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Dark Crossing / The Game is Over by Mark-Anthony Turnage

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Dark Crossing / The Game is Over by Mark-Anthony Turnage
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Angry young man before a seascape

by Wolfgang Behrens

There's an amusing anecdote about Mark-Anthony Turnage which if isn't true is well thought out. It is said that the British composer was asked in an interview what his aesthetics are, to which he gave a one-word answer: "Well...". This word was not only loaded with some perplexity but also with defiance and even a degree of mockery, because aesthetically Turnage has made himself comfortable whichever side of the fence he sits. He has never been particularly interested in following any particular theories or ideologies. To the expression "Avant-garde" he announces "I know what it means, but it doesn't bother me."

A healthy portion of unconcern is behind such comments. There is here a specifically naturally British style of expression that fortunately keeps continental constraints at arm's length. Even today in Germany and France – at least 60 years since New Music (with an emphatically capital N) in places such as Darmstadt or Donaueschingen came into being – categories of Avant-garde such as radicalism, negation, progress or innovation are discussed at length. The island dwellers however view it in a more relaxed way. The great British composers of the 20th century – Benjamin Britten or Michael Tippett – put themselves rather more on the edge of the "official" current of New Music and Turnage consciously follows them.

Is Jazz too loud?
However Mark- Anthony Turnage is guilty of a break in quasi-Avant-garde tradition. From the beginning he has incorporated elements that have been frowned upon for a long time in the circle of the New Music Scene. Jazz rhythms and sounds and every now and then those of Rock Music. That is to say Turnage discovered that "World famous people such as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis who had been excluded from the history of music in the 50's had done far more interesting things than for example Boulez in "Pli selon pli". Of course this wasn't everyone's opinion. In 1979 when Turnage set up a kind of Jazz workshop with some fellow students at the Royal College of Music in London it was banned by the college board on the dubious grounds that it was all too loud!

However volume isn't always looked on negatively. In 1988 at the Munich Opera Biennial the percussive sounds perceived as raw and unrefined in his opera "Greek" caused a stir of excitement in the audience, thus elevating him to star status. At last with this work which touches on the play of the same title by Steven Berkoff and the aggressively dark picture of a modern city Turnage has earned the reputation of an "angry young man.

Dark Crossing
The works "Dark Crossing" and "The Game is Over" which are being given their German first performances at the Spieltriebe Festival 3 in Osnabrück, show another side to Turnage, more a broody lyricist than an angry young man. For the three movements of the Chamber orchestra piece "Dark Crossing" (2001 first performance given by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Oliver Knüssen in Basel) Turnage disputes – despite the apparently programmatic title – against a specific non-musical inspiration, but claims it has a certain kinship with the figurative genre of seascape. Correspondingly the movements labelled as studies by Turnage are well suited to evoke visual associations. The three accented sound figures that rise out of the deep in the first movement are repeated several times in the course of the piece evoking the picture of a night-shadowed sea.