MASON BATES: Works for Orch. – SF Sym./ Michael Tilson Thomas /Mason Bates, electronica – SFS Media

by | Mar 13, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MASON BATES: Works for Orchestra [TrackList below] – San Francisco Sym./ Michael Tilson Thomas /Mason Bates, electronica – SFS Media multichannel (5.1) SACD SFS0065 TT: 1:11:14 (3/11/16) ****:

Contemporary music with a first-rate multichannel recording.

This is a very fine collection of music by the prolific and talented Mason Bates, a contemporary composer who has written contemporary symphonies and works that include electronic instruments. Earlier this year, he was named composer-in-residence of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (their first ever composer-in-residence appointment), starting this fall and through the 2017-18 season.

Notable works include Alternative Energy, a symphony premiered by Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Liquid Interface, a water symphony commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra; and The B-Sides, a symphony commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony. Those are the three works that reside on this multichannel SACD.

The B-Sides is a lyrical work, but Bates pushes the symphonic boundaries with unique sounds, and even some sound clips from NASA. Sometimes it has the sound of film music, at other times it is dreamy or even playful.

Liquid Interface is a treatise on liquids, with section titles like Glaciers Calving and On the Wannsee. Bates considers the four movements his ‘first symphony’. It’s a compelling work for orchestra, sound effects, and electronic music.

The disc concludes with Alternative Energy, scored for orchestra, laptop and speakers. It begins at Henry Ford’s 19th Century junkyard, and winds up in our present day with scientific breakthroughs like super colliders.

From an audiophile perspective, this is a superb rendering of Bate’s music. Although it’s available in stereo downloadable formats, it really works best in its native 5.1 surround. In my listening room I expanded it with Dolby ProLogic to 7.1 with excellent room-filling sound. It’s involving, dynamic, and a truly enjoyable experience. At times the bass is prodigious when the sound effects kick in.

Some electronic music leaves me cold, but Bates is a tremendously interesting composer who explores a variety of unique sounds and blends them expertly with an acoustic orchestra. Michael Tilson Thomas continues to explore these new musical frontiers, and for that he is to be congratulated and encouraged. The interesting music and the demonstration quality recording make for a unique musical experience. Recommended!


The B-Sides
1.      Broom of the System
2.      Aerosol Melody (Hanalei)
3.      Gemini in the Solar Winds
4.      Temescal Noir
5.      Warehouse Medicine

Liquid Interface
6.      Glaciers Calving
7.      Scherzo Liquido
8.      Crescent City
9.      On the Wannsee

Alternative Energy
10.  Ford’s Farm, 1896
11.  Chicago, 2012
12.  Xinjiang Province, 2112
13.  Reykjavik, 2222

—Mel Martin

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