Reviews of David Carlson’s Music
On Anna Karenina
Mr. Carlson (who visited Russia for inspiration) remained faithful to a 19th-century Russian sound world, even using a variant of the Czar’s Hymn (which Tchaikovsky used in “1812 Overture” and the “Marche Slav”) as a fate motif. His romantic and luxuriantly textured music, with soaring vocal writing, retains interest with an underlying tension and hint of astringency.
New York Times
Carlson’s score, written in a plush neo-Romantic style, embodies all the most appealing qualities of life among the leisure class. His melodies, parceled out among a series of carefully delineated arias and ensembles, are gracefully shaped and often beautiful in their outline. The harmonic language is pungent without being too elusive, the orchestral writing colorful, the rhythmic palette varied.
San Francisco Chronicle
Tackling the difficulties of assimilating the microtones and vocal inflections of Native American music within a lush, post-romantic score, Carlson uses distinctive Ute rhythms, dance steps, and instruments, including a river-cone flute.
The Operas: The Midnight Angel
In all of Carlson’s operas, one hears influences of the late works of Richard Strauss, yet Carlson’s sound is tinged with a harmonic and melodic openness more characteristic of the American symphonists. Form is never an end in itself for this composer, as it sometimes can be in the works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg and especially Hindemith. In his first opera, The Midnight Angel (1993), for instance, Carlson begins a waltz but moves in other directions after merely implying the waltz. And just as he is not afraid to apply the techniques and colors of the avant-garde, he is perfectly at home with the grandly tonal gesture.
On the Tuba Concerto
In two movements, Carlson managed to show us what a virtuoso of composition he is. It’s difficult to describe new music without associating it with the past, so I must invoke the memory of Ralph Vaughan Williams because Carlson’s Tuba Concerto is, in ways, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and “Serenade to Music.”
But Carlson writes as if he’s reinvented the Vaughan Williams sound, bringing the composer into the 21st century with luxuriant harmonies and a freshness that touches on Stravinsky’s dance works.
Elfin, playful, charming, cheeky and puckish, the finale is a gossamer treat. But the opening movement, marked Andante affettuoso, has a mysterious air to it that allows the sensuousness of the tuba, lovingly caressed by Hunsberger, to sound like something both beautiful and otherworldly.
Then we have the highlight, a performance of David Carlson’s Tuba Concerto featuring Jay Hunsberger’s astounding range and virtuosity with a collaborative chamber ensemble of double string quartet, bass, and harp. While not the world premiere, a performance earlier in the year at which I was present, this ensemble today played with commitment and consummate skill, revealing a far more polished new gem to enjoy in a tuba concerto like none other.
Commissioned by Jon Partridge for his partner, Hunsberger, the concerto benefited from close collaboration as the three considered the larger character of the final work as well as the technical demands required to highlight the limitless possibilities of the tuba in Hunsberger’s hands.
Carlson’s music is lush and colorful, rich in melody and inventive textures. The lyrical first movement, Andante affettuoso, drew on Hunsberger’s delicious singing tone and legato lines traversing large intervals with silky security. The strings and harp blending crossing arpeggios and straight tones rose and fell like shimmering waves in the sun.
The second movement Allegro vivo in contrast set an energetic metric 2/2/3 pattern as the underpinning for a musical air of magic, even whimsy. Rising and falling intervals of thirds, quintuplet runs, high trills, and tight dynamic surges were tossed among the soloist and ensemble at varying points. Lively, good humored, the music bounced with colorful effects and rhythmic contrasts.
On the first half, Blomstedt paired Haydn’s Symphony No. 86 with David Carlson’s Rhapsodies. The latter is a lush sequence of instrumental songs, currently making the rounds of orchestras great and small, far and near.
Reminiscent of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” in the shimmering scoring and David Del Tredici’s “Alice” music in its yearning sentiment, Rhapsodies is a gushingly accessible orchestral vehicle. Graced with eloquent, pointed woodwind solos and a warm string context, the performance rose frequently to expansive climaxes.
Los Angeles Times