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Mason Bates and a new version of Michael Tilson Thomas


Mason Bates, "Works for Orchestra" played by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (San Francisco Symphony)

When you consider that Michael Tilson Thomas was one of the most famous and best-situated fellow-travelers and enablers of the once-revolutionary musical minimalists  (Reich, Glass), this is gaudy post-minimalism that couldn't be more ingratiating.

Despite composer Mason Bates' interpolations for electronic tape and digital music and such, the composer goes way beyond the post-minimalist style of John Adams at his most agreeable and even beyond musical "pop artist" Michael Daugherty. In other words, this is not the Michael Tilson Thomas making the kind of glorious musical trouble that he was so great at -- recording, for instance, the complete works of Carl Ruggles with the Buffalo Philharmonic.

Here's Thomas, canny grandson of Yiddish theater royalty, figuring out extremely entertaining music to conduct in a concert hall with the aid of a composer who isn't yet 40. The three pieces MTT presents here are Bates' "The B-Sides," "Liquid Interface" and "Alternative Energy." One movement in "The B-Sides" is "Warehouse Medicine" which is "an homage to the great DJ-led Detroit warehouse parties of the 1990's." "Alternative Energy," on the other hand, is practically a musical movie with "Henry Ford's nineteenth-century junkyard" and "moving to a present-day particle collider, then to a dark nuclear power plant in the near-future" ultimately arriving at a "post-energy dystopia in far-off Iceland."

Bates' musical vocabulary is hardly new. But his attitude to a symphony hall audience may be.

3 stars (out of four)

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