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Mazzoli: Dark With Excessive Bright

Mazzoli: Dark With Excessive Bright

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Named ‘2022 Composer of the Year’ by Musical America, Missy Mazzoli inhabits an exquisite and mysterious sound-world in which indie-rock sensibilities meet American minimalism, European modernism and classical traditions. The first woman ever to receive a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, she has also composed for prominent soloists, ensembles and orchestras around the world. Through her music, she reaches to the roots of tradition, inhabits and renovates older forms while using every resource at her command. Mazzoli, who says that she likes “to tell stories”, always imagines actors, singers and dancers grappling with a situation, even when she composes instrumental works. The album is bookended by two versions of the same work: loosely based on baroque idioms the violin concerto Dark with Excessive Bright is first heard with string orchestra accompaniment and then in a chamber version. The soloist is in both cases Peter Herresthal, who also performs Vespers for Violin, a piece for amplified violin and electronics using sampled organs, voices and strings, drenched in delay and distortion. Three orchestral works complete the programme: Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), These Worlds in Us and Orpheus Undone in performances by the Arctic Philharmonic under Tim Weiss.


When Missy Mazzoli was just 10 years old, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, she confidently declared she was a composer, although she hadn’t written a single note. Her family thought it was a phase she would get through. Now 42, Mazzoli is among today’s busiest and most respected composers. She’s best known for her operas, such as the career-boosting Breaking the Waves, but a new album, titled Dark with Excessive Bright, is the first to showcase the young composer’s purely symphonic music.

[The] titular Dark with Excessive Bright [is] a lyrical violin concerto inspired by a very old double bass which sat in an Italian monastery for centuries and whose cracks were patched with pages from the Good Friday liturgy.

The concerto riffs on baroque formulas while recycling motifs in fresh disguises. Like a photographer, Mazzoli captures moments rich in texture and charged with expression. They are hard to describe, but you can see them in your ear. For example, after the orchestra slides up to a cadence, low strings pluck the beat, high strings twinkle with glitter, and in the middle, a melody wanders a solitary path. (As a fascinating bonus, the album includes a reduced version of the piece for solo violin and string quintet.)

...while this album is purely symphonic, drama abounds in the music. Mazzoli dedicates the piece These Worlds in Us to her father, a Vietnam vet. Sometimes the music swirls downward on sliding string figures while other passages prove that Mazzoli knows how to make an orchestra roar like a jet engine.

Coming of age in a DIY environment, and encouraged by outfits like the Bang on a Can collective of composer-performers, Mazzoli is at home using rock instruments and electronics in her music. On Vespers for Violin, played with ardor and agility by Peter Herresthal, Mazzoli sampled old organs, strings and voices, and waterlogged them in distortion.

Mazzoli likes to think of herself as primarily an opera composer. But with instrumental music as expressive and rigorously built as this – not to mention the dynamic performances here by the Bergen and Arctic Philharmonic Orchestras – we kindly ask that she not forget the command she holds over a symphony orchestra.

-- NPR Music

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: BIS
    • UPC/Barcode: 7318599925721
    • Item Number: BIS-2572