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The river of constant change has taken a new turn. On March 29, 2004, Tony Banks released his first orchestral album, Seven (Naxos 8.557466). It is the logical continuation of works like Firth Of Fifth (1973), Mad Man Moon (1976), One For The Vine (1977), The Wicked Lady (1983) or An Island In The Darkness (1995).

So the B-side of The Wicked Lady was recorded by a symphonic orchestra, too. There are, however crucial differences. Tony enjoyed only limited artistic freedom for The Wicked Lady because the score had to fit the film. At that time he was also working on The Fugitive (1983) which kept him so busy that he had to give a lot of freedom for Christopher Palmer to arrange the music as he saw fit. A comparison of the orchestral arrangements with Tony’s original keyboard recordings shows the difference.

When the Seven project, which began soon after the end of the Calling All Stations tour, took shape, things were to be different. Tony gave free reign to his musical genius for all seven parts of this recording. The term “suite for orchestra” that is the official subtitle is misleading. These are seven completely independent pieces that do not share any musical themes. Indeed, they were not even all written especially for this project. Simon Hale, the arranger, was called in because the orchestral arrangements with his cooperation would turn out better as if Tony, who had neither real knowledge nor experience in this field, had done it himself. Unlike Palmer in 1983, Hale was not allowed to change anything about the structure, development of melodies and continuation of harmonies, information he obtained from Tony’s recorded (but probably not written) detailed demos. The broad variety of instruments in the orchestra, however, left enough space to shape the music. He developed a number of major and minor ideas that were discussed, modified and finally approved or turned down by Tony.

After initial difficulties on the first recording day the suite was recorded early in July 2002 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mike Dixon (who already had some experience with musicals). Tony, Simon and co-producer Nick Davis were also present. Tony recorded the piano parts for three of the pieces at The Farm. These piano parts are part of the orchestral sound, they are not meant to turn the pieces into some kind of piano concerto.

The title, Seven, underlines the individuality of the seven pieces; their titles were chosen later and they are meant to be generic, not filled with content and a deeper meaning, which holds true for the first six pieces.




baum Spring Tide (10:14)

opens the suite with a merrily bubbling theme first presented by flute and piano (resembling Mad Man Moon) before it moved on to a calmly flowing lyrical part. The majestic main theme begins at 3:01. It takes turns with the introductory theme (which is reprised explicitly at 5:48), dominates the lyrical part of the piece. It also leads the spring tide to a peak at 8:02 before it slowly ebbs away. 


This introductory movement of the suite is one of the three pieces that have a piano part and the one in which Tony’s instrument is very noticable.


Aficionados of British music have likened Spring Tide to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).


    
baum Black Down (9:46)

was one of five pieces Tony wrote after Calling All Stations. Tony recorded it using synth strings in his studio at home. Then he became curious what it would sound like with a real string ensemble, and that’s how the Seven project came into being….

Some people have called Black Down an elegy, others termed it a sound poem. It certainly is the piece that has the most depth even though or because there are only few changes in the rhythms and the dynamics.

The solo parts for the bass instruments (from 1:23 on) and violin (from 6:13 and 8:19 on) are very impressive. The bit that begins at 4:05 shows that the composer usually plays the keyboard or the organ. The main theme and its reprise embrace this composition.

baumThe Gateway (7:30)

was written shortly after the music for The Wicked Lady. It was planned as material for a possible further film project. A theme from The Wicked Lady appears at 0:52.

An aristocratic melody – a real stroke of genius – is introduced at 2:15. It returns at 4:02 and forms a pleasant contrast to the slightly pompous main theme which permeates The Gateway from the beginning. The coda (from 6:51 onwards) surprises with a nice woodwind melody.

     

baumThe Ram (8:53)

was the last piece to be written. It was meant to counter the calm and slow character of the other pieces. The word “ram” has a number of meanings; it is unlikely that it is supposed to refer to a male sheep here. It rather denotes the ram as a modern technical device or the historical weapon that was used to force open castle doors; the acoustic impressions of the beginning suggest the latter instrument.

Lots of percussion and brass make The Ram much louder than the rest of the album. There is the odd change of time signatures, and vast parts of the piece are based on a “hopping” rhythm. The music does not go beyond and allegretto, though. Light-footed delicate music is not really Tony’s cup of tea, a fact that is evident throughout his solo projects.

A quiet middle section beginning at 3:16 makes for a relaxing contrast. The flute theme introduced at 3:44 and reprised at 6:09 uses a peculiar scale.

After the middle section one arranged climax follows the other (note, for example, 5:43, 7:13 and 8:38)


baumEarthlight (4:43)

is the shortest piece on Seven, but it certainly is also one of the most striking and accomplished. Tony calls Earthlight a “theme with variations”, but this not quite a fitting description.

The strings introduce the four bar theme in 4/4 which is picked up immediately by the bassoon, albeit with different harmonies. The bassoon variation was written before the string theme. It was also originally written for cor anglais, but it proved too deep for that instrument.

A wonderful flute intermezzo picks up where the bassoon solo leaves off at 0:59 before the main theme is varied again in its height, instrumentation and the chords that accompany it.

The celli introduce a middle section at 1:50; their theme is based on a passage of sixteenth by the violas. This run was the arranger’s idea. Tony was sceptical when he saw it on paper but he was very happy with the musical outcome. He admitted that he would not have had that idea in a hundred years. The middle section is continued with a trumpet solo before variations on the main theme return at 3:09 and end this song in a clarity that resembles a chorale’s.

baumNeap Tide (4:57)

Tony had recorded this piece already during the Strictly Inc. period, but had not released it. Neap Tide is perhaps the least spectacular piece of the collection, but it still features catchy melodies. The modulations, too, are a bit abrupt but pleasant nevertheless. We also hear a harp. A fine cello solo (2:04) leads back to a reprise of the initial theme. The cello solo returns at 4:06 to prepare the coda.

Neap Tide and Earthlight were the songs that made the least problems when they were recorded.

baumThe Spirit Of Gravity (11:34)

The title is borrowed from a chapter heading in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. This piece is the richest part of the suite as far as the variety of (interesting) themes, changes in speed and instrumentation are concerned. It is regrettable that the theme do not receive the extended musical treatment they merit: The composition is colourful, but unfortunately it lacks in depth.

Plucked harps and a simple melody begin the piece – the theme is introduced by brass before the strings pick it up and develop it. Then it returns to the brass and back to the violins (at 1:59) where it is mixed with runs of eighth played by violas and celli.

A fast, quirky part begins at 2:18 – a very accomplished section with fine sound and dynamics. The orchestra sounds well-balanced, too. Material from the initial melody returns attacca at 3:28. From 4:55 onwards the oriental sounds remind one of Laideronnette, a movement from Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) musical fairytale book Ma Mère l’Oye.
A new theme continues the piece at 5:10. It is less capriccioso than it was perhaps planned. This section also features glockenspiel.

The spirit of gravity becomes most palpable in the deep brass part that introduces the main theme before “Laideronnette” and the Capriccioso make another appearance. Again they give way to the Spirit of Gravity (at 9:23) which presents itself in full power and requires a tutti from the orchestra (Tony wished for an even larger orchestra at this point). The initial theme leads us out of the piece. The end is not made up of a long final chord. The final motive simply fades away in an unspectacular quiet way.

While this piece was recorded, many hurried changes of the score were required. The finale (9:23-) proved rather difficult to produce indeed.




What are the main differences between a rock production and a production of classical music for Tony?

With Seven, Tony enjoyed the freedom of not having to stick to the rules of rock and pop music. He could set up the progression of the harmonies any way he liked and so avoid repetition. On the other hand, working with a big orchestra is very expensive: Time is money, the more so when it proves difficult to explain to the conductor and the orchestra what is supposed to happen musically. Tony likened it to the problem of doing a U-turn with an oil tanker. There were some drastic revelations for Tony during the first day of recording that brought Tony almost to desperation. He re-recorded some demos while Simon changed the arrangements in order to make them clearer and more intelligible.

Several other (former) members of Genesis have successfully produced and released major works for orchestra. Steve Hackett (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1997) and Tony have the use of an arranger in common. Hackett’s opus, however, is rather a guitar concert, and the orchestral work is not very varied and polished. Anthony Phillips and Harry Williamson arranged Tarka (1998) themselves (Ant arranged the brilliant third movement) – the music is occasionally more fascinating than Seven which at times resembles a movie score.

The main difference from “normal” music for orchestra is the order of priorities. Because of his musical roots Tony first thinks in terms of recording, then in terms of live performance. With an orchestra, it usually is the other way round. He was also awed by working with orchestra professionals – not least because rock music is usually considered inferior to classical music. He learned to overcome this feeling, though.

There is nothing unusual about the employment of an arranger either. George Gershwin, for example, composed piano versions of the Rhapsody In Blue and An American In Paris and had Ferde Grofé arrange it for orchestra. Banks is convinced that his demos were closer to the end result than a piano piece that required arrangement.

Seven is often compared to orchestral works of late romantic and impressionist composers and musicians. Tony himself cites influences from Ralph Vaughan Williams (Symphony No.5), Jean Sibelius (1865-1957, Symphonies No.4 and 7 and sound poems), Edward Elgar (1857-1934), “some” Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). He also mentions piano-focused impressionists like Maurice Ravel and, mainly for the rhythmic elements, Sergej Rachmaninov (1873-1943).

The typical Naxos package with a booklet containing Tony’s commentary in German and English as well as texts about Tony and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in English) comes, unusually for Naxos releases, in a cardboard cover that features a painting by the late Stefan Knapp calles “Le pays avec arbres” (The country with trees). Seven is also included in the “21st Century Classics” series. It may be doubted if this will ever become a classic.

Tony would not say no to a live performance. He favours the addition of individual pieces from Seven to the concert repertoire of an orchestra instead of a Seven only concert that would only attract the fans.

What will happen after Seven?

If this release meets with a good reception there may well be another work for orchestra. Tony would like to bring together the “power” of rock music and the sound of an orchestra; he mentioned something along the lines of fusing orchestral music with synthetic low frequency sounds. Such a release would then be coherent than Seven, he stated.

Tony may also adapt music from his previous solo records for orchestra. Genesis music would not be included because it was too well-known, he said.

Finally, Tony has left a very interesting resume for film producers in search of someone to write the music for their film projects.

We may remain curious about the next turn the River of Constant Change is going to take….


by Andreas Lauer, Juni 2004

translated by Martin Klinkhardt

Tony Banks


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