Comments from ACOs January 11, 1998 concert at Carnegie Hall
This concert featured the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet in two recent works: Philip Glass's Concerto and Augusta Read Thomas' Brass Axis. These works were balanced by the First Symphony of Roger Sessions (The ACO has undertaken a multi-year survey of all the Sessions Symphonies) and Ritual and Incantations by Hale Smith. The unusual texture of the solo saxophone quartet caught many listeners' attention as did "their homogeneous tone."
One listener was delighted to hear "three generations of living composers--Hale Smith, Philip Glass and Augusta Read Thomas who each write lyrical, moving pieces (though in different styles) with tremendous drive and energy."
Many listeners found the early Sessions Symphony traditional and lyric. This came as a surprise to ACO subscribers who have come to expect Sessions' music to be considerably more "difficult" or "challenging:"
"This Sessions Symphony was much more traditional than his other works.""Wonderful!""The Sessions was traditional in its use of standard forms.""I loved the Symphony No. 1""It sounded like Charles Ives.""The Largo movement was lush, calm, regular in structure, and fulfilling""Melody and instrumentation were quite traditional.""The Roger Sessions First Symphony was enjoyable and accessible
But some felt that that same traditional quality was the work's downfall:
"I was surprised to hear yet another Sessions Symphony,
Still others felt the piece sounded very up-to-date:
"There was a freshness in the youthful Sessions work""Composed in 1927, but could have been composed today--very modern."
Augusta Read Thomas' new work was widely viewed as surprising and advanced--to many, the most experimental piece on the program. Listeners responded (both positively and negatively) to the constant motion, dynamic presence and urgency of the music:
"Very experimental... needs another hearing to grasp its complexity.""WayOut!""The Thomas piece, while unexpected, was not enjoyable or memorable.""The Thomas piece was my favorite...
The all-encompassing nature of the music generated a few interesting suggestions for a re-titling of the work. Among them:
Hale Smith's music seems to be the great surprise of the concert. Few listeners were familiar with this composer's work, and many regarded the piece as the most effective on the program. Some commented on the powerful and almost continual use of percussion instruments, while other focused on a particularly dramatic entrance of the strings:
"Hale Smith's Ritual and Incantations is extraordinary!
But not everyone thought the work was truly effective:
"The Smith piece had interesting and engaging moments,
Still the composer seems to have painted an evocative portrait in music, as seen in some of the alternate titles suggested by listeners:
"Jungle Poem""Swarm of the Bumble Bees""In the Rainforest"
Philip Glass's music continues to draw outspoken comments, both positive and negative. Some listeners find Glass's music extremely experimental while others find it traditional. (Which may say something about how far Philip Glass has come to be regarded as part of the mainstream of concert music.) Since Glass is so well known, a number of comments we received focused on how this piece differed from other works by the composer:
"The Philip Glass piece was very colorful,
And there were a slew of suggestions if Mr. Glass is ever seeking an alternate title for the concerto:
"A Jazzy Serenade (with a Slow Interlude)""Dance Suite for Sax Quartet and Orchestra""Still Chopping at the Old Wood Pile""American Journey""Einstein Plays the Saxophone Near the Beach""Essays on Monotony""Saxophone Triumph""Driving Miss Liberty""Blue Glass""Bellowing"
And Our Favorite Comments...
One listener, dragged to the concert unwillingly by their spouse reported: "I can usually tolerate contemporary music for about 5 minutes per piece, then I get bored. However, I really enjoyed the selections on the program today."
Another listener reported, "the programming presented a profound snapshot of the present state of concert music..."
And another called the concert, "the best mix of living and lively composers in this town..."