American Record Guide
May 1, 2015

Andrew Norman (b. 1979) studied at USC, where he currently teaches, and then at Yale. He lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, traditionally the most dangerous part of the city (I guess it's been gentrified by now). He has been a contributor to New York's Bang On a Can group as well. The combination of those locales tells a great deal about Mr Norman's work, for which he was a recent Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Play is a 45-minute three-movement (or "Level") work of remarkable originality. The first part is a breathless explosion of dizzying action, held together by a "wedge" motive that threads through the entire piece in variable contexts and speeds. The music in this movement seems to move in interacting and colliding modules. What eventually emerges through much of the chaos is running diatonic scales, which eventually produce beautiful harmonies in the slower music of the final levels. It is highly effective and quite expressive, and thoroughly American; but I'm not sure exactly what I'm listening to in terms of this work itself: Norman says that this is only one of a potentially infinite number of versaions, and one should be sure to hear other ones. I haven't seen a score, but I can confidently report that whatever this is it works - and makes a satisfying experience in and of itself.

The somewhat earlier Try (2011) is considered a warm-up for the much larger Play. It is only 14 minutes long. The general outline is similar (breathless chaos, slowly descending tonal scales, dreamy tranquility to close out). This is a formidable release, and I look forward to hearing more.