Beautiful Passing, Music for Violin and Orchestra by Steven Mackey

Available on CD and digital download


Memory is at the forefront of this disc, which pairs Steven Mackey’s moving, evocative violin concerto, Beautiful Passing, with Mnemosyne’s Pool, his expansive symphonic saga, to explore the different ways in which we engage with that most human of experiences.

This recording captures the enduring relationship between David Robertson and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, in a stunning rendering of works by a composer Robertson has long championed. Anthony Marwood brings a performance that is lyrical, touching and thrilling in equal measure.


Both works were captured live in the Concert Hall at Sydney’s iconic Opera House, and a review in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time described Marwood’s performance as one of “empathetic intensity, capturing a sound of distinctive isolation and beauty”.


Mnemosyne’s Pool was hailed by Musical America as “the first great American symphony of the 21st century”. The music “alternates between glimmering reflections, shadowy undulations, and jagged, hard-edged tonalities” (San Francisco Classical Voice, June 2015).


The booklet annotations include a vivid introduction to the works by Steven Mackey, alongside excerpts from a conversation between the composer and conductor David Robertson


Steven Mackey's violin concerto Beautiful Passing was premiered in 2008 by Leila Josefowicz with the BBC Philharmonic and Juraj Valcuha, but here receives the advocacy of Anthony Marwood with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and David Robertson. The inspiration for the concerto was the death of the composer's mother, as Mackey explains: 'The governing metaphor of the work has to do with the violin gaining control of its own destiny, competing with, commanding and ultimately letting go of the orchestra. This metaphor arises from my experience, during the composition of the piece, watching my mother gain control of her destiny to the point of predicting the day she would let go, predicting the day of her death. Her last words to me were “Please tell everyone I had a beautiful passing."'


Mnemosyne’s Pool: Exploring Musical Memory with Composer Steven Mackey

A “blue” note in the Scherzo movement of Beethoven’s last string quartet inspired Grammy®-winning composer Steven Mackey’s choice of career. Beethoven’s gesture was a revelation for this electric guitar player who couldn’t read music.  “They’re writing music for people to listen to, trying to distill all of life into a listening experience. Here was music meant to illuminate the human soul,” he explained to an interviewer. 

Even after getting his PhD in composition, Mackey realized “all my favorite bits violate the rules I learned in grad school.” He developed a “voice” -- a style of composition that integrated elements of improvisation with the formal serious music tradition—a combination, he says of Stravinsky and Led Zeppelin. In fact, many of his compositions incorporate the electric guitar.

Mnemosyne’s Pool is named for the Greek goddess of memory. This NSO co-commission (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony Orchestra and New World Symphony) will be featured in NSO concerts December 1st through the 3rd, under the direction of American conductor David Robertson. The Symphony is also included in Mackey’s new release, Beautiful Passing, on Canary Classics. The title piece, Beautiful Passing, is a violin concerto and a deeply personal recollection of his mother’s dying moments. Both works share the idea of memory: musical memory in Mnemosyne’s Pool and personal memory in Beautiful Passing.




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