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`Blood on the Floor' is a wild sonic ride

LENOX -- A mellowed Mark-Anthony Turnage , now in his mid-40s and looking a little like Elvis Costello, told the pre concert preview audience at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music on Monday that he wanted his ``Blood on the Floor" to be ``a big, loud piece, with some quiet, gentle moments."

Turnage finished this extraordinary 70-minute work for jazz soloists and large ensemble 11 years ago, when he was the fiercely controversial and transgressive Wild Child of British music. The amped-up parts of ``Blood on the Floor" are certainly exciting and very loud indeed; in fact, the front rows of Seiji Ozawa Hall were roped off to prevent people from getting too close to the speakers.

Turnage wrote ``Blood on the Floor," in part, to bridge the worlds of rock, jazz, and concert music. The 11 movements are also a harrowing portrait of the drug culture; sections of the piece are called ``Junior Addict," ``Needles," and ``Crackdown." In a terrible irony, as Turnage was completing the piece, he learned that his brother Andy was an addict, and soon afterward Andy died of an overdose. The music that Turnage improvised at his brother's funeral entered the piece and became its tragic, elegiac center, ``Elegy for Andy," music set for woodwinds, electric guitar, and soprano saxophone.

The assaultive energy of parts of the score sometimes exhausts excitement. The program annotator wrote of Turnage's ``infallible ear for blending his sonorities," and this is undeniably true of the quieter sections. But in the loud ones we could see the string players playing as hard as they could, and we couldn't hear them at all. These passages were too much like some of the awful arrangements rock stars use when the Boston Pops serve as the hard-working, but largely inaudible, backup band.

The jazz-classical fusion works better than the rock-classical clash. The ``Crackdown" movement is mostly improvised by the percussion, and conductor Stefan Asbury simply stood and listened. In other movements, Turnage uses the orchestra as a kind of framework within which the jazz soloists can improvise. The guest solo players were superb: Martin Robertson, soprano saxophone; John Parricelli, electric guitar; Dave Carpenter, bass; and Peter Erskine, percussion. And in written solos, TMC flutist Clint Foreman , trombonist Kathryn Curran, and trumpeters Ethan Bensdorf and Michael Martin more than held their own.

What lingers in the memory, however, are the quieter sections. ``Sweet and Decay" unfurls touching treble solos over primordial heaving from the lower instruments, and the final movement, ``Dispelling the Fears," is led by two mournful trumpets. The piece closes with a slow pendulum sway, the music rising out of a cradle, endlessly rocking.

Asbury, this year's Festival of Contemporary Music director, has a particular affection for this piece, which he has led several times before. Under his high-voltage direction the performance had thrust and tenderness. It would have been more exciting and adventurous to have programmed this piece a decade ago, before it had been played all over Europe and America, but it was good to be hearing it now, and the performance made it clear it's going to be around for a long time.

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