Monthly Archives: March 2012

Saxophone sorbet? Yes, please!

On March 7th, to a packed house, at the University Capitol Centre Recital Hall, Dr. Kenneth Tse presented a recital that featured the soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones. He was accompanied by Jason Sifford, Lin-Yu Wang, and Rebecca Tse. While this blog is primarily reviewing performances of 20th and 21st century music, this recital began with Tomaso Albinoni’s 1722 Concerto No. 2 in D minor, op. 9. Originally written for oboe, Dr. Tse performed this work on soprano saxophone. After a piano introduction, the saxophonist’s beautiful tone and expressive vibrato captured the audience and held them spellbound until the very last note.  With precise technique and style, this tonal composition was played with perfection. Dr. Tse even commented afterwards to the audience, “I wish it had been written for saxophone!”

Following this tonal work, we traveled to the present era. Michael Eckert’s 2009 composition, Blue Arc for Alto Saxophone and Piano was composed with a more modern, post-tonal approach. This work was dedicated to Dr. Tse, and entails a dialogue between the saxophone and piano. The melodic material in the saxophone builds to a rhythmic climax in the piano before the return of the previous material. With the composer seated in the audience, this work was received extremely well.

On a tonally lighter note, the next composition performed was Raymond Gallois-Montbrun’s Six Pieces Musicales d’Etude. This work was written in 1954 for saxophonist, Marcel Mule, professor of saxophone at the Paris Conservatory. Of all of the movements, the audience seemed to enjoy the second, Intermezzo, and the fourth, Lied, the best. The second movement sounded as if tiny fairies were dancing all around the stage, and there was even laughter in the audience when the movement was complete. The fourth movement allowed the beauty of the saxophone’s voice to sing and resonate throughout the recital hall. It was magnificent.

To conclude the first half of the program, Dr. Tse was joined on stage by his daughter, Rebecca Tse, who accompanied him on piano. Richard Dudas’ Fantasia on Lyun Joon Kim’s Elegy which was written in 2009, spotlights the elegance of the saxophone’s altissimo register. According to Dr. Tse, he first heard this composition on You Tube for orchestra accompaniment, and asked Dudas to write a reduction for piano. Tonight was the American Premiere of this wonderful melodic work.

After a brief intermission, the recital continued with David DeBoor Canfield’s 2011 Sonata for Tenor Saxophone and Piano. This work was dedicated to Dr. Tse, and is an extremely technically demanding and virtuosic piece. It also included some modern compositional techniques and strumming and plucking on the piano. Written in the third movement is a direction to the saxophonist to walk to the piano and play into it to conclude the movement. The fourth movement incorporated some multiphonics on the saxophone, a modern technique that hadn’t yet been produced on this recital, and caught some of the audience off guard!

The evening’s final piece was Joseph Joachim Raff’s Cavatina, op. 85, No. 3 in which Dr. Tse was once again accompanied by his daughter. This 1859 composition was a delightful conclusion to an incredible recital. Dr. Tse compared this work to a sorbet in order to cleanse the palate, and it indeed left the audience in high spirits and wanting more!

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Student composers are composers too ya know

Tonight’s concert featured the musical output of composition students here at the University of Iowa.  There were few who braved the snow but those who did were in for a good albeit short concert.  The program consisted of four pieces each with different instrumentation and style.

The first piece, A Night at Iowa City for String Quartet, by Leonid Iogansen, made use of extended techniques on the violin as well as mictrotonal tuning.  The texture of the piece constantly changed moving between pizzicato to lyrical and everything in between.  The composer writes, “the piece strives to describe the impressions one might get while walking through the downtown of the city after sunset.”  The different timbres and stark contrasts in texture made for a dramatic and thrilling piece.

The second piece, by Brian Penkrot, is titled Angelus Novus II.  It is scored for solo flute, and was skillfully played by Nora Epping.  Her control of extended techniques such as multiphonics, pitch bending, among others as well as an overall rich tone made for a moving performance.  Brian writes, “my intention in this piece is the juxtaposition of musical elements signifying the trend in musical perception from pitched based to sound based.”  Some of the sound based elements were air blown through the flute, clicking the keys, and making a popping sound with the mouth.  The composition weaves all of these techniques together with traditional melodic gestures to create a haunting yet beautiful work.

Jonathan Tauchsceck played his own composition, Piano Study No. 5.  Unlike the previous compositions it was quite tonal and had a jovial air.  He writes, “the piece contains a short motive consisting of quick repetitive notes within a thin texture.  It is reiterated throughout the piece in different guises:  canon, inversion, and in octaves.”

The final piece on the concert was by Jason Palamara entitled Perforation.  The instrumentation consisted of piano, two violins, double bass, xylophone, trombone, bass clarinet, guitar, flute, and laptop.  However, there is no set instrumentation because this work is simply a single sheet of music consisting only of eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, and quarter note rests.  There are no clefs, key signatures, or bar lines.  All of the players should read the notes in their respective clefs and without transposing, obviously creating some very interesting sonorities at times.  It was necessary for each player to have two copies of the music.  Once the players read through the page once they began to tear the page in half one at a time, throwing their discarded paper at the person next to them and continuing to play the notes left on the other half.  They continued this process until only a single quarter note was left on the page.  Once everyone was down to repeating a single quarter note, Jason, who was playing the laptop, then gave the cue and everyone then played through the sheet of music again (hence the need for a second copy).  I happened to be playing on this one and so I’m not sure exactly how it came off to the audience, I imagine it would be fairly amusing to see people throwing paper around.  However as a participant I can attest to the difficulty of playing music without barlines; the beginning and end were far from perfect.  But overall I think it went well.

One can either look on the bright side and see the great musical expression and effort going into these pieces or one can look to the audience and see only a handful of people actually hearing the pieces.  The snow may have been to blame for the small turn out but I would suspect a nicer evening would only have brought a few more folks.  It’s instances like these that a musician who truly wants to play and promote new music must be content in knowing that at least a few did come tonight and heard something new.

The student composers here each have a voice of their own and it’s nice as a performer to be able to help them realize the music they’ve put so much effort into.  So as a performer I encourage everyone to support the local composers here because they really are quite good.  Not to mention getting commissions from student composers costs you little more than a drink at Donnelly’s.

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