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[#204] June 19, 2023

2005 | Wind Octet | Grade 5 | 10'-15' | Chamber music

 French composer and organist Thierry Escaich
Credit: Marie Rolland

Magic Circus, by French composer and organist Thierry Escaich is our Composition of the Week.

Magic Circus was commissioned by the National Orchestra of Lille, France, in 2004. Its was premiered at the Lille Conservatory of Music on June 1, 2005, performed by members of the above mentioned orchestra.

Magic Circus is scored for a classical wind octet and has a duration of 11 minutes. The composer arranged the work for Saxophone ensemble (9) in 2019.

The sheet music is available at Gérard Billaudot edition.

„Tightrope walkers, sad clowns, hybrid and uproarious brass bands: it is in this circus decor that this piece for wind octet evolves. But a Felliniesque circus, a circus where the most unbridled vitality suddenly descends into enigma, where the apparent vulgarity runs alongside underlying drama, where dreams are pierced with bursts of laughter. Absurd waltz themes, memories of old melodies from La strada or other films… Burlesque and offbeat mechanics, so many characters bumping into each other on several levels, at times in several tempi to call to mind this joyfully crepuscular twirling.“ Program Notes by Thierry Escaich

Composer, organist and improviser Thierry Escaich is a unique figure in contemporary music and one of the most important French composers of his generation. The three elements of Escaich’s artistry are inseparable, allowing him to express himself as a performer, creator and collaborator in a wide range of settings.

Escaich composes in many genres and forms and his catalogue numbers over 100 works which, with their lyrical, rich harmonies and rhythmic energy, have attracted a wide audience. Drawing from the French line of composition of Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux, and imbued with references from contemporary, popular and spiritual music, the distinctive sound-world of Escaich’s music is anchored by an obsessive rhythmic drive and an overarching sense of architecture.

This very personal style encompasses both intimate works and large-scale pieces, such as Chaconne for orchestra; oratorio Le Dernier Évangile and a double concerto for violin and cello, Miroir d’ombres. His first opera Claude, on a libretto by Robert Badinter after Victor Hugo's Claude Gueux, was premiered at the Opéra de Lyon in March 2013 to great acclaim. His most recent new works include a Viola Concerto, La Nuit des chants, for Antoine Tamestit commissioned by Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and NDR Elbphilharmonie, and Organ Concerto No.3, Quatre Visages du temps which received its European premiere by Escaich and Orchestre National de Lyon in November 2017.

Thierry Escaich’s works are performed by leading orchestras in Europe and North America and by musicians such as Lisa Batiashvili and François Leleux, Valery Gergiev, Paavo Järvi, Alan Gilbert, Alain Altinoglu, Louis Langrée, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Emmanuelle Bertrand and Paul Meyer. Escaich has been Composer-in-Residence with the Orchestre National de Lyon, Orchestre National de Lille and the Paris Chamber Orchestra and his music has been honoured by five ‘Victoires de la Musique’ awards (2003, 2006, 2011, 2017, and 2022). Escaich continues to teach composition and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire, where he himself studied and obtained eight ‘premiers prix’. In 2013 received the honour of being appointed to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris; in 2018 he took the prestigious role of Featured Composer at the Radio France Présences Festival in Paris.

Works for organ are an important feature of Escaich’s music and they are performed by organists around the world, including solo and chamber works, three concerti and the symphonic poem La Barque solaire for organ and orchestra. Escaich’s Organ Concerto No.1 has been performed by orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lyon, and was selected as a highlight of the organ concerto repertoire in Gramophone: “His concerto exploits the full sonic and colour ranges of orchestra and organ in this thrilling three-movement work, the second movement rising to an awe-inspiring climax only topped by the shattering coda of the finale.”

Thierry Escaich’s career as a composer is closely linked to his career as an organist – one of the ambassadors of the great French school of improvisation in the wake of Maurice Duruflé, whom he succeeded as organist of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris. He appears in recitals internationally, combining repertoire pieces with his own compositions and improvisations. His passion for cinema has led him to perform ‘cine-concerts’, improvised accompaniments on both the organ and piano for silent films such as Phantom of the Opera and Metropolis.

Major upcoming highlights include the world premiere of Escaich’s new opera Shirine by Opera de Lyon in May 2022, postponed from May 2020. Escaich also returns regularly to Dresden Philharmonie where he is Organist in Residence for the 2021/22 season. Elsewhere, Escaich performs with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Taiwan Philharmonic and Orchestre National de Lyon, and performs widely in recital with appearances at Dresdner Philharmonie, Mariinsky Concert Hall, Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow, Auditorium de Lyon and Toulouse-les-orgues.

Escaich’s new chamber opera Point d’orgue is also scheduled to receive its commissioned premieres by Opéra National de Bordeaux and Opéra Théâtre de Saint-Étienne, and his Flute Concerto receives its public world premiere by the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Joséphine Olech.

Many of Escaich’s works have been recorded by Accord/Universal. Most recently the disc Baroque Song was released on Sony Classical to critical acclaim. His 2011 release Les Nuits hallucinées crowned his residency with the Orchestre National de Lyon, and received numerous distinctions, including a ‘Choc de l’année’ from Classica magazine as an outstanding release of the year. The first production of Claude was released on DVD (BelAir Classiques).


Other works for winds include:

  • Le chant des ténèbres, for solo Soprano Sax and Saxophone Ensemble (12), (1992)

  • Trois instants fugitifs, for wind quintet (1994)

  • Mecanic Song, for wind quintet and piano (2006)

  • Ground IV, for clarinet quartet (2011)

More on Thierry Escaich


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