Press / Recent Reviews
» Older Reviews
One Line Reviews |
"Last night was especially exuberant, since they premiered a wildly happy work by the noted American-British composer David Bruce.... essentially, this was a mechanical tour de force. At times it resembled Mossolov’s futuristic Steel Foundry or the 1920’s German music of Hindemith and Weill. At times, this was Chaplin’s music for Modern Times. But it was all David Bruce.
Which means that is was extremely well-ordered, without a single harsh harmony, the eight instruments playing pinpoint notes against each other, a virtual contrapuntal festival. An exceptionally complex music, yes. But like a Rube Goldberg invention, all the different squawks, squeaks, pipings, whines and cries somehow came together. In other words, Steampunk was joy, real joy. "
Harry Rolnick, concertonet.com, Feb 8th, 2011
|The Eye of Night
"The Eye of Night is a four-movement work distinguished by clear forms and unabashedly gorgeous melodies and harmonies...There are precious few [composers] with the gift
for writing a great melody or theme. David Bruce, on the strength of this work and others found at his web site, appears to be one of the chosen...|
...The applause which followed the final notes of The Eye of Night was not the perfunctory clapping people give so as not to seem rude to a composer in the audience. No, the vigorous applause was sincere, a sign that a roomful of people had just been deeply moved by music they (or anyone else) had ever heard before.
...There are many reasons that an ensemble commissions a composer, but the best and most basic reason is in the hope of receiving a work which that ensemble can perform again and again. Another hope—but one rarely achieved—is that the work commissioned becomes a masterpiece in the genre. I believe that The Eye of Night will soon be become a favorite composition to perform and record by the “Debussy trios” (flute, viola, and harp) out there, and in allowing such a work to be created, the Art of Elan has done an invaluable service."
Christian Hertzog, San Diego.com, Jan 23rd, 2011
"The Eye of Night, is simply one of the greatest compositions for flute, viola, and harp I’ve heard in years. "
Sequenza21.com, Jan 23rd, 2011
|Two Dowland Laments
"Another highlight of the first session of the program were the performances (again utilizing Campbell) of two John Dowland laments. The pieces positively wept. They seemed to hover in amber, still to the point of paralysis. Dowland’s reputation as an acquired melancholy taste seemed borne out by the afternoon’s selections – rather than lay down lachrymose gush, they simply wept quietly, beautifully."
Adam Rivett, The Ember, Mar 18th, 2011
"Using minimal vibrato, Campbell delivered the lines of Dowland’s Go crystal tears with the soft swell of a viol in David Bruce’s beautiful setting."
whereilive.com.au, 17 March 2011
|The North Wind was a Woman
"This vividly scored, emotionally turbulent 25-minute work reminded me at once of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915,” not because Bruce imitated in any way Barber’s harmonic vocabulary, but because this work exuded an equally passionate immediacy and rich instrumentation that dared you to remain outside of its vibrant command.
Unlike the Romantic poets of the 19th century, who saw nature as the flattering background of romance, Bruce’s poems (two are actually his own) make nature the romantic protagonists. Bruce turned the fourth poem, “The Crescent Moon is a Dangerous Lunatic” (by Alasdair Middleton), into a careening car chase, a pulsating Expressionist rant that proved as ravishingly beautiful as it was violent. And Narucki proved more than equal to its challenge.
I cannot begin to describe the extent of Bruce’s inventive instrumentation throughout the work in a short review, but let me highlight his mesmerizing combination of harp and mandolin, contrasting plucked sounds that he wove into a sonorous magic carpet, notably in the opening poem “The Snow Is Completely Without Hope.” "
Kenneth Herman , SanDiego.com, 3 May 2011
"With highly-skilled instrumental writing to support Dawn [Upshaw]'s magical singing...the piece was one of the most smashing successes for a new work I have seen in a long time. A prolonged ovation brought musicians and composer to the stage time and again before the intermission."
David Finckel, CMS Blog, 25 Sept 2009
"The program's real center of gravity was "The North Wind Was a Woman," a song cycle by David Bruce...
Mr. Bruce's vocal lines... are invitingly melodic and deceptively simple. Ms. Upshaw...sang four of the settings with the lustrous, melancholy timbre they demanded... Mr. Bruce's instrumental writing is just as striking."
Allan Kozinn, New York Times, Sept 26, 2009
"Vienna has been overshadowed. Well, maybe not overshadowed-that's too strong-but the Beethoven trio, Schubert piano duet, and Strauss waltzes at the Chamber Music
Society's season opening concert, "A Tribute to Vienna," all met expectations. They were familiar. David Bruce's piece for soprano and ensemble-and not just any soprano but
the glorious Dawn Upshaw-that was new, a world premiere. No one had any idea what to expect, and it turned out to be textured and evocative
and haunting. That was the highlight of the concert."
Mary Beth Constant, Much review about nothing
|Caja de Musica
"More naturally attuned to the harp's evocative qualities were...a pair of sensitively scored contemporary pieces - David Bruce's 'Caja de Musica' and Kati Agocs's 'Every Lover Is a Warrior'"
Joe Banno, Washington Post, Mar 8, 2011
"The second it ended, their listeners leaped to their feet, screaming and shouting, like they'd been blown out of aircraft ejection seats. So much for the misguided notion that you can't please a crowd with modern music. This one should be required listening for anybody who's afraid of the music of today."
Lindsay Koob, Charleston City Paper, June 2, 2010
Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times, Oct 24, 2008
"Given the historic visual image, the music makes even more sense, and is more melodic than many modern compositions. The audience sprang from their seats to offer a standing ovation mid-concert."
Carol Furtwangler, Post and Courier, June 1, 2010
"..the St. Lawrence's dazzling, rumbustious world premiere performance of David Bruce's Gumboots"
Harvey Sachs, Overflow Arts Journal Blog, 9 Nov, 2008
"David Bruce's “Gumboots” (2008) was next. Bruce writes with intelligence, inspiration and a knack for creating sound pictures that are almost cinematic.
The first part was plaintive and yearning with desolate landscapes and horizons that seemed to stretch forever.
The second dance-y part moved with vigor, loud and snappy rhythms, some of which had Caribbean flavors or the high energy of carnival. Beaty was fabulous in a brilliantly virtuosic part that required a lot of flair and style.
Geraldine Freedman, Daily Gazette, Feb 06, 2010
"The highlight of the night turned out to be the new piece, Gumboots. Written in 2008 by David Bruce as a commission for Carnegie Hall, it includes many elements of African dance music in string quartet format with clarinet. Part I of the piece built tension between the string quartet that carried through the hall with growing force, but never fully exploded, reaching a peak tension and then slowly fading out behind a repeating arpeggio figure from the viola.
However, during Part II, a group of five dances, took the lingering tension and released it cathartically in a string of buoyant and breezy movements. The highlight of these was the fifth dance, which showcased clarinetist Sarah Beaty's immense talent. Her trills and shrill tone wove in and out, leading each piece. In the fifth dance, these trills came in waves, each one reaffirming the last and giving it a sense of unity, recalling its triumphs in the final moments with just the right sense of nostalgia and without sounding like a retread. The piece received a standing ovation and again at the end of the concert, when all the performers walked back out, it received jubilant applause."
Andrew Lane-Lawless, Skidmore News, Feb 12, 2010
|A Bird in Your Ear
"The last work showcased was by far the best... The music, rich with imagined folk tunes, undulant accompaniment patterns and vibrant choral writing, is delicate, tartly tonal and lucidly orchestrated. The characters are enchanting, and the vocal writing mostly effective... [The opera is] skillfully written and imaginative..."
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 4 May, 2009
"the orchestral sea of bird calls that ends A Bird in Your Ear,
David Bruce and Alastair Middleton's recreation of a Russian fairytale
about a boy who learns to communicate with birds, was a surreal and yet
extraordinarily moving way to end this year's offerings [at NYCO VOX festival].
Frank J.Oteri, New Music Box
"lyrically satisfying...Bruce's and Middleton's opera appealed to me at some primary level."
Karren LaLonde Alenie, Scene 4 Magazine, June 2009
"A wondrous musical journey.... a culminating scene of reconciliation that's as touching as the finale of any Verdi-verismo opera. "
Kitty Montgomery, Kingston Daily Freeman, 30 Apr, 2008
"The reconciliation of father and son in heartfelt embrace put a beautiful end to an interesting opera that one would want to hear again "
John Paul Keeler For Hudson-Catskill Newspapers
"When I meet her, she is enthusing about an opera written at her behest by the British-based composer David Bruce for the graduate students she teaches at Bard Conservatory."
'It was based on a wonderful Russian folk tale - it was thrilling.'"
Dawn Upshaw, featured in The Daily Telegraph
See also the Profile by John R. Nelson in The Poughkeepsie Journal, 20 Mar 08
"Bruce is fascinated by the sounds of eastern European cultures, including gypsy
and klezmer music. His writing is masterful, both in setting text to melody, and
in orchestrating sound for nine players."
James Hennerty, Times Union, 7 Oct, 2007
"David Bruce incorporates his lagerphone into the final section of his vivacious song cycle "Piosenki" (in Polish, popular songs), which concluded the program and was its highlight."
"Mr. Bruce's lagerphone, a percussion instrument in the shape of a long stick, is covered with bottle tops (hence the "lager") and other metal noisemakers and decorated with colorful streamers. When pounded on the floor, it produces a jingly sound akin to a tambourine's but louder. The rest of the colorful score evokes Polish folk music and Slavic wedding bands with klezmer clarinet tunes, zesty piccolo riffs, syncopated rhythms and energetic fiddling. The audience laughed at the musical flatulence of "Smelly," the fourth verse."
Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times, Nov 4, 2008
"But the best was saved for last. David Bruce's (b. 1970)
Piosenki...is a cycle of Polish folk songs and children's poems written by
Julian Tuwim and other anonymous sources. The musicians played like a Polka band
gone awry, and were accompanied by the remarkable actor-singers Melissa Wegner
and Kyle Ferrill - who doubled up late on a strange rattlestick instrument
apparently used in Polish festivals. The amusing, often bawdy songs caused belly
laughs throughout the recital hall. "
Feast of Music Blog, 11 Oct, 2007
"Last spring the ensemble presented the premiere of Mr. Bruce's "Piosenki" for
two singers and large ensemble, a 25-minute setting of seven Polish poems by
Julian Tuwim and four Polish playground chants. Clearly the piece was a hit with
the fellows, for they played it again here, with Melissa Wegner and Kyle Ferrill
as the soprano and baritone soloists.
This hypercharged work evokes the textures, colorings and character of Polish
folk music, but not, as Mr. Bruce told the audience, actual folk tunes. The
songs abound in pummeling rhythms, relentless dance meters, klezmer clarinet
tunes, country fiddling, clanking chimes, stretches of clattering din and
passages of bittersweet lyricism. Great concert."
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 12 Oct, 2007
" In the final Polish song of this ecstatic recital ... bass-baritone Evan Hughes picked up a four-foot-long thick stick decorated with bells, and stomped it repeatedly on the floor or dangled it with the bells jingling. And as he and Dawn Upshaw sung, the untranslatable words (Trumf, Trumf! Misia Bela!!) and the entire chamber orchestra wailed and trilled and the klezmer clarinet warbled and the drums drummed, not only this scrivener but everybody in the packed Zankel Auditorium wanted to thump and jingle along with Mr. Hughes and the now foot-stamping orchestra."
Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet.com
"This was a dazzling show by any standards...Push! is simply brilliant from start to finish. But above all it's humane. Sensitive
ideas cascade and catapult forth, but the most gleaming item of all is Bruce's fresh and original music,
which from a small ensemble produces a wonderfully bizarre mix of the coherent and the unpredictable."
Roderic Dunnett, Opera Now, Nov/Dec 06
"[Bruce's] music for the 13-piece orchestra (conducted by Tim Murray) is an altogether richer amalgam, sometimes skittish,
sometimes mournful, always deeply felt. At the ensemble's heart is the unlikely but ear-catching combination of bassoon,
flute, clarinet and accordion, their contrasting colours woven together with deft assurance... Push! is that rare thing, a
new opera that delivers."
Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard, 20 June 06
"Sometimes Bruce's writing comes close to operatic genius (a bittersweet love scene without words is very affecting) ...With a clutch of uniformly excellent performances, it makes for a consistently surprising, brilliantly inventive and fast-paced show."
Warwick Thompson, Metro, 21 June 06
"Bruce's score lived its own life, full of rapid rotating figures and quick-change colours, with a quirky tonality and a
momentum that carried the show."
Robert Maycock, The Independent, 21 June 06
"Along the way we've been rocketed between social satire, rumbustious fantasy and the wonder of the ordinary, urged onwards
by the dizzying score of David Bruce...Melodic and rhythmic fragments tumble out like a Looney Tunes soundtrack, chasing each
other round squeaking winds, frantic strings, rude brass, keyboards, mouth-organ and accordion. Fun to play for the
musicians, under the alert beat of the conductor, Tim Murray; equally fun to listen to"
Geoff Brown, The Times, 21 June 06
"Push! is a wonderfully entertaining small-scale piece of music theatre with a score by David Bruce and a libretto by Anna Reynolds...Bruce's score, conducted by Tim Murray, is buoyantly inventive...the versatile cast of eight performs with irresistible panache...Push! certainly delivers."
Rupert Chistiansen, Daily Telegraph, 23 June 06 (Tete a Tete also received the 'Best of 2006' award from Rupert Chistiansen for Push! and Odysseus Unwound)
"My own favourite of new opera of the year though, was PUSH! the latest offering
by the ever enterprising and imaginative Tete a Tete Opera. Composer David Bruce
and writer Anna Reynolds gave us a night to remember, full of zany wit and
wisdom, as the cast played out the roller-coaster ride of giving birth with all
its pain and joy."
Ashutosh Khandekar , Classical Music ("Premieres of the Year"), Dec 06
"Tête à Tête itself... has had a largely successful decade, the climax being, for me, the full-length opera Push!, the chronicle of a day in the life of a maternity ward, set to often brilliantly apposite music, and performed with vocal and histrionic virtuosity."
Michael Tanner, The Spectator, Sept 2009
"The shivering glissandi, below-the-stave moans, outraged expletives and spiked
coloratura of the six labouring women...are the least radical part of Bruce and Reynolds' creation. More interesting is
the way they capture the multiple ambiguities of those long moments before one's
life changes forever, and found something of every woman in six tightly scored
With shades of Janacek, Piazzola and Britten, a rich amniotic wash of muted
brass, piano and woodwind, and fricative stirrings from the accordion, strings
and percussion, Bruce has imagined the unknowable soundworld of the unborn
child....Push! is a remarkable work: wise, sympathetic and frequently hilarious."
Anna Picard, Sunday Telegraph, 25 June 06
" It is an affecting moment when the caretaker sits up with the baby (a flashing
jelly baby in an incubator) that will die. The beautiful lamentation of the
Angela scene follows, but the work moves to an affirmative close as the cleaner
herself has a baby (with the caretaker), and the refrain becomes, as it were,
the final verse. Miura rose to her occasion magnificently - but so did all the
singers. They had much to spur them on, for what marks out the opera is the
composer's relish for warmly singable lines and the expressive possibility of
ensembles. This is emphatically not a "sung play". Reynolds's text is, in any
case, a model of concision.
Economy is the ruling principle of Bruce's score for 13 players. With its
dabs of accordion, hints of piano riff, one might take it at first for skilful
Gebrauchsmusik (utility music), but then come piccolo-flashes of Janacek, violin
descants that glisten significantly, subtly swelling brass and a touchingly
unexpected use of recorders. (They give the work its final sounds.) There is
depth here as well as surface, and a sense of tonal pacing that is more than
merely "effective". When Maddy sings of "loving no one, loved by none", there is
a chord change on the last word to clinch the matter."
Paul Driver, Sunday Times, 25 June 06
"Push, the brand-new opera by composer David Bruce and writer Anna Reynolds ... took the audience by the scruff of the ears and presented us with a vocal and visual treat that was a rich (and as nutty) as a fruitcake...
The richly comic and darkly tragic episodes are brilliantly told with a nice series of linking scenes involving a tentative romance between two hospital cleaners...
The highpoint of the whole piece was a solo aria by Louise Mott playing a mother
who has lost her baby and was clinging on to his fading memory. The music soared
with lyrical gorgeousness reminding one of the salty marsh sounds of early
The music was in turn audacious (some wonderful writing for cello, accordion and spiky piano), cheeky and at times softly mellow (and the composer is not afraid of letting the odd tune come bursting through). An astonishing melange of panto, Wagnerian grandeur and gut wrenching sadness, Push is likely to pull people towards contemporary opera, which let's face it, desperately needs a re-birth."
Mike Levy, Local Secrets website
"In their hugely enjoyable show Bruce and Reynolds give us not one but six very different childbirth episodes. [The show] made an excellent showcase of Bruce's mastery of different styles. The accompaniment (scored for a 13-strong chamber ensemble) mixed echoes of Britten, Looney Tunes and Janacek with an individual elan, and was consistently vivid and colourful. Bruce's writing for voice was also good...But - and this is what marks him out as a real operatic talent to watch - his management and musical texturing of stage ensemsble was exemplary, and he knew exactly when to let the music carry the emotional burden. For all the success of the madcap high-jinks, the best scene in the opera is a bittersweet love scene written with only a handful of words."
Opera Magazine, September 2006
The following preview features on Push! are also available :
The Times: It's not over till the fat lady gives birth
The Independent: When the fat lady sings
|Has it happened yet?
"David Bruce's Has It Happened Yet? introduces us to three old women (played by the three male singers in
the cast) and their social worker, sung by Natalie Raybould, as they wait for an eclipse. The
comedy of the carer's attempts to communicate with these deaf and eccentric characters is offset by the work's final moments. In a
haunting tableau, all four of the singers look into the audience as a languid instrumental coda describes the gradual darkening of the skies."
Tom Service, The Guardian, 20 Feb 2002
"it was the least naturalistic..that seemed to work the best...David Bruce and librettist Bill Bankes-Jones (Tete a Tete's artistic director) paint a
touching picture of three senile old ladies wheeled out by a perky nurse to watch the solar eclipse - a lesson in
life's little anticlimaxes. Notably [the score made] significant use of the operatic convention of ensemble rather than sticking cautiously to solo recitiative and arioso."
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 26 Feb 2002
"Has is Happened Yet? by David Bruce and Bill Bankes-Jones was the most touching of the six. Three old dears in an old people's home are cajoled
by their care-worker into watching the total eclipse, but then wonder what all the fuss is about. Proof that you don't need action to create drama, especially
when musical and verbal repetition are used to such good effect."
Matthew Rye, BBC Music Magazine, June 2002
|Seven Tons of Dung
"The last opera of the evening was the most vigorous, and the one in which at last the singers really got a chance to shine. Seven Tons of Dung, written by the company's director, Bill Bankes-Jones, and composed by David Bruce, is a sad moral fable. The dung beetle is attracted to the caterpillar, but when she turns into a butterfly, he rejects her, and allows his friend the spider (Phillip Bell) to capture her for his web. Damien Thantrey played the beetle
trapped inside a tip-up wheely-bin, [Hilary] Dolamore crawled around on the floor in a green duvet, and then leaped out in a yellow tutu, while Mr Bell sang on a trapeze, decorated with the wings and toros of old conquests. Bruce's music was refreshingly post-modern after the rather nostalgic pieces that had preceded it."
Patrick O'Connor, Opera, Nov 1999
"...the many and delicious charms of coprophilia in Seven Tons of Dung, David Bruce's witty inversion of Kafka's Metamorphsis"
Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday, 18 Feb 2001
"David Bruce's Crosswinds, an impressive ten-minute study for London Sinfonietta-style ensemble...Crosswinds is all transition, propelling itself forward on a tide of energy expressed through dynamically pulsing figurations and never quite settling into a definitive statement - the ending, in particular, is beautifully handled, concluding unexpectedly yet logically so that the momentum accumulated during the course of the work is neither dissipated nor stifled, but rather allowed to reverberate in the imagination of the listener. Along the way there are some finely imagined sonorities...In short: a work which suggests the stirrings of a technically adept and expressively distinctive voice."
James Grey, Musical Times, February 1996