Brian Petuch

Another young composer in the circle of the Sight/Sound festival is Brian Petuch, who, like Adam Cuthbért, lives and works in New York, though in this case the personal information available does not go much beyond specifying that locale; yet here too a collection of biographical data is not exactly needed, as his compositions tend to speak for themselves – and they do so in an idiom that, fairly unmistakably, is a musical New Yorkese.

It’s an ebullient urban music that Petuch composes, even in the more introspective interludes, and once it gets going, its tempo is rapid-⁠fire; then it recalls what it’s like to stroll in the midst of the crowds through Manhattan at nearly any time of the day (whereas night in this city moves in another manner), when one’s struck not so much by the blows of many elbows, as by spark after spark of something like an electrical current: here the musical moods hasten by nearly as fast as do the people in the streets there, and in both the pace is quickened by virtue of an ambient charge.

In “Simple Objects,” even in the first movement, which commences more slowly and remains throughout calm like the dawn, one comes across several ὁμοιώσεις of the sound of the street, most clearly the sirens as one hears them with some regularity in the distance racing along the thoroughfares some blocks away, but also once – and this, after all, is an object that’s so simple that it could be quite difficult to devise a convincing musical likeness of it – something of the patter of an early-⁠morning rain on the concrete sidewalks.

The impact of minimal music (a kind of contemporary classical in which, to be sure, there’s a considerable New Yorkness) upon Petuch’s compositions is patent in parts; but in these complex and fully orchestral wholes its effects are counterbalanced by another source of inspiration that is quite different, though even more obvious in its close connection to the city: namely, Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story (a film which, earlier this year, for all intents and purposes, celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its worldwide release) – or, to be more specific, the special sense of rhythm and drama that’s so marked in that work of music. It’s something of this same sensibility which periodically bursts through “Three Pieces for Orchestra” from the beginning to the end.

Meanwhile, on Petuch’s Soundcloud page, in addition to what he’s uploaded on his Youtube channel, there is the third movement, a serenade, of his “Horn Quartet,” which makes one eager to hear the whole work.