GLENN BRANCA – Symphony No.7 (For Orchestra)

Systems Neutralizers

The world première of this symphony occurred in Graz, Austria, at the 1989 edition of the Steirischer Herbst Festival; this recording, except for a few missing segments, is the lone evidence of its complete execution. Conducted by Gunter Meinhart, the Graz Festival Orchestra was taped in a somewhat problematic environment: throughout the performance, ear-catching audience noises tested my forbearance, partially disfiguring the positive stimulus given by the music (in particular, a woman’s compulsive coughing sounds so graphic at times that one sadistically envisions her termination in a sanatorium). In “Freeform” we hear a small explosion followed by shattered glass; perhaps a stage light’s failure.

This should not detract from the composition’s gripping attributes, reflected over a triangle of references whose corners can be identified as follows: 1) A distinct Steve Reich flavour in at least two movements (Branca has never masked his huge respect for the man, to the point of dedicating a piece of The Ascension: The Sequel to him). 2) A modern-day neoclassicism of sorts: I seemed to detect traces of Stravinsky and even Respighi in some of the most pictorial crescendos. 3) The ineluctable grandness of Branca’s forte, typified by clustered groupings, superimposed layers of pitches and non-tempered tunings. The best illustration in that sense is “Harmonic Series Chords: I”, grounded on a single-note piano impulse – curiously evocative of David Bowie’s “Warszawa” – and absolutely electrifying in its exhilarating conflict of upper partials.

Whatever the problems you might experience, getting engulfed by Branca’s monolithic vibe always constitutes a cardinal nourishment. Me? All it takes to shout “yeah!” once again is re-watching this interview and remembering the first sentences pronounced by the composer, feeling less alone in the meantime. The chordal movement had already conquered my brain many years ago: a firm belief shall not be altered by differing circumstances and futile issues linked to human amentia.

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