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REVIEW Brad Mehldau Is a Jazzman in a Classical Mood

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Tuesday November 09, 2010

From The New York Times

Brad Mehldau Is a Jazzman in a Classical Mood
By Allan Kozinn

Brad Mehldau, a star in the jazz world, has lately been asserting himself in classical precincts as well. He has written song cycles for Renée Fleming and Anne Sofie von Otter, and both singers have recorded those works with Mr. Mehldau at the piano. His solo and ensemble recordings have touched on his classical leanings too. They show him grappling with formal notions of structure and thematic development, and seeking a balance between the precisely defined gestures of composed music and the freedom and spontaneity of improvisation.

His recent “Highway Rider” (Nonesuch) is his grandest effort yet. Scored for an oddly constituted quintet (piano, bass, saxophone and two percussionists) and a chamber orchestra, the 15-movement piece is vaguely programmatic — Mr. Mehldau says it describes a journey — and is built around transformations of an ear-catching modal motif. Mr. Mehldau, who holds the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall this season, presided over a performance of “Highway Rider” at Zankel Hall on Tuesday evening, with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as part of his band.

The seriousness of Mr. Mehldau’s interest in classical composition is evident in his program note, which includes his observations about Beethoven’s use of motivic kernels as the DNA of larger works (with a supporting quotation from the musicologist Charles Rosen) and discusses the specifics of Strauss’s scoring for “Metamorphosen.” It is not just talk: you could hear how he took Beethoven’s process to heart, and in terms of both texture and spirit, the movements dominated by lush, dark-hued strings — “Now You Must Climb Alone” and “Always Departing” — owe a lot to “Metamorphosen.”

Read the entire review here