Julian Anderson’s reputation as a master of orchestral composition was resoundingly confirmed with the recent premiere of The Discovery of Heaven by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The press praised Anderson’s vivid, gripping music comparing him to a modern-day Debussy.
The piece is a co-commission by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom Anderson is composer in residence. At the premiere in the Royal Festival Hall the LPO were conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth.
"the score sounds like the work of a 21st-century Debussy in its precise yet shimmering array of colour, timbre and gesture."
"We need a second and third performance – quickly, please"
‘It is hard to think of any work in the modern orchestral canon with a title as appetising as Julian Anderson’s new 25-minute tone poem. And it would be equally hard, after Saturday’s first performance by the London Philharmonic under Ryan Wigglesworth, to imagine music more seductive in atmosphere or finely etched in orchestration. The Discovery of Heaven, named after a novel by the Dutch writer Harry Mulisch, is not so much a spiritual quest as an exploration of heaven on earth, evoking sounds of a balmy summer night as well as the joyful, tuneful humanity of a sun-blessed city street. There could be no more emphatic proof of Anderson’s growing confidence with and mastery of a large instrumental palette.
Divided into three movements and intermittently infused with the echo of Japanese court music, not least in the arresting woodwind flurries of the opening bars, the score sounds like the work of a 21st-century Debussy in its precise yet shimmering array of colour, timbre and gesture. Anderson uses muted trumpets and high strings to cast an atmospheric haze over the first movement, before launching into a second of bustle and brio – all jaunty clarinet songs and piccolo/bass clarinet duets, laced with a sniff of swing. Despite the “heavenly” overtones, the piece remains resolutely abstract, climaxing in a brassy hymn, alternately noisy and racy, and then subsiding into the dreamy thickets of open-ended sleep.
In The Discovery of Heaven Anderson stretches the modern orchestra’s technical potential on predominantly tonal lines while producing something both beautiful and original. We need a second and third performance – quickly, please, and preferably with a little more finesse in the faster exchanges than the LPO managed here.’
Financial Times (Andrew Clark), 26 March 2012
"done with all the artistry and assurance for which Anderson is renowned."
'A new work by Julian Anderson… is always something to look forward to, and his latest 17-minute piece for large orchestra, The Discovery of Heaven, certainly sounded tempting.
First, An Echo from Heaven: a movement spangled with very short notes on flute, harp and pizzicato strings, caught up and stabilised in longer chimes, pulses and resonances – and with a sound palette inspired by the Japenese sho mouth organ. And then In the Street: a contrasting bustle of feverish and fretting fragments, with echoes of buskers, dancers and protesters in seemingly random shock and aftershock, all jostling for our attention. This “topples over”, as the composer has it, into Hymns, an almost Ivesian coexistence of two layers of music: veiled, withdrawn strings and brass, and a variety of unpitched and dissonant accents and noises. They fight it out – but by the end, it’s not clear who has won. This was done with all the artistry and assurance for which Anderson is renowned.'
The Times (Hilary Finch), 26 March 2012
"a gripping journey"
'The Discovery of Heaven, Julian Anderson's striking new work for the London Philharmonic, takes its title from Harry Mulisch's 1992 novel. The vast sweep of that book, juxtaposing the mythic and timeless with the contemporary and the everyday, was a starting point for Anderson's abstract, 22-minute piece, in which rapt, slowly moving textures vie for dominance with music that is rowdy and discontinuous.
It is a gripping journey in three movements, conducted superbly by Ryan Wigglesworth. An opening haze of glassy, spectral chords and fidgety woodwind is followed by tumbling ideas that jostle for prominence; these overflow into the last section, which reaches a kind of accommodation.'
Guardian (Andrew Clements), 25 March 2012