sound, the flutes at another time dancing around on top, at one point you have what I think is a bassoon or bass clarinet (I'm sorry, I've been out of music for a few years and my ears a bit rusty in this regard) which, every time I hear it, puts a grin on my face. There are some fast paced, running strings as a foundation in quite a few parts and as you'd expect, it gets your heart going. The french horn parts in the fourth movement are just lovely and actually reminiscent of John Williams fanfares (though Paul doesn't actually use them for this). The beginning of the second movement is just so catchy that I guarantee you'll be humming it later, if you're actually listening to it (as opposed to having it as background music while you do something else).
I absolutely adore that Paul is branching out into ballet orchestration and learning to write scores. Ballet needs new updates and new ideas if it is to survive as a creative medium in a world where voices are electronically altered and computer generated instruments are the basis of popular music (Lady Gaga, the Ke$a person whose name I don't pretend to understand, or any other artist you've heard about using auto-tuning, like in the Antoine Dodson song called Bed Intruder.)
I think that we need to bring in artists from other genres. It benefits them (pushing them to learn and expand their skills) as well as whatever medium we bring them into. Those who have never been properly introduced to it (like ballet and instrumental music) can be given a gateway into it. "Oh, I like Paul McCartney and he's written some music for a ballet. Maybe I should check it out!"
I think that every artist, no matter the genre, no matter the medium, no matter the era in which they live, hopes that all their music will be a hit and successful. They also know that this isn't reality, where they will be lucky to have even one work become famous. Obviously, Paul has been far luckier than most. He didn't write this hoping to shake up the ballet world or redefine instrumental music. He wrote it because he was asked, it was something he hadn't done before, and he found it interesting. Will this blow the top off of instrumental music? Nope. He knows that.
It was written to accompany a story in his head. I think he succeeded. I can certainly envision the ocean, dancing, running, love, struggle, so many things, while listening to this. I think that may be the true test of instrumental (classical, if that helps you understand) music. Does it capture a mood, an event, does it speak without words? Yes, for me, this piece does. I can follow it in my head and come up with ideas for what might be happening (as I'm obviously not able to see it with the accompanying ballet) just the same way that I can if I listen to works by Mozart, Dvorak, Chopin, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Copeland, or even the very famous modern day film score composer, John Williams. I'm not putting Ocean's Kingdom in their league, per se, just saying that the imagination and story is there with Paul's piece, too.
Listen to the samples before you buy, don't expect the music world we know it to be blown apart, and understand how, why, and who it was written for. Perhaps, also take into account the man never learned to read mainstream music notation (of which most of us are familiar with, even if only by sight). Take it for what it is, enjoy it, and applaud Paul for taking such a giant leap into waters, or indeed an ocean, where he had never before ventured.
My one question/concern about this is not related to the music itself, exactly. Why does it say, for example on the fourth movement, that it is 20 something minutes long but plays only until around the 14th minute? Did my copies not download properly?