Reheated gestures from a museum

I would love to hear something genuinely new from a US composer of any age, let alone Jay Greenberg (above) at 15. But if you were thinking of using Cilla Black's wonderful putdown - "I've got tights older than that" - be warned that Greenberg's musical language is on the antique side. The fifth symphony is an impressively skilful exercise in academic harmony, orchestration and counterpoint, with no sense of anything new in the voice at all.

The first movement begins with a standard, late-19th-century unison string tune answered by a woodwind chorus; the harmony is Mahler, the orchestral style Dvorak. The galumphing scherzo shows that Vaughan Williams's reputation had gone further into the US than anyone knew - the model here is the Sinfonia Antartica, which even in 1952 was an incredibly conservative piece. The kindest thing to say about the finale is that it made one wonder whether the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra is still under copyright.

Strikingly, there is nothing more recent in Greenberg's ears than some very conservative music from 60 years ago. I do not think this is a matter of personal taste; that is the last moment in history when serious art music was still being written within a set of academic rules.

Greenberg will either grow up and use his dusty technical command to produce something vital and original, or he will stay exactly where he is and go and make a killing in Hollywood. After all, that's where the main market for orchestral music is these days. What can be said for certain is that serious art music could never be written by a child. The only things that are left for even the most brilliant of them are reheated gestures from a museum.
Philip Hensher in today's Guardian produces ressuring evidence that the art of music criticism isn't quite dead, although Greenberg's hyperbolic Wikipedia entry may convince you otherwise. Interestingly Greenberg is represented by IMG Artists, an honour shared with many other high profile artists including John Adams.

The work awarded a crouching ovation by the Guardian is Jay Greenberg's much hyped Fifth Symphony (sleeve left) on Sony Classical, recorded by José Serebrier and the London Symphony Orchestra. The LSO seem to have a thing about kiddies, as this story explains.

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