The Ninth Symphony was completed in 2015. Like most of the composer’s symphonies(from the Third to the Seventh) it is cast in four movements. Its duration is approximately fifty minutes. It is set for a large orchestra – triple-ensemble with percussion. A distinct particularity in the structure of the work is the correlation of three slow movements to a singular fast. It is a deeply tragic narrative about the fate of the individual in the world of today, a romantic concept which is currently experiencing a revival in contemporary music. The work reflects, on the one side, the intensely conflicted character of the world which imperils humanity’s overall equilibrium, and the mass striving for easy entertainment as a desperate reaction to it. This dilemma is essential for the composer and he has repeatedly shared, as in this excerpt from an interview of Yanina Bogdanova: „Practically, it turns out that the things I attempt either have no sense or they merely concern a small circle of individuals.” Despite of this confession, in fulfilling his artistic intentions Tabakov is uncompromising and upholds his artistic principles.
The tragic narrative in this symphony is metaphorically represented through vivid imagery. It can be decoded not by way of some plot or program, but through the extremely eloquent, vibrant and trenchant orchestral idiom of the composer. In his work he makes perfect use of the orchestra and it is his instrumental thinking that underlies the entire dramaturgical conception of the symphony. This capacity of his music also stands out in a very vibrant way in this symphony: the brief thematic formula, stated in the violins in the beginning of the first movement, could be described as an epigraph for the entire composition. Its interval structure (a sixth, a small second, a fifth) is encrypted in each of the movements of the symphony in various configurations, inversions, timbral and rhythmic variants. The first movement states the main idea, which undergoes an extremely detailed development (voice distribution in various sections of instruments, complemented by rapid chromaticized commentaries in the winds, by diversified rhythmography, prescribed for selected percussion.) But despite the alterations it had to undergo, the main idea continues to direct the events in the drama. The second movement is an astounding scherzo. Tragedy is here transformed into ominous, disastrous giddiness. Three sound complexes mark the spectacular collision in frenzied solid motion. The finale of this movement is a shocking contrast between macabre fortissimo in the brass and the fading fourfold chime of the bells.
In the third movement – a Largo – it seems like time wastes away and passes into space. The sound acquires some fantastic transparency, the music becomes more contemplative, coloured by individual sonorities. The orchestra calms down, while the melodic line once again is reminiscent of the epigraph motif from the first movement, only here it is unreal, dreamlike. The space slides into transformation by way of sustained pedal tones in the string section and motion-supportive commentaries in the woodwind, which punctuate the vibrating sound of the strings. This movement, with its contemplative mood and spatial texture, calls to mind earlier pieces by the composer – such as ”Ad Infinitum” and ”Astral Music”, and perhaps represent a nostalgic reflection on a former period, filled with more illusions. It is also reminiscent of the second movement of the Viola Concerto.
The final part of this colossal drama once again begins in slow, broad tempo, with a motif set in the vast, almost infinite expanse between the high and low range of the orchestra. Within this expanse, an aggressive, gradual begins, which seems to symbolize the approach of something inevitable. There is also a play on tempos in this movement – the Largo passes into an Allegro and the dynamics is excessive. The broad range of polyphonic and poly- rhythmic combinations creates additional driving impulses and complicates the development. And if in the former movements there were some islands of lyrical seclusion, and contemplation, here the music generates immense collision. There is no dilemma, all is decided and is being materialized in the advancing, menacing motion, which is also asserted in the re-established Largo tempo. Finally, the entire orchestra halts its motion and holds a protracted pedal note, listening to the heavy, forceful blows of the timpani and the tam-tam in fortissimo. The narrative did not come to an end, but to an interruption.
Here is what the composer shares about his Ninth Symphony: “It has taken me nearly four years. In terms of musical idiom, it stands closer to my Eighth Symphony. The development of the material is mostly polyphonic, it also relies on intricate rhythmic complexes that resemble an aleatorial texture, but are set and calculated in such a way as to allow for each of them to be distinctly articulated, despite the complicated setting. It may sound as an improvisation, but it is all set down. I have sought an idiom, which, alongside the basic features, distinguishing my style, would correspond to the contemporary parameters of sound.”