Symphony No. 1

Fears that large-scale American orchestral music might dry up can be allayed for the moment. John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 — eloquent, emotionally shattering, accessible yet totally original — comes as needed heartsease to an undernourished repertory. Best known for a series of slick if well-made solo concertos (and for the score of Altered States), and with an opera, Ghosts at Versailles, set to debut at the Metropolitan next season, Corigliano, 53, has been moved by personal tragedy-the loss of several friends to AIDS — to weave anger, compassion, and despair into 40 minutes of wrenching, immediate, bitter music. Tiny aphoristic portraits of lost friends are worked into the score, but the power of Corigliano’s purely musical inventiveness transcends storytelling. There isn’t much joy in the work; even a boisterous tarantella turns sardonic. Release comes only in the near-silence of a harrowingly beautiful slow movement. This is, simply put, a first-class, stirring, contemporary American symphony, led with obvious pride by Barenboim, the Chicago Symphony’s new musical director. A

Symphony No. 1
  • Music