But what seems most gripping is the manner in which the edgy instability of the 30-minute symphony coheres as a formal structure. The querulous brass and the acerbic harmonies in the opening movement, "Alarm," yield to the lengthy middle section, "Air/Ground," where a hopeful melody swarms under diabolical wind commentaries, where turbulence arises from nothing...Yet the final "Barricade" thrusts us into an eternal fox-hole. Above us, the timpani gears up for a conflagration. The strings intone a leaping Mahlerian motive; it dissolves in a volley of brass that reassembles into something approximating a death march...Kernis seems unique today in exploiting the symphonic form as a medium of profoundly personal expression.
Kernis' Symphony No. 2 is an angry, topical work....He appears to (feel) that anger and anguish are best expressed in an unequivocal tonal language that is lyrical, colorfully orchestrated and punctuated by unrestrained percussion. He has cast his 28-minute work in three movements, the first of which, "Alarm," is an aggressive, insistent stretch of clangorous, thick-textured writing that bombards the listener with conflicting impressions.
Within the movement are strains of virtuosity and chaos, of control and mechanistic power gone wild. The finale, "Barricade," is similarly driven, with angular, pleading string lines, pained expansions of those lines in the wind and brass, and a (thunderous) percussion finale.
The work's heart, though, is its long central movement, "Air/Ground." Here, lyrical themes are supported with harmony that is bitter though not especially dissonant. There are dreamy interludes, and sections of lush string chording with a Vaughan Williams accent. But the sense of menace never fully subsides.
There is much to admire in this deeply felt symphony.