Danza Petrificada

orchestra (2011)


Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

First Performance: May 5, 2011, Chicago - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Conductor: Riccardo Muti


The main point of interest was the world premiere of Danza Petrificada by Bernard Rands. The CSO commission was rescheduled from last October due to Muti's illness and interrupted fall residency.

Composed at Muti's request to mark the centennial and bicentennial of Mexico's independence and revolution, Danza Petrificada takes its title from a stanza of Octavio Paz: ". . . a banquet of forms, a petrified dance under the clouds that make and unmake and never stop making themselves always in transit toward their future forms."

To his credit, the English-born American composer avoids the usual Mexican dance rhythms and tourist-trap musical tropes. Yes, Danza Petrificada calls for a large percussion battery for four players and opens with a rustle of maracas and muted trumpet. But Rands' piece is more edgy and impressionistic than sunny homage, a moody tone poem with passing Mexican elements, glimpsed as if through a refracted lens.

Danza Petrificada is that rare work that manages to be both intelligent and individual, while also serving its functional purpose as a lively, audience-friendly, nine-minute curtain-raiser — even with the abrupt coda.
— Chicago Classical Review

British-born American Bernard Rands was Muti's choice for the first new work in his Chicago directorship. Rands, now a youthful 77, was composer in residence for three years of Muti's time leading the Philadelphia Orchestra, and through conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez, also has strong connections to the CSO and his adopted hometown. He is a composer of unique technical gifts and abilities who makes music that, unlike works by many in the field of orchestral composition, does not sound like anyone else's.

As with the haunting orchestral interludes in his long-awaited van Gogh opera, "Vincent," which had its world premiere at Indiana University in Bloomington last month, Rands has a way of creating the aural equivalent of a visual scrim so that sounds and layers of sound move in and out of the foreground, often as in a kind of haze. For his 11-minute Danza Petrificada ("Petrified Dance," the title coming from a poem by the great Mexican writer Octavio Paz), Rands incorporated rhythms and percussive sounds from many parts of that country — cicadas seemingly everywhere! — into a rich and highly crafted score for large virtuoso orchestra, rather than making yet another suite of "Mexican folk tunes" (Rands does not do hackneyed). Muti had devoted his recent break at his Italian home to learning this work and conducted it as if he had known it for years. He will take it with the CSO on its late summer European tour. While it could benefit from a fuller and lengthier ending, I look forward to repeated hearings.
— Chicago Sun Times

Cinco de Mayo also gave the CSO a relevant peg on which to hang a world premiere — Bernard Rands' Danza Petrificada ("Petrified Dance"), a piece inspired by Mexico and Mexican culture. The CSO commission was to have received its first performance at these concerts in October but had to be postponed because Muti cancelled several weeks of Chicago appearances because of exhaustion.

The Chicago-based Rands took his title, and the work's larger associations, from a poem by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. The composer then extracted the essence of sounds and rhythms common to Mexican music, filtered them through his sophisticated orchestral imagination and came up with a nine-minute gem of magical musical realism.

Rands' scoring is laced with all manner of scraped and rattled percussion that give the ear a vivid feeling of place without his having to resort to picture-postcard quotation. I love the kaleidoscopic subtleties of this music, the sure sense of craft with which its colors and textures cohere, the insistent energy with which it carries one to its riotous close. Muti and the orchestra sounded fully invested in it, and Rands was present to share in the warm reception given it by audience and CSO members alike.
— Chicago Tribune

In Danza Petrificada by naturalized American composer Bernard Rands,the percussion becomes enthused in the Mexican design, among fossils of sun and moon, with handfuls of Aztec mystery...the contribution of the brasses and other winds is by no means secondary.
— Il Messaggero, Rome

The reception to Bernard Rands' Danza Petrificada was enthusiastic.
— Chicago Tribune

This Danza Petrificada, the product of meticulous writing, charmed the public, who warmly acknowledged it.
— Tageblatt, Luxembourg


Bernard Rands discusses his upcoming work Danza Petrificada

Upcoming Performances

Dec. 07, 2014
Cleveland, OH

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