Julian Anderson's 'Fantasias' in the UK

Anderson describes his latest orchestral work Fantasias as ‘a celebration of the modern symphony orchestra’.  It seems fitting then, that this exhilarating 5-movement work should be performed by one the most forward-looking and youthful of musical establishments, the UK’s National Youth Orchestra.

It was the Cleveland Orchestra that commissioned
Fantasias, and gave the premiere last November, but the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain got the challenging and exciting opportunity of introducing this virtuosic work to UK audiences, being the centrepiece of their summer tour, framed by French music, and conducted by Semyon Bychkov.


REVIEWS:

5* review in The Guardian!
‘It is Anderson’s first multi-movement work for orchestra, and, for all their subtle interconnections, the five pieces that make up Fantasias aim at maximum variety and contrast. The opening fantasia, for brass alone and sounding like a Gabrieli sonata with a postmodern makeover, is followed by a movement overflowing with ideas and luscious, deliquescent textures, and a whispering, creaking nocturne apparently inspired by rainforest sounds. The tiny, evanescent scherzo and breathtaking prestissimo finale both introduce quarter-tones, giving a fuzzy strangeness to some of the harmonies. It’s a wonderfully rich score, which the NYO at maximum strength – six bassoons, five harps, three tubas – played with remarkable precision.’ 
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 8 August 2010

‘It’s an incredibly arresting start to a piece which sets out to pitch sound against motion in a succession of brilliantly imagined polyphonies and is expressly designed to excite and tantalise and, in the case of the NYO, challenge and exercise. Even the extended “Nocturne” at its heart hums to a profusion of Bartokian insect life, all manner of con legno, slap-pizzicati, knocking and scratching effects conspiring to produce hyperactivity against a calm backdrop.’
The Independent (Edward Seckerson), 8 August 2010
 
Fantasias… exploited bravura, quick thinking and nifty articulation that the NYO demonstrated in abundance, underpinning the music’s propulsion and stimulating its brilliance.’
The Daily Telegraph (Geoffrey Norris), 9 August 2010
 
'Raucous in the best sense, it set up one of Anderson’s scintillating scores, rhythmically intricate, rich in unexpected and often eerie sounds (double basses particularly ear-catching), and with a vein of lyricism that occasionally skirted close to melody. The NYO played with absolute assurance, lapping up every challenge.'
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), August 2010

The UK premiere took place in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on 4 August, then on 5 August in Aldeburgh, finally arriving at the BBC Proms on 7 August for the London premiere.
 
Note from the composer:

Whereas my previous orchestral pieces have been in one continuous movement, this work is in five separate movements of varying length.  The main advantage of a multi-movement structure is that it allows stronger contrasts and more variety of forms to be used within the same piece. 
Fantasias explores these possibilities. 

The title
Fantasias indicates many things: a sense of fantasy and the fantastical, which is certainly one aspect of the music; the sense of caprice and unpredictability just mentioned, which is evident especially in movements 2, 4 and 5; and also that this is a set of varied movements which, though they belong together in this order, are not in any sense symphonic. 

For all its wild contrasts, Fantasias is a celebration of the modern symphony orchestra.
©
 
Julian Anderson

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