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Positive Feedback ISSUE 27
september/october 2006


Jay Greenberg's 5th Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, Jose Serebrier Sony Music
by Mark Wagner


Can you remember what you were doing when you were 12 to 14 year sold? I was probably getting mad ay my folks for making me do my homework, mowing the grass, playing with my neighbor friends or practicing my trumpet. Oh well.

Throughout musical history the world has been truly blessed by stunning musical prodigies: Mozart immediately comes to mind, followed by Mendelssohn and in the 20th century, Benjamin Brittan. I think, no, I am sure, that what we have here is a 21st century modern uber prodigy in 15 year old Jay Greenberg: the only person of his age ever allowed (under special circumstances) to attend The Julliard School's composition program. VERY impressive.

Jay Greenberg's 5th Symphony (written between the tender ages of 12-14) came as a total musical surprise to me. I had seen this recording announced on some time back, and as I have always been on the lookout for the new and unusual, I became very curious to see what this would offer. When I learned that Jay Greenberg was only a teenager, my interest only increase ...or, raised the level of potential disappointment?

I will confess that when I opened the case and inserted the SACD into my machine, I was not sure what to expect. Simple lines?? Predictable melodies and harmonies?? Music that sounds like it was composed by a mere teenager? Well, NOT HARDLY!! This young man has an extremely confident and bold musical language. Moving melodies, emotional solos, complex harmonic structure and real passions abound. Mr. Greenberg mentions that his goal was to create a "counter-stereotypical work combining a Romantic melodic sweep with the methodical mathematical thinking of the serialists". Sound like the musings of your typical 12-14 year old? As a person who taught music lessons for 8 years to kids from 6th to 12th grades, the range of emotional expressions and thought processes displayed here are not the trademark of a typical teenager, rather, the solid emotional feelings of a true prodigy.

There is an excellent feeling of connectivity between the movements. However, as much as I enjoy the first two movements, it is the 3rd movement is my favorite, as we are treated to some truly excellent and mature writing. This is where the "serialist" aspect must really come to play, as Mr. Greenberg mentions a mathematical equation as an influence to the movement. Please do not let the word "serialist" scare you, as this music is in no way blatantly "serialistic" in the sense of ultra modern music. While I do not want to think about math while I listen to music (sadly, those people who talk like the music of Bach is only math ...listen with your heart and not your head!) the effect is admirably achieved in an intriguing and almost unsettling way: the music moves up and down, never quite settling where you think it might or should. Another mark of the prodigy? The 4th movement is rather exhilarating, though way too short!! Some more, ahh, might have been nice!

I gave the string quartet a few more spins than I did the symphony for the sole reason that I am still educating myself on string chamber music. I can say that I find the string quartet as enjoyable, bold, thoughtful and mature as the symphony. We have extremely creative writing that seems to demonstrate that Mr. Greenberg is just as comfortable writing chamber music as he is in writing symphonic music.  The absolutely outstanding Julliard Quartet (with the addition of an additional cello) plays the music with vigor and what sounds like to be just plain enjoyment. Oh, I should also mention that anyone who is familiar with the Julliard Quartet will easily recognize the masterful skills of this world class ensemble (even though I am still unfamiliar with string quartet, I have long known that the Julliard Quartet is one of the best). It is nice to have such a great group play your music!

The sound on this Sony SACD is overall most excellent. There is plenty of detail and depth and there is plenty of air around the players. I am VERY glad that Sony recorded the LSO at Abbey Road Studios instead of the LSO's normal home in the Barbican (with its dreadfully dry-as-Death-Valley-in-summer acoustics).

Josť Serebrier leads the always superb London Symphony on this performance. I have to say that after listening to the symphony, it would take a virtuoso orchestra to play this demanding music. Thankfully, the LSO forces have no difficulty rise to the occasion with aplomb! Perhaps they too liked the music?

I will honestly state that I am VERY impressed with this recording and I personally feel that we are witnessing the emergence of a real musical prodigy with Jay Greenberg. It is nice to hear new music that speaks to the heart more than it speaks to the head. It has been a long time since the classical music world has been witness to such an event. Let's hope that this level of musicianship continues (and grows!) and that we have many more wonderful pieces from this very mature and extremely talented young man.

HIGHLY recommended to those who are interested in hearing something new and exciting!