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Chris Walden: Beer and the Four Elements

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But what inspired the idea in the first place? A superficial glance at this in-demand arranger for artists such as Sheryl Crow, Christopher Cross and Olivia Newton-John might rather have suggested an album of lushly orchestrated songs from him, after all. “To me, the symphony is the ultimate discipline in composing concert music”, Walden asserts, “After having written a lot of music for symphony orchestra, mostly for films and for album projects with recording artists, I had the strong desire to express freely my musical ideas with the use of a symphony orchestra. Over the years I also had written concert music in form of a sinfonietta and various chamber music pieces, but I've had the idea for a symphony in my head for a long time.”

There were certainly no “technical” problems with writing for a large group of musicians, as his previous assignments and commissions had allowed him plenty of opportunities to refine his compositional skills. In fact, quite a few of these “pop”- or “jazz”-tunes featured ensembles even larger than the one featured on the first Symphony. Rather, it was the notion of expressing very personal feelings into a large-scale work which represented the main challenge of the endeavour,  the concept of basing the music on the four elements (Earth, Wind, Water and Fire) merely providing a rough guideline, as Walden never wanted the piece too be “too programmatic”.

And yet, dealing with this universal topic, Walden allows listeners a deep look inside his personality. The yearning, sensually fantastic Air-Adagio seems to take one back to childhood dreams of flying, while the closing “Fire” movement is marked by an otherworldly tension, of sharp clusters flickering serpent-like into a pitchblack nightsky resonating with threatening, but rarely fully exploding militaristic drums and thundering timpani – pointing to a deep, but introvert passion. There is a strong sensation of epic width and of intently experiencing time, as themes are drawn out but never overanalytically dissected, as if their creator were slowly allowing them to melt on his tongue like a delicious piece of dark chocolate.

Or maybe he was thinking of the bittersweet aftertaste of German beer instead: Born in Hamburg, Walden left Cologne for Los Angeles at the age of 29, aiming for new opportunities. By then, he had already made a name for himself at home as a Trumpet player and snapped up the Ernst-Fischer-Prize of German collecting company GEMA twice as an arranger. The USA would prove to be even better to him, as Walden would grow into an essential factor for prestigous productions. In 2005, he received two Grammy nominations and is currently part of the “American Idol” team. Still, he sometimes feels torn apart between two worlds: “There are a lot things that I like about the American life-style, but there are also many things that I miss from Germany. I can't possibly list all the things that come to my mind, but I've always liked the openness and tolerance of people in the US, I've always had a problem with the sometimes narrow-minded mentality of Germans. On the other hand I've been annoyed with the sometimes short attention span and superficialness of Americans and I value the deep friendship I have with some of my old German friends.”

Taking the Symphony on tour should allow him to build rapport with new audiences and possibly with future friends, even though securing live opportunities is anything but easy: “I am looking for performances for the symphony”, Walden tells me, “but that's almost another full time job, and as I'm busy writing music I haven't gotten very far with it.” For the moment, though, listening to this uplifting, spirited and elegant work on CD is anything but an inferior option – and almost makes you wish for a new writer’s strike in Hollywood again.

Homepage: Chris Walden
Homepage: Origin Classical Records

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