Friday, January 09, 2015

CCC 122 - Patrick Zimmerli

According to his website, "New York- and Paris-based composer/saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli writes a sophisticated yet approachable hybrid of contemporary classical and jazz music." And that's why Zimmerli is this week's Consonant Classical Challenge profile.

Zimmerli's style might be considered a logical extension of George Gershwin's. Like Gershwin, Zimmerli uses the jazz vernacular of his time as the building blocks for his classical compositions.

His works capture the sound of the present, and should be instantly accessible to just about everyone. Zimmerli's harmonic language is tonal, although often with very thick tone clusters (as is common in some styles of jazz).

Thick harmonic textures in the final movement of his Concerto No. 2 for piano, string orchestra, and percussion. This movement is highly rhythmic, with the percussion section simulating a drum set (with a few other instruments besides). It provides a foundation for the music, which might otherwise sound disjointed. Instead, it lets Zimmerli play the orchestra off against the piano with dramatic results.

Veni Creator Spiritus is a traditional sacred text that Zimmerli gives a fresh, open sound to. One can still hear jazz inflections in the chords. Traditionally, composers have set this text contrapuntally. Zimmerli makes effective use of parallel motion and unison to keep the delivery of the text clear.

In the solo piano work, Songs Without Words #3, Zimmerli blurs the lines between jazz and classical. The chords and some of the melodic turns are jazz-inspired, but the structure of the work and the way he works out the motives belongs more the classical.

While still staying in the classical camp, the Piano Trio No. 2 gets as close to jazz as a fully-written out piece can. And that's what gives it buoyancy and energy. By making this trio a through-composed work, Zimmerli is able to develop his motives in a straight-forward logical progression.

My first reaction to Patrick Zimmerli's music was that it was fun to listen to. And that's something that classical audiences don't get enough of. But with repeated listening, I came to understand how substantial Zimmerli's works truly are. Like Gershwin, he's not trying to trick out jazz with classical trappings. His music is a genuine blend of both genres, with the seriousness of purpose and rigorous internal logic quality classical music demands. Orchestras planning to program "Rhapsody in Blue" for the umpteenth time should give it a rest and try one of Zimmerli's concertos instead.

Recommended Recordings

Patrick Zimmerli: Piano Trios

Twelve Sacred Dances

Book of Hours

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