Julian Anderson has been feted the world over as a master of orchestral composition, and one need look no further than his recent work The Discovery of Heaven (2011) to discover why. This is a piece that vividly captures the imagination with a unique blend of far-flung influences (Japanese Gagaku music, Mongolian overtone chanting, Gregorian chant and the Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony) and has won Anderson much praise (the London press remarked ‘the score sounds like the work of a 21st-century Debussy’) and a major award (2013 South Bank Sky Arts Award).
The piece was jointly commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and the later ensemble gave the US premiere in April under the baton of Andrew Davis. Once again, Anderson’s visionary orchestral writing shone out.
‘Anderson’s originality combines a heterophonic abundance of instrumental voices with melodic variants using a hocket technique… Anderson’s diverse instrumental combinations produce an impressive array of effects, with an enormous percussion battery playing an important role in the second movement’s dense and arrhythmic scenes. There Davis and the Philharmonic expertly negotiated a complex maze of rhythmic and linear convolutions, each section of the orchestra playing brilliantly and with deep concentration.’
Classical source (Lewis M. Smoley), 24 April 2014
‘...the US premiere of Julian Anderson's exhilarating and unsettling The Discovery of Heaven… The piece opens with something resembling the soft sounds of morning, but it's a menacing one: tittering flutes evoke scattering birds, then the strings come in on a sustained sour chord, whining like an electronic hum, like the rising of a blood moon; this unease is sustained, as though run through tensely with the radioactive breezes of nuclear fallout, till it finally reaches an angry outburst. This structure repeats; it's all wheeze and boom, reaching almost-glorious crescendos…’
Thee L Magazine (Henry Stewart), 25 April 2014
‘This work, by the award-winning British composer Julian Anderson is a three-movement poem for orchestra, exploring unusual tone colors and featuring a prominent percussion part. The work bears the stamp of Mr. Anderson's teacher Tristan Murail, whose idea of "spectral music" can be heard in the unusual chord progressions and micro-tones that make up the musical fabric of this piece. Mr. Anderson's score is peppered with exotic instruments: the whip, the vibraphone and the "lion's roar," a bass-drum sound effect played by pulling a string.’
Super-conductor (Paul J. Pelkonen), 26 April 2014
'The Discovery of Heaven is a journey through a variety of soundscapes. The British composer commands a wide and impressive musical vocabulary, which is displayed in “An Echo from Heaven,” the first of the work’s three parts. Bright and harmonically spacious at its opening, it travels through sections made claustrophobic by closer dissonances and the independent and seemingly random free bowing of the violins. (Though not a novel gesture, it is employed here with more care and to greater effect than is often the case.) Counted silences are frequent, and seem not the slightest bit out of place.’
New York Classical Review (Eric C. Simpson), 25 April 2014