Symphony 'Elixir'
- in three movements: I - Energico Nuovo; II - Adagio; III - Alla Marcia, Alla Danza
for symphony orchestra or sinfonia


- Instrumentation: -

Woodwind (
Brass (2.2)
1 percussionist

- Duration: -

Approximately 40 minutes.

- Recordings & Soundclips: -

There are high-quality live recordings of the premieres of all three movements (enquire via Daniel X Music).

Short MP3 excerpts will be available shortly.

- Score: -

Available from composer - please enquire.

- Origins/Commission/Dedications: -

Originally written for and developed in association with Southbank Sinfonia.

- Premieres/Performances: -

The Symphony was developed with Southbank Sinfonia and reached completion with a performance in 2009 at St Judes Proms, St Judes Hampstead conducted by Simon Over.

- Press: -

Review of first movement (Energico Nuovo) by David Sonin, Hampstead and Highgate Express:

“Programming of concerts is sometimes viewed as being a bit too comfortable, with organizers taking a safe route with the knowable and the popular. It is a measure of the Proms’ maturity that the new and adventurous will not only entertain listeners but challenge them too. So it was when Simon Over brought to Central Square a work from Keith Burstein, a contemporary master of tonality. That it was also a world premiere performance was also a benchmark for the Proms, too.

"(The first movement, 'Energico Nuovo', certainly permitted all sections of Over’s youthful ensemble to flourish and project a sound palette that sparkled with energy. Burstein is also a master of imagery and it is a piece that sounds as if it would fit a cinematic view of a river passing through a great city - though the Thames seems to be what the composer had in mind.

"Clear and lucid writing captivated the ear and the performance was as affectionate as one could wish.There was no aural gulf between Burstein’s work and Mozart’s 'Linz Symphony' (the next item in the programmme).”

- Composer’s comments: -

The Symphony 'Elixir’ was one of those works which assembled itself somewhat mysteriously. I was on my way from north London (where I had attended a planning meeting for the forthcoming Edinburgh Festival production of ‘Manifest Destiny’). I was walking across Waterloo Bridge heading south when, inspired by the unearthly mists of light that hovered over the City that afternoon, there arrived in my head what I can only describe as a "sound vision" of such vividness and exactness that I was able to write it down as soon as I got home. This was to become the opening theme of the first movement, ‘Energico Nuovo’.

A few yards ahead was the church of St Johns Waterloo, which I wandered into to find an orchestral rehearsal in progress. At the rear were some players who told me about Southbank Sinfonia, then just three years old. I made contact with the Southbank Sinfonia’s administration and was soon in discussion with the orchestra’s Director, Simon Over, who (having heard recordings of my work) encouraged me to write a Concerto for Orchestra. I had initially had in mind a Symphony, but - intrigued by the challenge of a Concerto for Orchestra - I agreed to his suggestion.

The first movement and the music for a second movement for the Concerto for Orchestra (as it was still to be at that time) were quickly sketched out. I then orchestrated the first movement (including the opening music I had heard on Waterloo Bridge just before encountering the orchestra in St Johns) for a premiere at the North London music festival Proms at St Judes, with Simon Over conducting.

I will never forget the first rehearsals, when I first heard the leaping orchestral energy. I commented to Simon that it had lifted me into "Olympian joy" - a sublimation of darkness into light, perhaps (a recurring theme of my work). A review later used the phrase "a contemporary master of tonality." I felt an intangible line had been quietly crossed. Until recently, the idea that a composer of new classical music could be a "master of tonality" might have seemed a contradiction in terms. Now it seems natural.

The summer was completed by further performances at St Johns Smith Square and in Italy. When I returned, I began work on a second movement. However, I decided to discard the second movement sketch from the previous autumn, and instead used a movement I had sketched out two years before in a mood of relief when my friend Gary Popoola had reappeared after a worrying disappearance. This became the ‘Adagio’. Its orchestration was particularly exciting for me, as I now had the experience of the first movement to guide me to still more refinement. From that experience I had learnt how I could suspend in mid-air (as it were) many themes around each other simultaneously, and make them all speak independently and yet as one (sometimes four or five together). This had served the Concerto for Orchestra brief of letting all the different instruments speak equally. At the same time this interweaving fabric could be sculpted into huge forms and architectures, structure within structure. In the second movement I strove to achieve a greater focus - a more intense centre - while retaining the many voices of the first.

It was at this stage that I began to reconsider the 'Concerto for Orchestra' designation for the work as a whole. By using the more soulful ‘Adagio’ instead of the turbulent original second movement, I had begun to create a different dynamic - one which was narrative and questing, as though on a huge journey. This cyclical aspect of the music suggested to me a Symphony rather than a Concerto. Perhaps my subconscious had overridden my conscious mind - my subconscious (or superconscious?) being much more powerful - and my original intention of making a Symphony had reasserted itself. Either way I now proposed that I divert the work into Symphony form, to which Simon Over kindly agreed.

I now sketched out the third movement, ‘Alla Marcia, Alla Danza’, which completed the cycle. The finished work had an unearthly feel. Like a ladder to the stars, the glittering trumpets of the first movement seeming to be actually battering at heaven; the furnace intensities of the second movement inspired a raising-up of the heart (as though emotion itself could be held up to one’s gaze); and the third movement displayed a first stately, then delirious breaking through into a dance which led stretching to the heights, and to a clinching grasping at the unreachable.

At this point Simon Over introduced me to the orchestra’s Patron, the great conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. His encouragement was a vital inspiration to the completion of the work. Southbank Sinfonia undertook to present and record each movement separately - meanwhile, I could be working towards offering the full premiere of the complete work to a full-scale symphony orchestra.

The work was completed in 2009 and Simon Over premiered the third movement (‘Alla Marcia, Alla Danza’) in June 2009 at that year's Proms at St Judes concerts and was conducted by Simon Over. At time of writing, discussions are underway towards the first complete performance.

A composer’s thoughts on the "meaning" of their work are perhaps no more significant than anyone else’s. However (and with that in mind), the first movement seems to me to describe something of the energies of creation, and the second the advent of man and the dawn of consciousness in human feeling and emotion. The third movement seems to describe the conversion of the light energies of the first - via the transforming human soul - into the apprehension of divine love and the ultimate secret of the universe and life: the Elixir.

That’s my vision - but the power of music is such that each one of us finds our own meaning. However, one thing I am sure of. With ‘Elixir’ I had created a Symphony - a New Romantic Symphony and one that displayed the full potential of my brand of Super Tonality: the New Tonality that carries all our memory of the past music and of the world music (and even all the experiments with atonalism, for it is tonality that releases the expressive power of dissonance) into a new fusion, a new heartfelt music.

- Keith Burstein, 10th November 2009



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