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Comments from ACO’s January 11, 1998 concert at Carnegie Hall

The Rascher Saxophone QuartetThis 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."


Roger Sessions: Symphony No. 1

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."
"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 
(unlike most of his other works that ACO has performed)."

But some felt that that same traditional quality was the work's downfall:

"I was surprised to hear yet another Sessions Symphony, 
well constructed but a composer that really doesn't age well.
It is dutiful but increasingly irrelevant."

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 ThomasAugusta Read Thomas: Brass Axis (World Premiere, ACO Commission)

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."
"The Thomas piece, while unexpected, was not enjoyable or memorable."
"The Thomas piece was my favorite... 
shows a thoughtful consideration of form
in as much as the timing of powerfully
profiled ideas were layed out for
maximum experiential effect."
"the saxophone quartet's vibrato was horrific and wild."
"Brass Axis is more like a woven challis."
"The rhythmic pulsing was repetitive, but it fit the quartet well."

The all-encompassing nature of the music generated a few interesting suggestions for a re-titling of the work. Among them:

"Do Something"

Hale Smith: Ritual and Incantations

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! 
Moving, focused, colorful and well orchestrated,
I wish it were broadcast--often."
"Hale Smith's piece offered the most beautiful range of sound."
"The piece by Hale Smith was the biggest surprise of the concert--
its drama, the boldness of its orchestration, its total effectiveness."
"very good integration of modern elements with emotional power."
"A GREAT composition. I've not known him."
"The Hale Smith work made the deepest emotional connection... 
great use of low instruments and percussion."
"The evocative power of Hale Smith's work and use of 
various percussion instruments to evoke African dance ritual."
"The most effective moment of the concert was the 'violin filigree' 
section that sounded like crickets."
"Smith's timing of the violin sounds was very effective."
"The very quiet strings in the Hale Smith were surprising and dramatic."
"an experimental use of structure and unusual sounds"

But not everyone thought the work was truly effective:

"The Smith piece had interesting and engaging moments, 
but after a short while seemed 'noodley.'
I kept thinking of something like Czerny having an hallucination."

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 GlassPhilip Glass: Concerto for Saxophone Quartet & Orchestra (U.S. Premiere)

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 varied greatly in tonal characteristics...
something I did not expect since his symphonies
are pretty 'conventional' by Glass standards.
It is a little hard to describe, but this work
had the most 'movement' of his symphonic works."
"The Concerto was very interesting, lively, accessible and well-written."
"Glass's underlying pulse, instrumentation and repetition 
makes this work sound experimental."
"There was a lyric and playful quality to the Glass composition."
"very compelling and original"
"Glass has chosen, consciously or not, to move back towards the center. 
This compromise does not strike this listener as authentic,
even though I never doubt Glass's sincerity."

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"

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..."

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