“In commissioning Vladimir Martynov to compose a symphony in 2004, I could not have foreseen a trajectory leading to this recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studios. It was a leap of faith.” said Michael Tay, former Ambassador from the Republic of Singapore to the Russian Federation and commissioner of this unusual symphony.
Vladimir Martynov (b. 1946) is a prominent Russian composer whose works have enjoyed particular success in the Soviet Union since the 1970s. Having traversed the genres of electronic and rock music, Martynov turned his attention to religious music before returning to his distinctive minimalist style. The London Philharmonic Orchestra gave the world premiere of his first opera La Vita Nuova in 2009, and his composition ‘The Beatitudes’ was featured in Academy-Award-winning film La Grande Bellezza.
In May 2003, just five months after arriving in Russia, Michael Tay heard a performance of Martynov’s La Vita Nuova, and was immediately spellbound. He asked the composer if he would write a symphony in celebration of Tay’s native Singapore. Having never been to the country before, Tay invited Martynov to visit, who was incredibly struck by the city. Tay, in the booklet notes, said, “After visiting Singapore, [Martynov] felt that Singapore was a small country but a big idea: he felt we had achieved something called Utopia that the Soviet Union could not achieve in its 70-year history.”
The work’s text is taken from the world-famous ancient Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching (The Way of the Tao), traditionally attributed to Lao Tzu. Martynov often quotes other composers in his works, and this piece features the famous opening of Robert Schumann’s 1838 piano cycle Kinderszenen. The short piece, entitled Von fremden Ländern und Menschen, provides an apt description of a Russian writing about Singapore, but is also significant in Martynov’s view that the modern world leaves us ‘only with a childish faith in the magical power of repetition’.
Martynov’s Utopia Symphony enjoyed its world premiere in Moscow in 2005, and is now being released in its world premiere recording with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, generously supported by Michael Tay’s own organisation, Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise.
The LPO established its own label in 2005, in order to share as much of the Orchestra’s music as possible. Taken mostly from live-recorded concerts, the catalogue features recent as well as archive recordings with conductors such as Beecham, Boult and Haitink, as well as its Principal Conductor, Vladimir Jurowski.
David Burke, Chief Executive of the LPO, said:
“We are very excited and grateful to be able to collaborate with The Foundation on this project. (Vladimir) Jurowski, the Principal Conductor of the LPO, is a great supporter of contemporary music. He deeply admired Martynov’s work and was very keen to record this piece of Martynov’s with the Orchestra, and so the LPO took the project on.”
Vladimir Martynov commented:
“UTOPIA is one of the most unusual commissions I’ve worked on. To me, Singapore manages to capture the essence of “utopia” very well by constantly reinventing itself, and its citizens striving to better themselves and the people around them, which is the essence of the vision that Singapore was founded on. I am excited to watch it be resurrected in concert halls across the world. To have the LPO record this piece is also a great honour.”
Michael Tay, founder of Foundation for The Arts and Social Enterprise commented:
“The underlying vision of this symphony is a restoration of what it means to be human, striving to be better than ourselves even in a world full of anxiety and foreboding. We are honoured to have the LPO as part of this journey towards Utopia.”