US Premiere for Gabriel Prokofiev's 'Concerto for Turntables'

US Premiere for Gabriel Prokofiev's 'Concerto for Turntables'
Gabriel Prokofiev’s US profile is firmly in the ascendancy.  His NonClassical label is now distributed by Naxos USA, and, he featured at the SXSW festival in 2009.  He has also enjoyed recent features at the Wordless Music Series in New York, and in July this year hosted NonClassical club nights at Le Poisson Rouge (NY) and in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Now his orchestral music has been heard stateside, following the US premiere of his Concerto for Turntables & Orchestra, given by the enterprising Present Music ensemble in Milwaukee.  The composer travelled from the UK for the concert which took place on 18 September, and that featured local DJ Madhatter as the soloist. The programme also featured Ligeti’s Piano Concerto and Sea Tropes by Ingram Marshall.
"The orchestra made the sorts of woozy, scratchy sounds DJs make on turntables early in Gabriel Prokofiev’s Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, which Present Music performed Saturday. Later, DJ Madhatter (aka Jordan Lee) turned the tables: He made sounds the orchestra made — literally. The source material on his vinyl was the orchestra part, although we didn’t realize that until he played it back more or less strait somewhere in the third movement.

That was smart and funny, like most of this ground-breaking concerto. Prokofiev has demonstrated that this hip-hop instrument can interact sensibly with real live music played from dots on lines and spaces. The composer even wrote out the turntable part, with detailed rhythms and approximate pitch. Madhatter had it all under control, from the lighting-quick rhythmic exchanges with the orchestra of 20 or so to the free-form cadenzas. He and Prokofiev even managed a bit of lyricism, which Lee expressed in patient rhetorical phrases.

Mostly, though, Prokofiev treated the turntables as percussion instruments. They work well that way, because hard-edge rhythm is natural on them and because they provide a limitless range of color. Prokofiev deftly arranged call-and-response at some times and at others interlocked the turntables with orchestral ostinatos.

Prokofiev is fond of ostinato+melody. That is one of the oldest, simplest textures in music, but he’s clever and fresh with it. Ostinatos cropped up a lot in the concerto and in a sampling of three movements from his two string quartets. The relatively simple quartets are tuneful, mostly modal, immediately comprehensible and without irony. This music is not naïve, but an appealing, innocent charm wafts about it."
ThirdCoast Digest (Tom Strini), 19 September 2010

"Some of the turntable’s licks were straight out of hip-hop; others more interestingly manipulated recorded orchestral sounds. There were even cadenzas. The music was most interesting when it had a jazz or rock bent and a lighter spirit. Prokofiev is a master at creating an extreme slowmotion rock beat."
Shepherd-Express (Rick Walters), 21 September 2010

"In his music for string quartet, Prokofiev shows a love for percussive, dynamic contrast.  There’s a lot of delicate pizzicato plucking.  And at other times, bows bounce against the strings.  But there’s still an embrace of gorgeous melody.
In the closing piece, “Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra,” Prokofiev matches a full ensemble with a Turntable DJ…  Prokofiev allows him several cadenzas of sorts, in which he mixes and mashes samples of orchestra riffs that we’ve just heard. Jordan “DJ Madhatter” Lee had a great time, and so did the audience."
Milwaukee Magazine (Paul Kosidowski), 20 September 2010