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The Clarinet - The International Clarinet Association / Dec 2016
Gregory Barrett
[On Gumboots]

This is a moving work of great beauty and vitality that conveys a sense of journey. It starts with searching reflection and
travels to jubilation....Bass clarinet in nearly unison rhythm with viola begins the slow, tender, melancholy Part 1. The other strings join and sustain the expressive, contemplative mood. This is music in no hurry – it provides time for deep thought and feeling... As the music unfolds, the Bass clarinet reaches its highest note with profound intensity, a C-sharp, five ledger lines and a space above the treble staff...Part 2 is a series of five “gumboot” dances that climb step by step to higher and higher levels of defiance, jubilation and enthralling ecstasy. The first dance begins klezmer-style with pizzicato beats from the cello and sharp offbeats from the higher strings...Played attacca, the second dance ensues at double the tempo of the first with layers of five against eight notes per measure. .. Dance 3 sets off with an upper register glissando in the clarinet, propelling this 7/8 movement forward. The music is boisterous and the relative brevity of this dance gives a sense of accelerando to the work as a whole. The listener is in a sense breathless, wondering what will come next. What does come in Dance 4 is a light-hearted essay in hemiola – think of the shuffling of dancing feet in the fantastic rhythmic patterns created. The music skips forward in increasingly embellished and fanciful form. Rushing scales conclude the dance. Dance 5, “Jubilante,” is celebration music in 9/16 with bounding rhythm and sparkling trills in the clarinet. No one can resist the joy of this music and indeed of Gumboots as a whole. Check it out!

The Guardian / Dec 2016
Fiona Maddocks
[On Nothing]

The Guardian Best Classical Music of 2016
Glyndebourne... came out on top with one of the world premiere hits of the year, Nothing, performed by 14- to 19-year-olds of Glyndebourne Youth Opera.

LA Times / Aug 2016
Richard S. Ginell

As was the case with other Silk Road Bowl concerts I’ve attended, the 17,000-plus-seat amphitheater looked packed, so the ensemble’s appeal to a mass audience remains undiminished.

David Bruce's “Cut the Rug,” which seems constructed like a four-movement symphony on CD, became a run-on series of grooves and meditations encompassing Balkan-like rhythms and Andalusian flamenco.

Planet Hugill / Jun 2016
Robert Hugill
[On Gumboots]

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]

David Bruce's evocative modern classic

...The result though is beautifully evocative rather then being specific. The remaining five short movements are about the same duration in total as the opening movement, these five are all dances. Joyous pieces, each increasingly rumbustious and energetic.

This a lovely piece, and here it receives a fine performance from Bliss and the Carducci Quartet. Bruce wrote the work in 2008 and the recording came about because Julian Bliss was asked to play the piece at a music festival in 2014, a circumstance which led directly to the creation of this recording in 2015.

Gramophone Magazine (Editor's Choice) / Jun 2016
Mark Pullinger
[On Gumboots]

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]

An engaging new work which deserves a place in the chamber repertory

Opera / May 2016
Michael Church
[On Nothing]

...what huge echoes were left in the mind by this brilliant production of a profoundly original work.

Financial Times ★★★★ / Apr 2016
Richard Fairman
[On Gumboots]

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]
David Bruce's Gumboots looks back to the apartheid regime in South Africa, when miners had to toil in flooded gold mines wearing gumboots.

The rhythms of them slapping their boots and chains are transformed into a set of African-inspired dance movements for [sic] bass clarinet and string quartet — at first haunting, then breezy, catchy, exhilarating.

The Times / Apr 2016
Neil Fisher
[On Gumboots]

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]
Bruce's piece pivots on the contrast between its elegiac first movement and the five dances that follow it, and Bliss and the Caduccis relish the expressive variety. The piece is not preachy and nor is it particularly "African" in feel...but what it does eloquently trasmit in its 20-odd minutes is a vital journey towards exhilarating physical release.

The Guardian / Apr 2016
Erica Jeal
[On Gumboots]

[review of Bliss/Carducci CD release]

David Bruce has been on UK audiences’ radar most recently as a composer of operas for young people – The Firework Maker’s Daughter, and Glyndebourne’s Nothing. Gumboots, written in 2008, is a quintet for clarinet and strings in which he looks to Gumboot dancing – born out of how black miners in apartheid South Africa, forbidden to speak, communicated by slapping their boots and chains. After a long opening movement of heat haze, come five increasingly complex dances, reverberating with the smack of wood and bow on string and with the wheeling, almost klezmer-like playing of Julian Bliss, who flits seamlessly between regular and bass clarinet. The joyous rhythmic barrage of the finale could almost be out of a Falla ballet ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Mark Pullinger
[On Nothing]

There's something decidedly odd about pitching up at Glyndebourne sans picnic hamper, wrapped up in heavy layers, the aroma of mulled wine wafting through the foyer at the interval. We were rewarded with something extraordinary....the opera asks deep existential questions about identity and what really matters in life, turning disturbingly dark as the action unfolds.

Bruce sets Glyn Maxwell's excellent libretto with flair and skilful word setting. The vocal writing for Pierre, in particular, is Brittenesque, drawing parallels with other "outsiders" like Peter Grimes and Quint. The other distinctive writing is for Agnes, forced to have her pigtails cut off and thrown onto the pyre. Bruce writes florid, Baroque and neoclassical lines for her,

Bruce's choral writing is attractive – catchy anthems such as "Brilliant Things" really groove and the boys' gang flex their muscles with a Bernstein-like swagger. Their mob mentality draws more parallels with Peter Grimes.

Bruce's score is a marvel, the Southbank Sinfonia conducted with assurance by Sian Edwards. The prelude has a sense of cosmic doom, even hints of grandeur. Much of the harpsichord-flecked score glitters delicately, the double bass and harp accompaniment to "Nothing is worth saying" spare and haunting. Apocalyptic brass dominate as Ursula and Johan are told to follow Pierre's cryptic instruction "Do the last thing you'd do".

Nothing is the most powerful contemporary opera I’ve seen since Written on Skin, which is high praise indeed. I want to hear the score again. But first the book..

The Independent ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Michael Church
[On Nothing]

David Bruce's Nothing is a pretty well flawless piece which, unlike almost all other recent operas about adolescent alienation, rings true to life.

.. the logic of the plot exerts a vice-like grip, with the teenage cast - drawn from local schools, and led by five professional performers - singing and acting with blazing conviction. Bruce's accessible vocal lines – which have faint but pleasing echoes of Britten, Stravinsky, and Bernstein - are orchestrated with eloquent grace; the Royal Opera House, as co-producers, should ensure that this unforgettable production is much more widely seen.

The Telegraph ★★★★ / Feb 2016
Rupert Christiansen
[On Nothing]

Composer David Bruce and librettist Glyn Maxwell neither sweeten nor sensationalise the pill in their treatment of this grim parable.

Bruce's score is plushly lyrical with unabashedly melodic vocal lines that sometimes sound hauntingly Elizabethan and modal in their plangent melancholy. Five young professional soloists, led by Stuart Jackson as Pierre, sing them with eloquent beauty. The strikingly vivid choral writing is vigorous bordering on violent, and a superb ensemble drawn from schools in Kent and Sussex attack it with bravura. The audience was held rapt by a performance that by any standards exerted a chilling power and intensity.

The Observer ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Fiona Maddocks
[On Nothing]

Summer is over. School is back. Boasts and rivalries are alive and well in class 7D, who voice their objection to the trammels of uniform and homework in a sweet, neat, melodic chorus. This well-behaved opening gives no hint of the darkness to come in Nothing, a two-act opera, with music by David Bruce and words by Glyn Maxwell, given its world premiere on Thursday by Glyndebourne Youth Opera, for whom it was written. When the big boy in the corner, Pierre, suddenly blurts out that "nothing matters" and walks out, the impact is like gunshot. An offer to burn much-loved old toys, and then more precious and lurid items too, cannot coax their friend from the tree in which he sits staring at the sky. By Act 2, Bruce's robust yet delicately woven score has turned sour and raw. Catastrophe engulfs them all like a great sink-hole splitting open in the playground.

Bruce's score, full of tuneful anthems and ballads, also nods to ornate Renaissance traditions. Brilliantly drilled by the conductor, Sian Edwards, and the director, Bijan Sheibani, the entire company gave a highly professional and gripping performance. This is important for the audience, of course. More significant is the experience this gives all involved: not only the achievement, the camaraderie and the taste of opera, but giving, too, vital insight into mental health and crowd behaviour none will forget.

MusicOMH / Feb 2016
Melanie Eskenazi
[On Nothing]

[Nothing] played to packed houses on a chilly night, the warmth of the performances and the reception given to them providing us all with a foretaste of Summer.

‘Nothing will come of nothing / Speak again’ is King Lear’s advice to his daughter, and it was difficult to avoid the Shakespearean overtones in Glyn Maxwell’s libretto, but these were subtle rather than laboured, as indeed were the musical influences on David Bruce’s lyrical score. In the solo writing, it was Janáček who came to mind most often, the beautiful soprano solos at times recalling Katya’s impassioned music, and in the choral pieces Britten seemed very close to us, especially in the driven, intense ensembles for the villagers in Peter Grimes.

By turns febrile, innocent and threatening, these young singers [Glyndebourne Youth Opera] could send shivers down your spine as they made you recall the savagery of the boys in Lord of the Flies, or evoke the pangs of recognition at the touching sadness of those days in September when children return to school and realize that their magical Summer is really over.

Just three performances at Glyndebourne this time, but it’s safe to assume that Nothing will come to something in terms of entering the repertoire. It was a fitting opening to the 2016 celebration of 30 years of pioneering education work at the house.

The Arts Desk ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
David Nice
[On Nothing]

Brand-new youth operas tend to fall into two types. One is hugely rewarding for the participants, a skill learned and a treasurable experience shared to be remembered for the rest of their lives, as well as for their friends and family in the audience. The other, a rarer breed, does all that but also takes a gripping subject transformed by that strange alchemy of operatic setting, stunningly well performed by singers and players alike, and sears everyone who sees it with its special intensity. Nothing fits the latter bill like no other work of its kind I've seen.

The choruses and bit-parts are marvellously singable, tonal even when something else more sinister is going on down in the pit.... they gradually metamorphose into a group anger which comes close to the visceral intensity of Peter Grimes.

The epilogue (pictured above), which takes us beyond the eerily dominant chorus of "we heard about it; we were not there", is deeply satisfying. Interesting: as I write I feel it hard to let go of the experience. We need to see it again, and soon.

The Stage ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Edward Bhesania
[On Nothing]

There could hardly be a stronger testament to Glyndebourne’s education work, which began 30 years ago, than this compelling and unsettling opera by David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell, based on a novel by Janne Teller. Bruces’s music combines folk and Renaissance overtones with shifting effects which seem to reflect the teenagers searching for their own paths, and there are some remarkably touching moments of sparseness.

Nothing is a bold statement, not only in its questions of material possession, sacrifice, group behaviour and moral boundaries – but also in not pretending to offer answers. It’s as moving, authentic and thought-provoking an opera you’re likely to see for some time.

The Argus ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Eleanor Knight
[On Nothing]

David Bruce’s new opera, based on Janne Teller’s novel, is magnificent as it is unsettling. The rich score illustrates every emotional switchback from the happy-go-lucky, to suspicion, self-doubt, euphoria, conformity, rebellion, that is the roller coaster ride of adolescence.

The ★★★★★ / Feb 2016
Andrew Kay
[On Nothing]

I have come to expect excellence form Glyndebourne’s Education Department and community projects, previous productions have been universally excellent but Nothing is a new peak. David Bruce's score and Glyn Maxwell’s libretto are superb.

Ventura County Star / Jan 2016
Rita Moran
[On Steampunk]

"Steampunk," contemporary composer David Bruce's witty homage to a fantasy Victorian era true to innovation but without the emergence of electricity, vividly creates the idea that everything is powered by steam, offering a fair amount of whimsical clunking in the process. The piece was so enthusiastically embraced by Camerata founder and artistic director Adrian Spence that he ordered up costumes for many of the musicians and introduced the program in 19th-century attire, enhanced by a hearty beard he grew for the occasion and a top hat with wings rising out of the sides.

..."Steampunk" is the most fun, allowing a range of modes for each musician... All made the most of individual and cooperative moments in a work that is not only amusing but often compellingly lyrical. British-American composer Bruce, like the other composers for the concert, has accrued many distinctions while still in his mid-40s. He is currently associate composer for the San Diego Symphony.

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