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TOWER: Made in America / Tambor / Concerto for Orchestra


Naxos 8.559328

   Allmusic.com, January 2009
   Amazon.com, January 2009
   InsideCatholic.com, August 2008
   Positive Feedback Online, August 2008
   Salisbury (North Carolina) Post, July 2007
   Salisbury (North Carolina) Post, July 2007
   St. Petersburg Times, July 2007
   Soundstage.com, July 2007
   MusicWeb International, July 2007
   Sequenza21.com, July 2007
   Sequenza21.com, June 2007
   Nashville Public Radio, June 2007
   Classical Lost and Found, June 2007
   June 2007
   The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 2007
   Soundstage.com, June 2007
   Audiophile Audition, June 2007
   ClassicsToday.com, June 2007
   David's Review Corner, June 2007
   eMusic, June 2007
   Post-Star, May 2007
   Time Out New York, May 2007
   The Tennessean, May 2007
   The Buffalo News, May 2007
   Nashville Scene, May 2007

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See latest reviews of other albums...

Mike D. Brownell
Allmusic.com, January 2009

This album exemplifies Joan Tower’s far-reaching skills as a composer and her ability to successfully reach a wide audience. The story of the composition “Made in America” is almost as interesting as the work itself. Commissioned by a consortium of 65 orchestra (at least one from each of the 50 states), “Made in America” has reached a more wide-spread audience in a short span of time than many other modern compositions do in a decade. A sort of fantasia on “America, the Beautiful,” “Made in America” was intentionally composed to appeal to a wise cross-section of the American population. Also on the album is “Tambor”—an energetic and rousing tour-de-force for the orchestra’s percussion section—and Tower’s two-part Concerto for Orchestra—one of the few such compositions to live up to the level of Bartok’s pinnacle work of the same name. Magnificent works deserve an equally stellar performance. Leonard Slatkin’s leadership of the Nashville Orchestra rises to that expectation. The ensemble delivers a thoughtful and insightful performance of Tower’s works. The percussion section in particular deserves kudos after meeting the Rouse-like demands made of it in “Tambor.” Absolutely a worthwhile representation of the best that American art music has to offer.



Robert Levine
Amazon.com, January 2009

Two of the works recorded here are world premiere recordings: “Made in America” and “Tambor.” The first uses “America the Beautiful” as its first melodic theme, and bits of it appear throughout the work. Tower interweaves the melodic fragments with many other original tunes, and she colors the work in what could be called the American idiom, with wide-open spaces. There is a central section of a darker nature, but the work ends in glory. “Tambor” is dominated by percussion of all kinds—drums, blocks, etc.—and is an exciting, propulsive work. There are long periods of solos for percussion instruments that act almost as mini-cadenzas. The Concerto for Orchestra is a terrific work that uses the sections of the orchestra as solos, duets and in bunches. Standout moments are a remarkable tuba solo, a dueling duet for trumpets, and a part for the cellos alone. It's a flavorful, fascinating work. Leonard Slatkin leads the Nashville Symphony in excellent performances.



Robert Reilly
InsideCatholic.com, August 2008

Joan Towers’ Naxos CD (8.559328) won the Triple Crown—Best Orchestral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and Best Classical Album. The Made in America composition, which leads the album, is the result of a neat idea. Sixty-five of the smaller budget orchestras in the US banded together, with help from the NEA (thank you, Dana Gioia), to commission this piece. It is a wonderful reward—a challenging fantasy on America the Beautiful. You may not think anyone has anything new to say on this theme, but Tower does. It is a tour de force, a dizzying dynamo of a piece. The big Concerto for Orchestra that fills most of the CD is like listening to a spring being coiled. The tension keeps ratcheting up, with all the attendant suspense. It is a high wire act. Huzzahs for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, under Leonard Slatkin!



Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, August 2008

If you know and appreciate many compositions by Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra), Stravinsky (Firebird Suite) or Prokofiev (Piano Concertos) then you are probably ready for these contemporary works by Joan Tower…Audio quality is fine and definitely full range but not quite the equal of Naxos’ finest efforts. At times a bit, just a wee bit, of high frequency etching or emphasis seemed to creep in though it may have simply been the scoring. Having no score or previous listening experience to the composition, I could not be certain. Made in America is being heavily promoted and deservedly so. Seemingly very well performed here, my recommendation is very positive for classical music lovers and with the added patriotic bonus of listening to a new American classic.





Salisbury (North Carolina) Post, July 2007

NEW YORK—Naxos has released the first commercial recording of composer Joan Tower’s “Made in America,” featuring the Nashville Symphony conducted by their Music Advisor Leonard Slatkin.

The CD, distributed in the United States and Canada by Naxos of America, also features Tower’s “Tambor” and “Concerto for Orchestra.”

Joan Tower’s work is part of the groundbreaking Ford Made in America program, the largest orchestral commissioning consortium in the country’s history, which involved 65 American orchestras. The Salisbury Symphony was one of the orchestras that took part, performing the work in 2006.

For more information on Ford Made in America, visit www.fordmadeinamerica.org



John Fleming
St. Petersburg Times, July 2007

Made in America, Tower’s fantasy on America the Beautiful, was the most-performed orchestral work by a living American composer in 2006. Commissioned by Ford Motor Co. and a consortium of orchestras, it was heard in all 50 states. (In Florida, the Venice Symphony played it.)…Tower’s 13-minute work receives a sumptuous performance by the Nashville Symphony under Leonard Slatkin. Made in America is not difficult, but she keeps things interesting with superbly crafted orchestration and unpredictable tone colors. The CD also includes Tower’s propulsive concerto for percussion, Tambor (Spanish for “drum”), and her Concerto for Orchestra.



Rad Bennett
Soundstage.com, July 2007

Musical Performance
Recording Quality
Overall Enjoyment

This CD has arrived just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July. It features music by Joan Tower, one of our busiest and most visible composers. Made in America is a piece commissioned by a consortium that includes 65 smaller orchestras based in the United States. Funded by Ford’s Made in America program, the work received an unprecedented 80 performances in 20 months (2005–2007)! It is a jubilant and lyrical Americana piece that sets forth “America, the Beautiful” as its main theme. The familiar tune is sometimes played softly and at other times booms out with jubilation.

First performed in 1998, Tambor is a taut, rhythmic concerto piece that features the percussion section playing a variety of instruments. It is more about orchestral color and percussion than melody.

The Concerto for Orchestra allows all the soloists and sections of the ensemble to have individual statements. It was simultaneously premiered in 1991 by the three orchestras that commissioned it: the St. Louis Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic.

The Nashville Symphony has become a major player in America’s orchestral life and is conducted here by its music advisor, Leonard Slatkin, whose commitment to American music is well known. With virtuoso players at his command, he leads performances that are tight and rhythmic, yet lyrical when called for.

The recorded sound, however, is not up to the usual Naxos standard. It is sometimes smeared by too much reverb that covers detail, and there is almost no perceptible stage depth. This is particularly true in the big full-orchestra sections that add percussion to the mix. Quieter passages are finely focused.



Julie Williams
MusicWeb International, July 2007

This is another instalment from the very impressive ‘American Classics’ series from Naxos, who are to be commended on this achievement. It is the third recording of American music I have reviewed this month, and has easily the greatest popular appeal of these.

Joan Tower has come to some attention in the UK recently for her ‘Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman’ dedicated to the conductor Marin Alsop—who undoubtedly deserves that accolade—who has performed it with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. It is regrettable that a woman conductor premiering the work of a woman composer remains an unusual combination, yet Joan Tower also thoroughly deserves recognition in her own right as a composer. Her work is distinctive but not obscure; it is exuberant and likeable with a strong egalitarian slant.

The opening work is a fantasy on the tune, ‘America the Beautiful’ (an unofficial national anthem), commissioned with the generous assistance of the Ford Motor Company. It has the distinction of having been performed in all fifty States of the USA, an unprecedented achievement for a new composition.

The concluding work on the disc, ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ showcases individual instruments from the orchestra in turn, creating a balance between soloists and ensemble playing and demonstrating the range of instrumental voices which are available within the symphony orchestra. It is both educational and of fundamental interest, as well as being an enjoyable rather than a purely didactic work.

In between is a percussion-focused piece, ‘Tambor’, influenced by Tower’s youthful years in South America, where she grew up . The title is the Spanish word for ‘drum’ and the main action of the work is concerned with rhythm and colour rather than motive or melody.

The music is all vibrant, energetic, clean-sounding and quintessentially American. The recording quality, which is very good, is particularly commendable from a budget label. It is an interesting and well-produced disc which would broaden the musical horizons of many listeners.



Sequenza21.com, July 2007

Joan Tower was the first composer commissioned by the 65-orchestra Ford-sponsored “Made in America” project (the second, announced earlier this year, is Joseph Schwantner), and here the eponymous result, along with the 1998 Tambor, receive their first recording. The similarities between the two pieces are striking. Both are about fifteen minutes long, starting with slow, dramatic gestures, then moving into driving fast sections built from tight motives. A development section lowers the temperature, after which there’s a long buildup to the return of the fast material, which then leads into an extended climax. Made in America is easier to follow structurally, due to the omnipresence of material derived from the familiar “Materna” hymn-tune we know as “America the Beautiful”; Tambor, almost a concerto for percussion section and orchestra, is more arresting on a moment-to-moment basis—Tower’s writing for percussion avoids obvious clichés, and she’s even able to engineer an orchestral situation that makes the sound of marimbas once more weird and fresh.

Tower’s penchant for small thematic cells is in evidence—the spotlighted sol-mi-mi-sol opening of “America the Beautiful” fits her style like a glove—and both pieces set fragments of material in opposition to each other, creating rhetoric reminiscent of Beethoven and Shostakovich. Combined with a harmonic vocabulary that hovers between minor and diminished, the result is a terse surface that shifts your attention to the movement of orchestral color, a forum in which Tower excels.

The 1991 Concerto for Orchestra takes this pattern to the extreme—the thematic vocabulary is boiled down to oscillating intervals and short, repeated scales. Over the work’s half-hour length, every part of the orchestra gets its workout, but the effect is less a showpiece of dexterity than one of power—at times, it seems the music is on the verge of slipping into one grandiose, monolithic ostinato.

Leonard Slatkin has long championed Tower; he zeroes in on the music’s tight-wound energy, and the Nashville Symphony follows his lead. Occasionally, the relentless momentum seems too much, too soon—one wonders what a performance that favored timbral subtlety over rhythmic propulsion would sound like—but for the most part, Tower’s music earns its license to drive.



Jerry Bowles
Sequenza21.com, June 2007

Composers, painters, writers, the whole motley lot—have always depended upon the kindness of strangers. Timely financial interventions of the Lorenzo de’ Medici here, the Nadezda von Meck there, the Paul Sacher over there have greased the skids for the makers of many of the world’s great masterpieces. Alas, those sort of patrons aren’t that plentiful nowadays and so a new “community” model of patronage has sprung up in which arts organizations pool their resources to commission new works. I call it the “Biegel” method after S21 blogger and pianist Jeffrey Biegel. I suspect he wasn’t the first to do it but he has turned joint financing of commissions into an art and a bustling career.

Joan Tower’s Made in America, which will be released by Naxos next Tuesday, is the latest example of the art of the deal, new music-style, and it adds an intriquing new wrinkle—a corporate sponsor. The project began as an attempt by 65 small orchestras from around the United States to pool their resources to commission a new work by a major American composer. With the help of the American Symphony Orchestra League, Meet The Composer, and Ford Motor Company Fund, (the latter patronage leading to the fortuitous branding, Ford Made in America), the project has brought Tower’s piece to towns nationwide.

Made in America, premiered in Glens Falls, New York in October 2005, and has received over 80 performances—making it perhaps the most-performed piece of new music in recent history—and is still making the rounds on the concert circuit.

The new Naxos recording marks the first appearance of new Music Advisor Leonard Slatkin on record with the Nashville Symphony.

As for the music itself: it’s not Ligeti but you knew that. Made in America is more like a Copland chocolate plucked from a Whitman Americana Sampler. Gooey and slightly pre-chewed, but you kind of like it.



Blake Farmer
Nashville Public Radio, June 2007


Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, June 2007

Now here’s some real action music from one of America’s greatest living women composers. There’s never an insipid second with Joan Tower (b. 1938) as evidenced by the three hyperactive orchestral delights served up on this release. Not only that, but audiophiles will revel in the spectacular sound captured on this disc. Made in America (c. 2005) is in essence a theme and variations based on America the Beautiful However, it’s quite different from any other T&V you’ve probably ever heard, because the theme never really appears in all its full glory. It’s more of a fragmentary riff that keeps surfacing on a boiling sea of transformations.

The piece opens ominously with veiled references to America…a la Charles Ives, but the pace soon quickens as the music shifts gears and gallops ahead. The tension ebbs and flows as passages of sublime beauty that hint at the main theme alternate with those of a much more threatening nature. The piece ends forcefully, but noncommittally. Make sure those tchotchkes are glued down before you play Tambor. With a heavy emphasis on percussion, it’s a high energy piece which will challenge the transient response capabilities of even the most sophisticated sound systems. Not surprisingly rhythmic elements predominate, while the little melodic material present seems inexorably Dies Irae—related. As the album notes point out, the piece might have been inspired by all those exotic South American percussion instruments the composer may have heard during her childhood in Bolivia. By the way, these are premiere recordings of the first two works.

The third selection, a concerto for orchestra (c. 1991), is in two continuous parts with a variety of instrumental solos that must make it just as enjoyable to play as to hear. It opens quietly with all sorts of instrumental creatures gradually coming to life. Tension mounts as a chugging locomotive of a theme, again with Dies Irae connotations, proceeds to run amuck throughout the whole orchestra. The first part ends frenetically leading right into the concluding one and an anguished passage for the strings. A restrained, hauntingly lovely episode for various solo winds follows. But not for long, because the strings like a swarm of angry Bartokian bees soon swoop down on the rest of the orchestra. This causes great agitation and gives rise to a theme sounding somewhat like a musical case of the hiccups. These subside as the Dies Irae Express once again comes roaring down the track. The concerto ends in typical Tower action fashion with a “March to the Scaffold” drum roll and fff harumph of a final chord.

The performances by the Nashville Symphony under conductor Leonard Slatkin, a longtime Tower advocate, make a strong case for this music. The recording speaks for itself. If you find this CD to your tastes, you might want to try another Naxos release featuring Ms. Tower’s chamber music (Naxos 8.559215)



Evanston (IL)
June 2007

…Quick, name a new piece of classical music by a name composer that received more than 80 performances by orchestras last year. Usually funds are available for premieres and then the music languishes. Not so with Joan Tower’s 13-minute composition “Made in America,” which was played in all 50 of the United States, due to a commission from the American Symphony Orchestra League and a grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund. One of those performances was by the Evanston Symphony Orchestra. Now a CD of “Made in America,” along with other works by Tower has been recorded on the Naxos label by the Nashville Symphony, conducted by Leonard Slatkin. “Made in America” is the first track and it is a fantasy on the theme of “America the Beautiful.”



David Perkins
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 2007

Since Joan Tower wrote “Made in America” in 2004, it has been performed in almost every state. That was the idea, to get smaller symphony orchestras to help pay for a major work by a major American composer to juice up their repertoires.

Sixty-five participated, making it the biggest orchestral commissioning consortium ever. Ford Motor Co. supplemented the funds with a major grant, and now Naxos is bringing out a recording by the Nashville Symphony in its “American Classics” series.

“Made in America“ may not be a classic—presumably that takes more than three years to determine—but it is certainly a beauty. The 13-minute symphonic piece is a meditation on “America the Beautiful” that takes the melody, breaks it apart and surrounds it with opposite moods of conflict and violence, before coming serenely home again.

In a video on the Ford Made in America Web site, Tower offers a thoughtful introduction with piano excerpts. A New Yorker who lived in Bolivia in her teens, she says she felt pride in America along with an early sense of dislocation. But she warns against listening for political commentary. (It would be hard to tell whether it's a critique of America divided within, or America threatened from without.)

Nevertheless, it is a timely piece with arresting colors and ideas, not very far from the mainstream. The Nashville orchestra plays skillfully, as it does on two other Tower works, “Tambor” and Concerto for Orchestra, under Leonard Slatkin.

While vaguely suggesting that one should buy American cars, Ford Made in America is a worthy program that has entered a second cycle, with Joseph Schwantner as the composer of choice and a new work to premiere in 2008.



Rad Bennett
Soundstage.com, June 2007

This CD has arrived just in time to celebrate the Fourth of July. It features music by Joan Tower, one of our busiest and most visible composers. Made in America is a piece commissioned by a consortium that includes 65 smaller orchestras based in the United States. Funded by Ford’s Made in America program, the work received an unprecedented 80 performances in 20 months (2005-2007)! It is a jubilant and lyrical Americana piece that sets forth "America, the Beautiful" as its main theme. The familiar tune is sometimes played softly and at other times booms out with jubilation.

First performed in 1998, Tambor is a taut, rhythmic concerto piece that features the percussion section playing a variety of instruments. It is more about orchestral color and percussion than melody.

The Concerto for Orchestra allows all the soloists and sections of the ensemble to have individual statements. It was simultaneously premiered in 1991 by the three orchestras that commissioned it: the St. Louis Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic.

The Nashville Symphony has become a major player in America’s orchestral life and is conducted here by its music advisor, Leonard Slatkin, whose commitment to American music is well known. With virtuoso players at his command, he leads performances that are tight and rhythmic, yet lyrical when called for.

The recorded sound, however, is not up to the usual Naxos standard. It is sometimes smeared by too much reverb that covers detail, and there is almost no perceptible stage depth. This is particularly true in the big full-orchestra sections that add percussion to the mix. Quieter passages are finely focused.



John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, June 2007

Its bold sort of sound fits in well with the “American” sonic palette of Copland, Ives and others, without sounding like any of them.

The New Yorker hailed Joan Tower as one of the most successful women composers of all time and Made in America—the work that serves as the overall title of this CD—has already achieved the enviable state of having been performed in all 50 states of the U.S. It is a 13-minute fantasy based on America the Beautiful. Tower’s music is spirited and confident, and that includes confidence in a generally tonal but not retro approach. Its bold sort of sound fits in well with the “American” sonic palette of Copland, Ives and others, without sounding like any of them.

The orchestra’s percussion section gets a workout during Tambor, which was inspired by the composer’s love of percussion and especially the percussion in South American music. Tower’s Concerto for Orchestra is intended as a modern counterpart to Bartok’s work of the same name. The orchestra’s individual instruments are displayed in solo form, paired up, and as entire sections. This work especially points up the high level performance standards of the Nashville Symphony. Naxos’ recording captures well all three works—the first two of which are world premiere recordings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Made in America doesn’t turn up on some concert programs this 4th of July week.




ClassicsToday.com, June 2007

Joan Tower ’s Made in America resulted from a commissioning project involving 65 smaller-budget American orchestras; it was designed to challenge without intimidation, and to be accessible as opposed to simplistic. The work typifies Tower’s splendid ear for sonority and her subtle harmonic sense, not to mention her ease and authority operating within the American symphonic syntax as defined by Copland and his circle. And like a good American, Tower proves an equal opportunity employer in that each orchestral section gets its fair share, so to speak. She uses America the Beautiful not so much as a main theme but rather as a jumping off point.

More virtuosic demands permeate Tower’s 1991 Concerto for Orchestra, where soloists and smaller instrumental groups assert both their individual profile and facility to engage in chamber-like combat with their neighbors. I’m especially taken with the lengthy yet riveting tuba solo and the wild brass/percussion sparring near the end. Although Leonard Slatkin’s interpretation may not always match the playful, somewhat lighter bearings of the composition’s earlier recording on Koch with Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony, the Nashville Symphony boasts lustier strings, heftier brass, and stronger, more decisive percussion players. The latter, in fact, brilliantly dominate throughout Tambor, and will prove hard to beat (pun intended) should another maestro dare to challenge this premiere recorded version. Naxos ’ first-rate engineering mirrors the music’s excitement and immediacy. Enthusiastically recommended!



David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

Joan Tower has been described in The New Yorker as one of the world’s most successful female composers of all time, and certainly she has received more commissions and performances in recent years than any other. Brought up in South America where she was to enjoy the exotic sounds, she was musically educated in the United States, becoming active as a pianist and composer. A reformed serialist, she has in recent years concentrated on compositions that create an audience relationship and was the first choice in an on-going concept that came from small-budget orchestras who are combining with Ford Motors to commission new compositions that will be played throughout the States. As this does involve orchestras of differing ability Made in America was written with the idea of making it technically within the grasp of all, but difficult enough to attract major orchestras. Premiered in October 2005 and since performed in all fifty states, it uses the nation’s unofficial anthem, America the Beautiful, as the thematic material. Vibrantly rhythmic, tuneful and very attractive, it ends with a suitably brilliant coda. Tambor, came seven years earlier and was dedicated to the Pittsburgh Symphony, its content vividly coloured and calling for much tuned percussion, and, as the composer comments, ‘The other instruments begin to act more and more like percussion instruments themselves’ The Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned jointly by the New York Philharmonic, Chicago and St Louis orchestras in 1991 in many ways follows that of Bartok in its use of instruments as soloists, pairs and sections. But whereas Bartok searched out the brighter colours of the instruments, Towers looks towards the pastel shades with long passages of quiet and restrained music. In two movements the result is no less demanding on the musicians who are asked to explore those subtleties which are far more difficult to attain. Throughout the Nashville Symphony, under their distinguished new Music Director, Leonard Slatkin, are outstanding and show that they can be numbered among the major league in the States. Sound quality does full justice to the performances, giving suitable prominence to soloists without spotlighting them, while at the same time achieving a nice transparency throughout the dynamic range. The first two pieces are World Premiere recordings, and Naxos are again to be thanked for bringing more American music to our attention than the major American labels.



Vivien Schweitzer
eMusic, June 2007

This outstanding contemporary classical piece is surely coming to a theatre near you.

New pieces of classical music often suffer a predictable fate: after being trotted out with much fanfare for a premiere they proceed to languish unheard for years afterwards. Not “Made in America,” though: leading US composer Joan Tower’s orchestral work has received over 80 performances recently (with at least one in every state) thanks to the Ford Made in America program, a collaboration between dozens of American orchestras, the American Symphony Orchestra League, Meet the Composer and the Ford Motor Company Fund.

“Made in America” receives its premiere recording on a vibrant Naxos release featuring the Nashville Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Tower’s stirring, energetically colorful, tonal work incorporates the theme of “America the Beautiful” as a recurring motif, with darker moments of rhythmic urgency tempering the more optimistic passages.

The disc also features the premiere recording of Tower’s propulsive, rhythmically driven “Tambor,” a lively percussion extravaganza interwoven with melancholy string melodies.

The riotous, richly-textured “Concerto for Orchestra” (which concludes the disc) is a workout for all members of the ensemble, who are spotlighted in solos, pairs and sections, including a free cadenza for French horn, tuba and violin solos, fiery percussion interludes, a snazzy trumpet duo and a lyrical, plaintive cello ensemble.

Leonard Slatkin clearly believes in Tower’s music and he transmits his enthusiasm to the Nashville musicians, who deliver bristling, energetic and nuanced performances.



Glens Falls
Post-Star, May 2007

Naxos on Tuesday released the first commercial recording of composer Joan Tower’s “Made in America,” which the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra premiered in October 2005.

“Made in America” is the first composition produced as part of the groundbreaking Ford Made in America program, the largest orchestral commissioning consortium in the country’s history.

In its first program cycle, Ford Made in America has provided 65 American orchestras, at least one from each state across the nation, the opportunity to pool resources and achieve together what not one of them could afford to do individually in their own community.

Robert Rosoff, executive director of the Glens Falls Symphony, originally conceived the plan for a consortium commission and was instrumental in bringing it to reality.

The Ford Made in America program made Joan Tower the most frequently performed living American composer in the 2005–2006 concert season.

The CD, distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Naxos of America, features the Nashville Symphony conducted by their music advisor, Leonard Slatkin, and also includes Tower’s “Tambor” and Concerto for Orchestra.

Ford Made in America is made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company.



Joseph Dalton
Time Out New York, May 2007


Jonathan Marx
The Tennessean, May 2007

The Nashville Symphony’s new album, due in stores today, may be its latest in a growing line of releases on the prolific Naxos label, but it occupies a special place in the ensemble’s discography.

Featuring the music of composer Joan Tower, the disc is the first to be recorded in Schermerhorn Symphony Center; the sessions took place in June 2006, nearly three months before the building was even finished. The album is also the first release to feature the orchestra under the baton of musical adviser Leonard Slatkin. As produced and engineered by Grammy-winning classical producer Tim Handley, the album captures the symphony center in all its depth and clarity, opening with the quietest whisper of strings and erupting in bursts of rhythmic intensity.

The title composition, “Made in America,” is the culmination of an unusual program in which 65 orchestras from throughout the country teamed up—with the assistance of the American Symphony Orchestra League, Meet the Composer and the Ford Motor Company Fund—to commission a work by Tower, one of the country’s preeminent contemporary composers.

This collaboration brought benefits for all involved: Many small-town orchestras got a rare chance to present a brand-new piece of classical music, while in the last year and a half, Tower’s work has been heard 70 times. At least one performance has taken place in every state of the nation.

Full of color and drive, Tower’s music can build to moments of monumental urgency. “Made in America” is a little different, though, in that it was written specifically to be played by orchestras of varying size and ability—and to be heard by audiences all over the country. Within this more lyrical and ostensibly more accessible work, which uses “America the Beautiful” as a recurring motif, Tower inserts moments of distress and dynamism, as if to suggest that we cannot take for granted our country’s beauty and greatness.

“The piece isn’t quite as simple as one would be led to believe,” Slatkin observes. “It may be the only time Tower decided to write a piece that wound up having a patriotic reference, but it’s not (patriotic). If you didn’t know the title, you’d still know it was by Joan Tower. It has all her hallmarks: strong rhythms; music based on scale passages; harmonic language that tends to be consonant rather than dissonant; and, like all of her pieces, energy dominates the work.”

Nashvillians will have a chance to hear “Made in America” performed live next month, when the Nashville Symphony performs June 21 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center as part of the annual American Symphony Orchestra League conference, taking place in Nashville this year. For now, however, we have this album, which in addition to “Made in America” features two more characteristic Tower compositions, “Tambor” and “Concerto for Orchestra,” both bracing works that demand the listener’s attention.

Poignantly, the album is dedicated to the Nashville Symphony’s late assistant librarian, Jeremy Dawkins, who passed away the day before the album was recorded.



Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, May 2007

Well, yes, the money comes from the Ford Motor Co. and the National Endowment. And says the composer, the entire 13-minute work is a fantasy on “American the Beautiful.” It’s thematically transformed at the beginning and snippets keep drifting by phantasmagorically, but “Made in America” is an entirely different sort of work—a strong and serious piece of vigorous, athletic 1940s-ish symphonic neoclassicism in the great American tradition of Walter Piston, William Schuman and Aaron Copland. (It’s not for nothing that one of Tower’s pieces is forthrightly titled “Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman.”) Nor is any of that a knock on the composer, whose three works here are bracing and exciting even occasionally stern American symphonic music redolent of the era when composers were so much more comfortable with the idea of public art than they later became. She’s an exciting and much-awarded composer celebrating her 70th birthday year.



John Pitcher
Nashville Scene, May 2007

Who says there’s no mass market for great art? A few years ago, 65 small to midsize orchestras decided to commission a new work from a prominent composer. The result was Made in America, a dynamic 13-minute piece that’s already received an unprecedented 70-plus performances in all 50 states.

Last summer, conductor Leonard Slatkin led the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere recording of Made in America at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. That CD, a terrific disc just released on the classical label Naxos, reveals Joan Tower as a symphonic composer of the first rank. And the NSO, which was giving its acoustically marvelous new concert hall one of its first test drives, gives the composer her due.

Tower says the inspiration for Made in America came from her time living in Bolivia. “When I returned to the United States [at age 18], I was proud to have free choices, upward mobility and the chance to be who I wanted to be,” Tower writes in her program notes. “I also enjoyed the basic luxuries of an American citizen that we so often take for granted: hot running water, blankets for the cold winters, floors that are not made of dirt and easy modes of transportation.”

For Tower, the music that best represents her deep and abiding love of country is “America the Beautiful,” so she uses snippets of that song throughout her piece. But she never quotes any part of the tune in its entirety. She starts out with “O beautiful, for spacious skies,” but when she comes to the second part of the phrase—“and amber waves of grain”—she rewrites the tune so that it keeps rising instead of descending to its expected cadence. In effect, it sounds as if the notes have suddenly broken free of gravity. “I like to go up,” Tower writes of her compositional technique.

Made in America is by no means a fiendishly difficult piece—Tower was commissioned to write music that both large and small orchestras could play. But it is a vivid and colorful piece, a work full of dramatic sweep. Slatkin and the NSO, for their parts, give the music an expert performance. They play with vigor and precision, but also with flexibility, making the rendition sound almost improvisational. The sound quality of the recording is also first-rate, with the Schermerhorn adding its bell-like clarity to the final product.

The CD features two other Tower pieces: Tambor and the Concerto for Orchestra. Tambor is the Spanish word for drum, and this kinetic, 15-minute work is indeed a showcase for percussion. Aggressive, offbeat rhythms abound in the piece; various percussion instruments are allowed to shine in extended cadenza-like passages. Slatkin and the NSO give a take-no-prisoners account that pushes the envelope on volume and tempo. Yet they never shortchange the music’s lyrical qualities (an extended solo violin section is especially affecting), and no matter how grueling the passagework, they consistently maintain a tight ensemble.

Tower’s Concerto for Orchestra (1991) is one of the great symphonic works of the past quarter-century. Lasting 30 minutes, this is an action-packed piece that tests every section of the orchestra. Blistering fast passages for winds and strings alternate with big block chords for the entire orchestra. Dynamics range from dulcet pianissimos to thundering fortissimos. Gratefully, Slatkin and his players leave no emotion unexplored. Their playing pulsates with raw energy in storm-and-stress sections, and shimmers with plaintive beauty in lyrical passages. It is a fully engrossing and satisfying musical experience.

It’s perhaps worth noting that the symphony hasn’t been sounding this polished and enthralling in concert. In fact, the orchestra has tended to sound like a slightly different ensemble every other week, an inconsistency no doubt due to the idiosyncrasies of the season’s long roster of guest conductors. In any case, the new CD shows what this orchestra is capable of under Slatkin.






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9:09:37 PM, 28 July 2014
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