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Customer Reviews

Spend an hour with Peter Boyer

Peter Boyer's music has been called “unapologetically populist,” with a “cinematic musical language [that] is a stew of Copland, Bernstein and John Williams.” All of this is apparent in the first six tracks of this CD, which are a compilation of shorter works spanning a fourteen year period from 1997 to 2011. Populist yes: his music eschews the harsh dissonance of atonalism, the deterministic tendencies and contrapuntal artifices of serialism, the process music of minimalism. Rather, like one of his own musical heroes, Leonard Bernstein, he draws inspiration from popular music styles which formed the backdrop for his coming of age: the orchestral ambiance of a movie score by Elmer Bernstein (with whom he studied) or John Williams; the lyricism of a Billy Joel ballad and modality of a Beatle’s tune; the tonal centeredness and rhythmic drive inherent to jazz and rock.

But populist does not negate serious; neither does it mean simplistic or unsophisticated. Like another one of the composers he admires, John Adams, Boyer knows how to take materials and layer them over an ostinato into increasingly dense and complex textures. He knows how to take small melodic motives and transform them into longer melodies. He can easily alter the character of a melody, transforming lyrical introspection into exuberant joy. He has a knack for balancing the highs with the lows. He extracts colors from his orchestrations that can range from bold neon to subtle pastel. And he is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.

This latter point is apparent in the final three tracks, which comprise the signature work of the recording: his Symphony No. 1. Dispensing with the predictable format of the typical symphony, Boyer begins with a prelude that is a hybrid of fugue and developing variation. The modal subject proves its versatility: it works just fine in a four-voiced exposition, strings only, which has a sort of wind-swept expansiveness to it as it slowly gathers its forces. When the brass section enters, the fugue transforms itself into something more developmental in character: the theme undergoes two sets of diminution, motives are extracted and sequenced, and melodic fragments transform into unfolding harmonic constructions. Having an ear for organic proportions, Boyer builds to a climax and takes it all away at just about the Fibonacci point in the movement. The subject becomes a tender lullaby that hovers over an interior pedal tone, giving beautiful harmonic stasis and a peaceful quietude until the end.

The calm is shattered with the outset of the second movement, with Boyer again shunning the usual symphonic template. This is the unrelentingly rhythmic Scherzo/Dance. With its jaunty 1231231231212 ostinato as the alternately explicit and implicit underpinning of the movement, Boyer creates layer upon layer comprised of melodies and countermelodies, repeating harmonic progressions, pedal points, and variations of the same in an ABA’ format.

The last movement is almost as long as the previous two, and delivers a summation and conclusion to what came before. An Adagio rather than an Allegro, its main theme is a sibling to that of the first movement, and proves its worth in the same way, offering opportunities for motivic parsing, imitation, solo and tutti settings, character transformation and development. Boyer takes his time and enjoys the journey with his material, ending with a satisfying full-orchestra climax.

If you want to languish in melancholy, you can go to Górecki. If you need something unrelenting and motoric to accompany an hour on the treadmill, you can call Phillip Glass. But if you need to “snap out of it”, or if you’re already on top of the world and want to stay there, or if there is just not room for anything sad in your life, or if you need an infusion of inspiration but need it to be in the form of music that has more to offer than its immediate attraction, spending an hour with Peter Boyer will fit your bill quite nicely.
—Joseph Schubert

A great addition to NAXOS and to the American orchestral canon

Peter Boyer’s music, while unafraid to bear its tonal roots in a modern harmonic paradigm, exudes both a rhythmic vigor and an optimistic vitality that identify a distinctly American sound.

The focus of this album is, of course, Symphony No. 1. The introduction is that of a fugato, beginning inconspicuously in second violins: one might find this to be an interesting choice for a symphony born into the 21st century concert hall, but it nonetheless feels satisfying upon propelling itself into a jubilant fanfare. The following movement, a scherzo, settles into a jaunty groove whose mixed meters invoke a dancelike quality reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein (to whom the Symphony is fittingly dedicated). The final movement is nearly as long as the first two combined: beginning with an adagio, Boyer explores his lyrical signature in the form of a lengthy melody that, to me, sits somewhere between a love theme and an anthem for optimism. Through different harmonic and orchestrational treatments, this theme drives the symphony to a resoundingly uplifting completion.

The remaining tracks, though smaller in scale, are rousing additions. Three included fanfares ensure that this album is at no shortage for exuberance (or romantic counter theme!), and "Three Olympians" explores a more cinematic kind of music (particularly No. 3, with the inclusion of some interesting string techniques).

As expected, the LPO delivers a virtually impeccable performance with equally adept mastering of the final tracks. The sound is full, extremely well balanced, and delivers great ‘oomph’ where applicable. A very good listen indeed!

Contemporary American orchestral music at its finest

Peter Boyer's latest release in the Naxos American Classics Series is a must-have for fans of contemporary American orchestral music. From the jubilant fanfares of such rousing, celebratory works as "Silver Fanfare," "Festivities," and "Celebration Overture" to the exhilarating textures and magisterial strains of "Three Olympians" and Symphony No. 1, this album of recordings by the composer and the legendary London Philharmonic Orchestra does not disappoint. Fans of Boyer's orchestral works will be delighted to find such a broad spectrum of his concert hall music (1997-2013) now available on a single disc/digital album; for those who are new to Boyer's music, this recording provides an excellent introduction to his previous compositions for the concert hall, as well as his very latest works in the genre.

For many concertgoers, the label "contemporary orchestral music" might initially seem to suggest elitist, esoteric sound experiments that must be patiently tolerated until the memorable melodies of familiar concert masterworks by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms are heard during the second half of a symphonic concert program. Not so with Boyer's concert works; in fact, his tuneful, ebullient orchestral scores often bring audiences to their feet in genuine excitement and enthusiasm. The three celebratory overtures on this album are all cases in point: "Silver Fanfare" positively shimmers with energy and life, and "Festivities" and "Celebration Overture" both display a balance between the sonic fireworks of Boyer's trademark orchestral flair and the expressive lyricism of his well-crafted themes. The vivid, picturesque qualities of "Three Olympians" brilliantly demonstrate Boyer's full palette of extended techniques and timbres, as well as his solid command of the string orchestra. Lastly, the epic outer movements and exuberant middle movement of his Symphony no. 1 showcase his ability to craft long-breathed melodic lines, energetic rhythms, and dazzling orchestral colors in an accessible and thoroughly American style.

For those who have lost hope in contemporary orchestral concert music, and who long for a return to the elements of melody, rhythmic pulse, and symphonic grandeur as exemplified in the great Americana tradition of Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and John Williams, look no further than Peter Boyer's latest recording on Naxos-–you will not be disappointed.


Formed: October 7, 1932 in London, England

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the central institutions of the busy London concert scene, has long been recognized as one of the world's great ensembles, an assertion borne out by continued acclaim from audiences and critics alike. When the venerable Royal Philharmonic Society faced a financial crisis in the late 1920s, Sir Thomas Beecham proposed a plan to form a permanent orchestra for the first time in the Society's 115-year history. It was proposed that the ensemble, to be called...
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