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Opera Obsession Blog / Dec 2013
Opera Obsession Blog

The Firework-Maker's Daughter was another highlight of my spring season. A children's opera, you ask, Gentle Readers? Yes: and an opera that used small forces creatively, is both humorous and poignant, critiques sexism in opera and society (hooray,) and boasts well-set text and memorable music.

Classique News / Dec 2013
Lucas Irom

Les styles amis, fraternellement exposés se retrouvent et dialoguent dans les deux morceaux finaux, percussifs et énergiques, aux accents ultimes sombres et subtilement dansants : quatre sections de Cut the Rug, écrit par David Bruce, puis Briel de Johan Zorn. Les 14 musiciens se retrouvent dans les meilleurs morceaux du concert d’une transe presque irrésistibles, aux épices timbrés idéalement associés (tabla, ney, pipa, gaita, shakuhachi…). Combinaison hautement réussie voire stimulante. Doublement documentée convaincante par l’image et le son. Le mariage est complet, et le plaisir de l’auditeur spectateur immédiat.

Times Union / Nov 2013
Joseph Dalton

David Bruce's "Cut the Rug" is also full of interesting musical ideas, not just interesting musical instruments. / Nov 2013
Melanie Wong

The 82-member orchestra opened with the New York premiere of David Bruce's Night Parade. Perfectly timed for Halloween, Bruce has accurately related his orchestral showpiece to "a city night—with the kind of weird shadows that you see under a neon light." With wailing clarinet solos and spontaneous honking, sneaking quiets that led to screaming trumpets, and a funky groove that made the whole thing sound like some sort of demented dance, Night Parade took the audience on a trip through an excitingly dark version of Wonderland or Oz...overall the orchestra expertly tackled tricky metric changes and mood shifts, resulting in constant anticipation of what could be lurking around the next corner.

New York Times / Oct 2013
Anthony Thommasini

It was a statement of purpose to open the program with the New York premiere of a new commissioned work, the British-American composer David Bruce’s "Night Parade." In a rare instance of overlap, while the San Diego Symphony was presenting "Night Parade" in Stern Auditorium, a recital was taking place downstairs in Zankel Hall at which the mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, with the pianist Robert Spano, gave the New York premiere of Mr. Bruce's vocal work "That Time With You," a Carnegie Hall co-commission.

The orchestra asked Mr. Bruce for a showpiece, and he certainly gave it one. For most of its 15-minute length, "Night Parade" is smart and engaging. Mr. Bruce describes the score as a "night" piece of an urban, restless sort with shifting moods with dark intimations. It opens with subdued riffs that percolate as fragments of jazzy tunes unfold spiked by chattering woodwinds. The essentially tonal harmonic language is enlivened with pungent chords and sour blasts. The abrupt shifts of mood (Mr. Bruce calls them filmic cuts) from murmuring figures to clanking eruptions become a little glib. Still, the piece ends intriguingly: It trails off in delicate music, touched, it seems, with evocations of Chinese instruments.

New York Times / Oct 2013
Zachary Woolfe

Of the three recent song cycles on the program — all New York premieres — Ms. O'Connor got the most successful. In "That Time With You" (2013), David Bruce has set four Glyn Maxwell poems in an eclectic range of styles united by an intoxicating haziness.

Ms. O'Connor sang the mostly a cappella title song with a countertenor's plangent pang. The stark, dry piano chords that opened "Bring Me Again" yielded to a bluesy, torchy melody in whose moody slowness she reveled.

San Diego Union Tribune / Oct 2013
Jim Chute

..a swaggering, energizing orchestral showcase. Who knew the orchestra had such a muscular lower brass section? Bruce uses them almost like a rock composer might use a bass guitar / Oct 2013
Janelle Gelfand

David Bruce's cycle "That Time With You" (2013), a setting of four poems by Glyn Maxwell performed (and co-commissioned) by O'Connor, was a wonderful find. Bruce's style was eclectic, sometimes evoking Prokofiev or the blues. In "The Sunset Lawn," busy, rhythmic piano figures set against long, lyrical lines for the singer proved to be mesmerizing. A soaring a cappella piece was tailor-made for O’Connor's artistry. The gospel-tinged "Bring Me Again" seemed to come from deep in her soul. It was all instantly appealing. / Oct 2013
Stephanie Adrian

The standout of this cycle is the final song, "Bring Me Again." Here O'Connor was supplied with a plaintive, dirge-like ballad, at times Gershwinesque, which allowed her to open up and employ some full-out operatic singing. The entire cycle is exceedingly well suited to her voice, incorporating choice leaps and tasteful melismatic passages here and there. It's a song cycle that should be heard again and again. ★★★★★ / Oct 2013
Kay Kempin

David Bruce's Cut the Rug was a real celebration of "musics being part of one large family" but also of the Silk Road Ensemble itself. Written in four movements, the whole piece felt – and sounded – like one big party. Beginning and ending with a light-hearted, gypsy theme, Cut the Rug was tied together by its klezmer and jazz roots, with fleeting moments of flamenco and dramatic, Gaita solos by the fierce Cristina Pato

New York Times / Oct 2013

the physical and spiritual worlds...collided, to vibrant effect, in David Bruce's "Cut the Rug," where the combined keening of clarinet and Galician bagpipes produced a heart-wrenching lament that gave way to the explosively joyful final dance.

Superconductor blog / Oct 2013
Paul J. Pelkonen

The concert ended with the four-part Cut the Rug by composer David Bruce. Inspired by Romany rhythms and the insanely violent Afghani equestrian sport of Buzkashi, this four-movement piece was like a symphony in its form. The spike fiddle and bagpipes played important roles in each movement, as it moved from raucous battles between mounted riders ("Drag the Goat") to a slow central funeral procession ("Move the Earth") underpinned by Chinese gongs. The last movement ("Wake the Dead") ended in gleeful celebration with the players of the Silk Road Ensemble cutting joyfully into Mr. Bruce's celebratory dance rhythms. / Oct 2013
Joshua Kosman

The afternoon's most intriguing offering was the premiere of "That Time With You," a four-song cycle written for O'Connor by the English composer David Bruce. The cycle is set to elegantly ambiguous poems by Glyn Maxwell, in which Death appears as a shadowy seducer with "a black dress and a GPS."

Bruce's score is both tart and moody, with intriguing rhythmic patterning in the first song and a bluesy closer

Financial Times ★★★★ / Oct 2013
Allan Ulrich

In "That Time with You" David Bruce sets the verse of Glyn Maxwell with a conversational ease that recalls Ned Rorem at his finest, and O'Connor rendered the short cycle in a voice that fused intimacy with grandeur.

Toronto Star / Oct 2013
John Terauds

The four movements in David Bruce's Cut the Rug mix a variety of melodic and rhythmic patterns in alluring ways ★★★★ / Oct 2013
James Manheim

highlights [of the CD] including...the Central Asian gypsy jazz of David Bruce's Cut the Rug.

San Diego Story / Oct 2013
Ken Herman

Friday's program opened with the world premiere of David Bruce's "Night Parade," a work commissioned by the orchestra especially for the tour. A bustling urban tone poem that evokes a city with a more teeming, colorful night landscape than we know in San Diego, Bruce's 14-minute work engaged the full resources of the orchestra, although myriad flamboyant solos in the wind and percussion sections dominated its dense texture, keeping the strings in a more accompanimental role.

A much sought-after composer for commissions, Bruce is no more afraid of tonality than was Barber when he wrote his Violin Concerto in 1941, although Bruce does not indulge in the soaring, emotional melodies that Barber loved and wrote so well. In "Night Parade," as well as in the Bruce chamber works I have heard, his abundant themes were short, concise, and he moved from one idea to the next with the agility of an Olympic sprinter. During the performance of "Night Parade," I heard echoes of the traffic noises in Gershwin's "An American in Paris" and was reminded of some of the edgy, film noir shadows of John Adams' 2009 "City Noir" championed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

"Night Parade" proved to be quite audience friendly, and the composer was called back to the stage several times after its first performance. Since Bruce has been named the orchestra's Associate Composer and more commissions from him are forthcoming, I hope we can hear this work again soon. It could certainly engage a summer audience on a more classicaly-oriented program, and there is no reason we should not hear it again next season.

San Diego Reader / Oct 2013
Garrett Harris

When I saw the size of the orchestra on the stage at Symphony Hall for David Bruce's Night Parade, I knew we were in for a rumpus. I love, love, loved, this piece of music and even brought myself to shout out a rare "Bravo!" when the composer took the stage with maestro Ling.

The music came at us with all the energy of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, New York on New Year's Eve, Chicago on St. Patrick's Day, and LA during the film awards season.

Bruce's music felt like an event in and of itself.

San Diego Union Tribune / Oct 2013
Jim Chute appealing, propulsive orchestral showcase that at time sounds like Philip Glass meets Quincy Jones in its repetitive figurations and its occasional jazz licks...The composer likens it to a thrill ride at an amusement park, where there’s always a sense of danger but nobody gets hurt.

San Diego Union Tribune Preview Article / Oct 2013
Jim Chute

For some musicians, the question is: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

For composer David Bruce, he’s wondering: “Once at Carnegie Hall, which concert do I attend?”

On Oct. 29 in Carnegie’s primary space, the legendary Stern Auditorium, the San Diego Symphony will perform Bruce’s “Night Parade,” a work the ensemble commissioned and will premiere in its season-opening concerts this weekend at Copley Symphony Hall.

On Oct. 29 in Carnegie’s more intimate Zankel Hall, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor will premiere Bruce’s “That Time With You.”

“Really, it’s the reception afterward I’m worried about,” deadpanned the British-based composer during a visit to San Diego earlier this year.

Somehow, he’ll figure out how to hear both, as he wouldn’t miss a moment of “Night Parade.”

...Expect the 12-minute work to be energetic, rhythmic and accessible, as Bruce is primarily a tonal composer. But that doesn’t mean he’s playing it safe.

“Some of the pieces I enjoy in that (showpiece) mode have a kind of inner danger to them,” Bruce said. “It’s going to be kind of an exciting ride with a sense of danger, like (Ravel’s) ‘La Valse.’ ”

Or, like playing Carnegie Hall.

Opera Now / Jun 2013
Martin Dreyer

" intoxicating brew....The show is the operatic equivalent of a page-turner, ideally paced for an all-ages audience....The family audience loved every minute of its two hours. Once a buzzword, outreach has become a vital commodity. May it live happily ever after."

Time Out ★★★★ / May 2013
Raven Snook

Featuring emotional music with hints of the Far East by rising classical star David eye-popping, low-tech visual delight...

Opera Obsession Blog / May 2013

Its inventive staging, engaging musical writing, and charming plot, however, won me--as well as the many children in the audience--over completely....You'll have to bear with me, Gentle Readers, as I keep using words like joy and delight in describing this work that features Wagnerian allusions and a lovesick white elephant, as well as the independent heroine of the title.....The score is lean but evocative, relying heavily on percussion and woodwinds, with strings coming to the fore in moments of emotional intimacy or vulnerability.... The Wagnerian pretensions and Italian bombast (both orchestrally expressed) of the rival firework-makers were seen off in a deeply satisfying fashion, as Lila sings her art into being. Like all the best fables, The Firework-Maker's Daughter left me exhilarated as well as entranced.

Wall Street Journal feature / May 2013
Pia Catton

In writing an opera for young people around the ages of his own two children (who are 6 and 10), Mr. Bruce said he gave the work the same care and attention, if not more, as previous works intended for violinist Daniel Hope ("The Given Note," a chamber work from 2011) or Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble ("Cut the Rug," from 2013). The latter will be played in October at Carnegie Hall, a venue that has presented three works commissioned from Mr. Bruce since 2006.

The challenge of writing for the much-younger set appealed to the composer: "It's almost the best audience to be aiming for," he said. "You force yourself to be as clear as possible."

Huffington Post / May 2013
Fern Siegel

Composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell, aided by creative costumes and sets, have artfully fashioned a wonderful tale that will seize the imagination.

New York Post / May 2013
James Jordon / La Ceica

Like the pyrotechnics “The Firework Maker’s Daughter” longs to create, this new opera for children is a delightful, low-tech throwback to a time before CGI took over the world.....A hardworking company of five opera singers perform David Bruce’s score, an eclectic blend of Bollywood pop, Balinese gamelan percussion and Chinese opera, played onstage by a nine-piece ensemble......By the end of “Firework Maker’s Daughter,” Lila learns that magic ingredients are not as important as her own talent and courage. That’s true of the creators of this opera, too, who crafted a charming, moving tale from the simplest materials. / May 2013
Ken Herman
[On Steampunk]

The 43-year-old Anglo-American Bruce is one of the hot "go-to" composers on today's classical music scene. 'Steampunk,' for example, is one of four of his commissions from Carnegie Hall, and the San Diego Symphony has just signed him on to write works for their upcoming Carnegie Hall concert, the China Tour, and the 2014 season.

Bruce's style might be described as a funky retrofit of the neoclassicism that flourished in Europe during the last century between the World Wars. Yet, even when he resorts to predictable motor rhythms to keep his textures humming along, he finds distinctive, ear-catching yet idiomatic turns for each instrument. His inventive treatment of the octet's matching quartet of strings and quartet of winds offered a quickly changing soundscape of textures and sonorities that evoked characteristic moods: the sauntering boulevardier, the wry comedian, the yearning mystic.

'Steampunk' struck me as a polished, wry chamber work that should find a wide following, especially when performed with the suave facility the Art of Elan musicians

The Talblet Magazine / May 2013
Robert Thicknesse

Bruce and The Opera Group have made an enchanting evening that should return for many a Christmas show.

...The same resourcefulness extends to the performers: five singers and an orchestra of nine. Bruce uses an unusual band – including horn, accordion, harp and two percussionists – to create a wonderfully varied world that feels like many more players, and imitates the sounds of other instruments – banjo, gamelan orchestra – as well as the natural noises of the jungle. Eastern scales and the hieratic sounds of temple bells complete the picture in an amazingly deft score, which finally lets itself off the leash for the firework show featuring a comedy German and Italian, set to workshop-pastiches of Wagner and Neapolitan ice-cream music.

There is some real and tuneful singing called for too.... this is a delightful show, sweetly told and with just the right amount of seriousness to ballast its charm.

BBC Music Magazine / Apr 2013
Helen Wallace

Bruce has woven together scintillating timbres and scales from various ‘oriental’ traditions, be it Chinese, Indian and Indonesian, in a crafty weave using bass, harp, violin, winds, accordion and well-chosen tuned percussion subtly realised by CHROMA ensemble. As he says himself, he’s unashamedly interested in the ‘surface’ of the music, and this comes across in a teeming, tingling fantastical score that wittily references other operas (a lovely Wagner moment when the German firework-maker comes on, and a cod-Neapolitan song for Signor Scorchio, his Italian rival).

One Stop Arts ★★★★★ / Apr 2013
Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade

This week the Linbury Studio Theatre attracted an audience of the more minute variety with its dazzling production of The Firework-Maker's Daughter....With music composed by David Bruce and a libretto constructed by Glyn Maxwell, the narrative enjoyed a vivid dramatisation that was brimming with energy.

The Telegraph / Apr 2013
Michael White

At last: a first-rank children's opera, all the better for its low-tech magic

...the most utterly endearing, joyous and delightful show I've seen in ages...It's funny, touching, charming.... Bruce's score is accessibly saturated (in an often Brittenesque way) with eastern exoticism, pentatonic tunes, and delicately busy gamelan effects. Given the dearth of good children's music-theatre since Benjamin Britten ... this piece is something to sieze on. has the makings of a real hot-ticket.

Planet Hugill blog / Apr 2013
Robert Hugill

The result was mesmerising, a simply brilliant piece of theatre which mixed a wide variety of media into a charming and dazzling whole. No wonder the audience was pleased.

...Bruce's nine-person instrumental ensemble included an interesting mix of instruments (violin, bass, flute, clarinet, horn, accordion, harp and two percussionists), with a large amount of tuned percussion (plus one or two imaginative touches such as crumpling plastic bags). His sound world evoked Java, gamelan and the East (the rough location of the production), without being slavish. His orchestrations were magical and the sound world highly evocative.

Vocally there were some good set pieces, a rather jolly and catchy song for the pirates and some beautiful solos for Mary Bevan as Lila, including her gorgeous final incantation which was a long wordless cantilena.

Classical Source / Apr 2013
Hannah Sander

Musically, the opera is at its best in the stiller moments: when Lila is alone in the jungle, and at the culmination, a gigantic firework display competing for the King's approval. Here, Bruce’s liquid and inventive score breathes.

...between Bevan's delightful Lila, Bruce's inventive score and the majestic work of puppeteers Tiplady and Todd, there is a great deal of magic to behold.

The Observer / Mar 2013
Fiona Maddocks

Now David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell, composer and librettist, have realised the book's operatic potential in a captivating chamber piece for five singers, two puppeteers and small ensemble.

Bruce's vivid music, skilfully played by Chroma and conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, mixes the colours of snake-charmer piccolo, gamelan and folk-inspired accordion to delicate effect. The vocal writing....has moments of strong emotional truth.

The Arts Desk / Mar 2013
Graham Rickson of rare beauty and purity.

Bruce's...eclectic, glittering score serves the narrative perfectly

The Independent / Mar 2013
Anna Picard

Parents and carers beware! Lila, fearless heroine of David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell's adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Firework Maker's Daughter, is a thoroughly disruptive influence. If the children who saw John Fulljames's show in Hull and Huddersfield last week aren't dreaming of becoming the world's greatest pyrotechnicians, they are probably dreaming of careers as singers, puppeteers, percussionists, composers or writers. The Firework Maker's Daughter tells a terrific story and makes the crazy, sweaty, risky business of telling that story for a living look like terrific fun.

In this huge-hearted, fast-moving caper...the enchantment comes from the energy of the performers, the ingenuity of Guy Hoare's lighting, and the beauty of Bruce's music. Scored for a small band including accordion, harp and an array of gamelan-like percussion... the [opera's] patina is sharp, sweet and metallic, the rhythms punchy, the melodies fluid and expressive.....

Even if the target audience for this show is only a fraction older than the babies born in Bruce's 2006 opera Push!, there is enough to seduce the most musically discerning parent. Just don't take your offspring if you want them to take up a career in accountancy.

The Times★★★★ / Mar 2013
Richard Morrison

....I devoured more than my own weight in Maltesers, and loved it....even better is David Bruce’s score, ingeniously coaxed from a nine-strong ensemble (Chroma) that strongly features an accordion and lashings of Chinese-opera style biffs and bangs in the percussion department.

Its pentatonic melodies are evocative of the Far East, too; yet the big numbers are more like wild, Irish-jig stomps. And to titillate grown-up listeners the musical allusions also pay homage to everything from Purcell, Stravinsky and Britten to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. With Amar Muchhala, Wyn Pencarreg and Andrew Slater revelling in mercurial cameos, and the conductor Geoffrey Paterson keeping this charming score buzzing along, two hours pass joyously. ★★★★★ / Mar 2013
Ron Simpson

The Firework Maker's Daughter is a wonderful entertainment: how often can we say that of a new opera?....David Bruce's score is a constant delight, from a cappella anthems to exotic percussion effects.....Nowadays operas so often disappear without trace after their first run, but I am confident that The Firework Maker's Daughter will return soon and often.

The Guardian ★★★★ / Mar 2013
Alfred Hickling

Bruce's vividly coloured chamber score [combines] gamelan crashes and plunky pentatonics with the incongruous wheeze of an accordion to create a beguiling, imaginary hybrid of Indo-European folk music.

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