By PIERRE RUHE
The world premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ “Blues Symphony,” scheduled for performances Nov. 19-22 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, has been postponed.
Again. For the third time.
The reason? Marsalis continues to blow his deadline. He has completed just four of the planned seven movements — and sent them to ASO music director Robert Spano — but the rest hasn’t been put on paper.
For the Nov. 19-22 concerts, the ASO will perform at least two movements, which are polished and ready to go. The other two movements may or may not be ready to perform.
The new date for the completed work is now penciled in as January 14, 2010, part of the ASO’s annual “A King Celebration” concert at Morehourse College, the yearly commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. Those concerts are typically recorded by public radio’s “Performance Today” and broadcast nationally on the King holiday.
Two years ago, the jazz trumpeter, bandleader, educator and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer was commissioned by the ASO and the Boston Symphony to write a large orchestral work. Marsalis’ plan was bold: it would be his first purely symphonic score, without his on-stage participation and without an improvising jazz combo. As he discussed his ambition with Spano and others, it grew in scope and length. It’s now supposed to be almost an hour in length.
Originally scheduled for summer 2008, it was postponed to fall 2008. When it hadn’t appear, the ASO pushed it to Nov. 2009.
Writing the symphony out of order, Marsalis has completed two movements that are musically related — a Ragtime and a Danzón — both in the key of D-flat. In a program note describing the former, the composer hints at his love of vernacular American music and also at his creative uncertainty. It’s ragtime, he writes, “like Jopin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and begins as a waltz….The last choruses are written to Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘King Porter Stomp’ harmonic turnaround. As the turnaround repeats, this movement builds to a shout chorus, train whistle, New Orleans stomp-riff-last march strain-Sousa stride tag. Or something like that. I think.”
Pierre Ruhe blogs about music on ArtsCriticATL.com