Composer: Brian Mark Rosen – California, USA
Reviewer: Noah Balamucki, North Carolina, USA
“I’m as free as a bird now” seems to be the battle cry of many modern composers as they head off to write music that only they and their professors will ever understand. Luckily for listeners, Brian M. Rosen’s L’Oiseau Libre is written with audience in mind and tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Inspired by the music of enduring rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd (that’s pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd for the unfamiliar), L’Oiseau Libre is a whirlwind odyssey for violin and piano that takes its name, and a good part of its thematic material, from the band’s most popular power ballad, Free Bird.
Beginning with a jagged line in the upper registers of the piano, the piece quickly introduces the violin in energetic fashion, bowing and plucking through a flurry of accented notes and triplets in constantly shifting meters. L’Oiseau Libre immediately pulsates with a sense of thumping momentum that carries through the entire composition, even as the rhythm, tempo, and dynamics fluctuate in a manner that seems to suspend time and space.
It is the perpetually changing nature of L’Oiseau Libre that makes for such engaging listening. Rosen explores the many possibilities of the instruments, particularly the violin. He writes both fragmented and lyrical passages, alternating between plucked patterns and legato motions on the turn of a dime. One can sometimes imagine a guitar and drum set in the background, though the unconventional harmonies of the piece remind us we’re still in the concert hall.
Rosen hints tantalizingly at the Free Bird material early in the piece, quoting a bar here and there but not playing his hand too soon. An obvious highlight of the work occurs between measures 70-78, when the refrain from Free Bird is heard for the first time in its recognizable entirety, accompanied by the piano playing a parody of rock power chords. It’s a satisfying moment that proves a little thematic development can go a long way.
It’s interesting that an entry adapted from pre-existing music displays more personality than many of the completely original compositions submitted in this competition. You can feel the love in Rosen’s deft handling of the Lynyrd Skynyrd material, and imagine the fun that must have come from reimagining a collection of classic rock tunes.
The fruit of Rosen’s labors is a truly exciting piece that transcends the boundaries of rock music while staying respectfully close to standard tonality. This isn’t your grandparents’ rock and roll or their classical, either–L’Oiseau Libre is modern and memorable concert hall fun, and that’s not the kind of praise you can award much these days.
~ Noah Balamucki, Composer and Student