Jasper Soffers, piano; Aram Kersbergen, bass; Martijn Vink, drums; Metropole Orkest conducted by Jukka Lisakkila; Netherlands Radio Choir conducted by Benjamin Goodson. CD available here, also available on streaming platforms
The Jakarta-born, Boston-based composer and pianist Peter Jonatan, has long been drawn to hybrid forms of jazz and classical music, and the Metropole Orchestra is considered by many in the industry to be the gold standard for performing such music. Vince Mendoza, its former director, was a major artistic influence on Jonatan – you can read our review of a Mendoza release here. This new composition takes as its subject matter four chapters from the Bible’s Book of Psalms, which Jonatan chose for their expressive and musical potential. Broadly speaking, the work’s four movements follow standard symphonic form: I. “God, the Magnificent King” (Psalm 29) - a big opening theme and variations; II. “God, the Merciful” (Psalm 136) - an adagio; III. “God, the Protector” (Psalm 121) - a scherzo; IV. “God, the Savior and Holy Judge” (Psalm 96) – finale, with full choir and soloists.
“Each movement describes God’s character as portrayed by the Psalmist,” says Jonatan. “There is a singular recurring motive, depicting God, appearing in different variations throughout all four movements. Stylistically, the symphony merges classical and jazz with influences from different genres such as gospel, film and video game scores. These are all musical styles that have shaped me as a composer.” The jazz element is strong, with the trio of pianist Jasper Soffers, bassist Aram Kersbergen and drummer Martijn Vink functioning as a band within the larger forces – improvising, but also holding down parts of the written orchestration. The Metropole Orchestra sounds more like a large dance band (“big band”) with strings than a symphony orchestra. In addition, the recorded sound tends toward the bright and forward, which emphasizes the brassy, jazzy aspects of the score.
It is the very variety of musical influences and styles of which Jonatan testifies that serves as both the strength and a weakness of the music. It’s not quite classical, not quite jazz, but not so much a blend as a conglomeration. That is not to say it is not an interesting and entertaining composition, for it has more than its fair share of musical highlights. It’s a fascinating piece; not for everyone, but something that there are many – myself included – can enjoy for its energy and originality. For a quick preview of the Psalms Symphony, you can check out this brief video.