Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Ace Edwards, Adam Flatt, Cecil Effinger, Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, Katie Mahan, Larry Worster, Zoltán Kodály
Among the many reasons that the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra is fortunate to have Adam Flatt as their conductor, is the fact that the programming is excellent, and truly, quite eclectic. In addition, the violin section continues to improve, and Friday evening, November 11, was no exception.
It has been a very long time since I have heard any orchestra perform a work by the Hungarian composer, Zoltán Kodály. This is really unfortunate because he is a fine composer, and his work Psalmus Hungaricus, swept the world in 1923, and that remarkable work was followed by his opera Háry János.
They also performed a marvelous work by Colorado’s own Cecil Effinger. It is so refreshing to hear works that are seldom performed. In Denver, live concerts provide an opportunity such as this, and these concerts easily take the place of the local radio station which plays the same thing over and over.
In addition to the regular programming Friday evening, Ace Edwards, who is a conductor, gave an interesting and informative pre-concert lecture.
The program opened with Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, a one movement suite of Hungarian dances which reflect Kodály’s interest in ethnomusicology (Kodály was truly an all-around musician: a composer, an ethnomusicologist, and a music educator). The work opens with a series of dances, and really quite a flourish, before giving way to a very rich texture. It is an excellent piece, with rich and almost sultry sounds from the strings. There is a great deal of clarinet work, which was done superbly by the principal clarinetist, Shaun Burley. The violins were just a little shaky in the opening, but acquired their footing as the piece progressed. Maestro Flatt made it seem quite easy to pull the energy that Kodály requires from the orchestra, and the entire orchestra positively glowed.
Cecil Effinger (1914-1990) is another composer that is seldom heard today, and everyone in the audience owes Maestro Flatt for programming Effinger’s delightful Little Symphony Nr. 1(Effinger composed two Little Symphonies). Before the orchestra performed this work, Larry Worster, the biographer of Cecil Effinger, spoke to the audience about Effinger and his work. Understand that Effinger was a very prolific Colorado composer. Among his works are many choral works, five symphonies, two little symphonies, and five string quartets. The quality of his work is quite excellent, though, perhaps, the reason he never it achieved national prominence is due to the fact that he did not embrace harmonies and styles of composition that were catching the attention of the musical public while he was alive.
As Larry Worster pointed out, Effinger’s work seems to reflect his Colorado residency, but not to the extent that other American composers, Roy Harris, Howard Hanson, or even Aaron Copland compositions seem to reflect their American heritage. To me, Effinger has a completely different identity from these composers because of the marvelous harmony, which is enormously sophisticated, and yet, not revolutionary. It has amazing clarity.
This work is in the traditional four movement symphonic form, and as Larry Worster’s program notes state, it evokes the atmosphere of a “Mozart Divertimento.” Maestro Flatt and the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra performed the Effinger beautifully. The opening movement shows Effinger’s very fluent compositional style. While it is not by any stretch “modern,” this Colorado composer was very good at his craft. The long flowing melodies of the first movement were beautifully performed by the orchestra, and they brought to life the pastorale quality which surrounds the whole symphony. One of the differences in the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra this year seems to be their ability to make what they play very personal. That is new, and I think that it is very important. They create the impression that they have taken ownership of what they performed. This is one of the points of inspiration that Maestro Adam Flatt has given this orchestra, and while it is perhaps subjective, it is still truthful, and it has made a profound difference in the way this orchestra performs. There are some outstanding musicians in the orchestra. I have already mentioned Shaun Burley, but also worthy of mention is the entire woodwind section. There is simply not enough space to mention all the names. The DPO is also very fortunate to have Manny Araujo as principal trumpet. In the Effinger last movement, Araujo, as always, was superb.
Immediately before the intermission, the DPO saluted Veterans Day by performing the five well-known songs of the five branches of service. They were introduced by a young man who is currently serving in the Navy as an electrician’s mate. He had a chest full of medals, and I am very sorry to say that I did not get his name. But as each of the five service songs, the Caisson Song, Semper Paratus, The Marines Hymn, The Air Force Song, and Anchors Aweigh, were performed, members of the audience and the orchestra who were veterans, were invited to stand and receive the applause and appreciation of the audience.
Following the intermission, the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra and guest pianist, Katie Mahan, performed the Brahms Piano Concerto Nr. 2 in B flat, Opus 83. This work is well-known to every concert audience, so I don’t feel that it is necessary to go into great detail about the work itself. It is in the traditional four movement form that Brahms used in many of his chamber works and his concertos. It is a little unusual, in that the first movement opens with a horn solo playing the first theme, followed by a cadenza for piano which leads to the exposition section. This work contains some of the most lyrical writing that can be found in Brahms’ output.
The soloist, Katie Mahan, began her piano studies at the age of four with her mother, Bobette Mahan, and gave her first solo recital at the age of six. She made her orchestral debut in the summer of 1999 with the Breckenridge Symphony performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Ms. Mahan received her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder where she was a student of Robert Spillman, graduating with highest honors. Ms. Mahan was also a protégé of the late Howard Waltz, himself a pupil of the legendary French pianist, Robert Casadesus. She has also studied with the renowned French pianist Michel Béroff.
This is the second time that Ms. Mahan has performed with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. On March 27, 2010, she performed Chopin’s Concerto in E minor, Opus 11, with Brendan Matthews conducting that performance, as the DPO was still searching for a new conductor, following the departure of Maestro Horst Buchholz.
I have written about Ms. Mahan’s performances in past articles, and as I have stated before, there is absolutely no question that Katie Mahan has fine technique and a near-perfect memory. She plays difficult repertoire with ease, and she has performed with orchestras many times. However, her performance on Friday evening was marred by her changes in tempo which resulted in phrase endings which were not with the orchestra. And I must say, that often, she seems to be a little preoccupied with theatrical motions while playing, rather than keeping her eyes on the conductor. She has a habit of throwing her arms behind herself, or lifting her hand, flutteringly, from the keyboard. I sincerely believe these motions interfere with her playing. It is almost as if she is of the opinion that they add to her performance, rather than her ability to make music. She played the Brahms with truly wonderful dynamic contrast, but she changed tempo often making it difficult for Maestro Flatt and the orchestra to stay with her.
In the second movement, she consistently changed the tempo when she was playing by herself without the orchestra, and when the orchestra entered she consistently rushed. The same difficulties occurred in the third movement, and I found myself wondering why she did not make the music as “poetic” as she did her movements at the keyboard. And in the fourth movement, I found myself wondering how many times she could end the phrase and never communicate her rubato to Maestro Flatt. She can do that easily by making eye contact and leaning in toward the keyboard, or a myriad of other subtle movements.
Katie Mahan has a marvelous ability, and she has the unmistakable “spark” of a person who truly loves music, and as I have said, she has wonderful fingers, and can produce wonderful tone. But when she performs with an orchestra, she must learn to listen to others as well as to herself. And, she needs to concentrate on communicating with the conductor. Performing with an orchestra is not an easy task, but when one wants to be a performer of concertos, and music in general, honesty, whether brutal or not, is the price of admission when one performs. It is not enough to simply do your best; you must first know precisely what to do, and then do your best.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Arkady Fomin, Brahms, David Korevaar, Haydn, Jesus Castro-Balbi, Paul Schoenfield, The Beaux Arts Trio, The Budapest Quartet, The Clavier Trio
Since 1950, there have been two chamber groups that have had a profound impact on the world of chamber music, not only because of their incredibly vast repertoire, but because the members of each group were somehow brought together to perform. The earliest of these two chamber groups was the Budapest String Quartet: Joseph Roisman and Jac Gorodetzky, violins; Boris Kroyt, viola; and Mischa Schneider, cello. If they ever needed a pianist for the group, they often included Artur Balsam.
The other chamber group that has had such a profound impact on the art of chamber music is the Beaux Arts Trio. The founding members of the Beaux Arts Trio were Menahem Pressler, piano; Daniel Guilet, violin; and Bernard Greenhouse, cello. The Beaux Arts Trio members changed from time to time for a variety of reasons, but the center artist has always been Menahem Pressler.
Since Bloomington, Indiana, was my hometown, I have heard the Beaux Arts Trio countless times since I was 15 years old. I was also very fortunate to hear the Budapest Quartet. Sunday afternoon, I heard a performance at the CU Boulder College of Music by The Clavier Trio. Its members include Arkady Fomin, violin; Jesus Castro-Balbi, cello; and David Korevaar, piano. Below, are some short bio statements of the members of this trio:
“Violinist Arkady Fomin was born in Riga, Latvia, where he received his musical training at the Latvian State Conservatory with the legendary Latvian pedagogue, Voldemar Sturestep. A founder of Clavier Trio, Mr. Fomin has collaborated in performances with Pinchas Zukerman, Yefim Bronfman, Emanuel Borok, Shlomo Mintz, Atar Arad, David Korevaar, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Andrew Litton and the late Steven De Groote. As violinist and conductor, Mr. Fomin performs in Russia, Latvia, Europe, Japan, and throughout the United States. A member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Fomin is also Professor and Artist-in-Residence at The University of Texas at Dallas, Artistic Director of the New Conservatory of Dallas, and Artistic Director of Conservatory Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado. Arkady Fomin is recipient of the Cowlishaw Artist-in-Residence Award for artistic achievement and contributions to the City of Dallas.”
“Dr. Castro-Balbi is a graduate of the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Lyon (France), Indiana University at Bloomington, Yale, and of The Juilliard School, where he also served on the Pre-College faculty. He studied cello with Aldo Parisot and Janos Starker and chamber music with Boris Berman, the late Rostislav Dubinsky, Joseph Kalischtein, Fred Sherry and members of the Amadeus, Juilliard, Ravel and Tokyo String Quartets. Together with his wife, pianist Gloria Lin and son Joaquín he resides in Fort Worth, where he is the cello professor at Texas Christian University.
“A passionate chamber musician, Dr. Castro-Balbi is the cellist of the Castro-Balbi/Lin Duo with pianist Gloria Lin and of Clavier Trio with violinist Arkady Fomin and pianist David Korevaar. Dr. Castro-Balbi is the founder and director of the TCU Cello Ensemble and of the Faculty & Friends Chamber Music Series, a showcase of collegiality and excellence at TCU. Festivals include La Jolla SummerFest in California; Mimir in Fort Worth, Texas; Norfolk, Connecticut; Music in the Mountains in Durango, Colorado; Aguascalientes, Mexico; the Bartók Festival in Szombathely (Hungary); the Caracas (Venezuela), Manchester (England), and Beauvais (France) international cello festivals, and the Isaac Stern Third International Chamber Music Encounters in Jerusalem, Israel.”
“David Korevaar began his piano studies at age six in San Diego with Sherman Storr, and at age 13 he became a student of the great American virtuoso Earl Wild. By age 20 he had earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, where he continued his studies with Earl Wild and studied composition with David Diamond. He completed his Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School with Abbey Simon. Another important mentor and teacher was the French pianist Paul Doguereau, who had been a student of Egon Petri, and who had studied the music of Fauré and Debussy with Roger-Ducasse (a pupil of Fauré’s), and the music of Ravel with the composer.
“Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Colorado in 2000, Korevaar taught for many years at the Westport School of Music in Connecticut, where he was Artist-Teacher. He now lives in Boulder, CO with his family. David Korevaar presented his London debut at Wigmore Hall in 2007, as well as his German recital debut at the Heidelberg Spring Festival. Mr. Korevaar has been heard at major venues in New York including Weill Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Town Hall, and Merkin Concert Hall. He has performed across the United States from Boston, New York and Washington, DC to Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Dallas and San Diego, and he plays frequently in his home state of Colorado with orchestras, in chamber ensembles and in solo recitals.”
This trio is absolutely without question world-class. No doubt, there will be some of you readers who will say that they cannot be world-class because the pianist is from Boulder, not New York or Paris or Salzburg, and the other two musicians, Fomin and Castro-Balbi, are presently from Texas. I am well aware, as I have written before, of the old cliché, that one cannot be good at anything unless one has to travel from far away. That, I assure you, is utter nonsense.
The Clavier Trio opened their recital with a work by Franz Joseph Haydn: the Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27 (1797).
Note that instead of an opus number, there is an Hob. number. The Hob. number refers to Anthony Van Hoboken, who was a Dutch engineer. He also studied music in Frankfurt and Vienna, and began collecting additions of music beginning with Bach and (essentially) ending with Brahms. This collection of over 5000 items is now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. The Haydn works catalogue is entitled Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis (3 vols., Mainz: Schott, 1957-78). The Hoboken catalogue uses a double-numbering system. Works are first grouped by genre and then by number. A Roman numeral is used to indicate the group. It is interesting to note that Haydn, himself, began a thematic catalog of his own works, but it was never completed, and oddly enough, contains a few errors!
During his stay in England in the early 1790s, Haydn composed eleven new piano trios, and he seems to have lavished all of his incredible talents on these remarkable compositions. The instant The Clavier Trio began to perform, I was absolutely struck by the amazingly clear phrasing and pedaling by David Korevaar. The phrases were shaped delicately by dynamics, and each Haydn-esque motive was separated by very adroit pedaling and keyboard touch. In fact, everyone in this trio was remarkable in having the same concept of dynamics and phrasing. I was also struck by the sound of the violin; it was full and warm, and so beautiful, that it fit everything that was performed on the program.
There are some instruments that are better for some composers than others, but that simply does not apply to Mr. Fomin’s violin. (After the program, I asked Arkady Fomin what kind of violin he had, and he said it was new to him, and I believe that he said that it was a Grancino). For those of you who are not familiar with this violin maker, Grancino was a student of Niccolo Amati. Mr. Fomin gladly showed me his violin, which was built in 1690 (!), and it was absolutely beautiful. He also said that this particular violin was noted for being in almost original shape.
What was so striking about the first movement was the sameness of concept and musical ideas that each member exhibited as they played. That is the same thing that sets the Beaux Arts Trio and the old Budapest Quartet apart from chamber groups today. The members of The Clavier Trio truly seemed to be in total mental and musical coordination. I point out that it takes a great deal of musical understanding and skill to perform this way. Yes, it’s true that the more one performs with whatever musical partners one has, the more confidence grows, but I assure you that it is an absolute joy to listen to, and it is instantly recognizable.
The slow movement of this trio is in three parts, and is full of accents where one does not expect them. The center section is somewhat stormy with many surprising key changes. Again, this movement reflected that all three of these musicians had not just mastered their instruments, but they fully understood what to do with Haydn’s humor, and how to allow each other to express their ideas while staying within the scope of Haydn. The cellist was absolutely remarkable in this movement: his tone was clear and lyrical. There was never a hint that one member of the trio might cover up the other two; it just never happened. One was left with the feeling that the audience was being given a presentation on why Haydn is such a great composer, and why The Clavier Trio likes his music so much. All of this is a very difficult thing for a chamber group to express, and it is what made the Beaux Arts Trio and the Budapest Quartet so wonderful to listen to.
The last movement of the Haydn was full of Haydn’s humor and incredible technical demands on each musician. Korevaar, Fomin, and Castro-Balbi played with great energy and spirit, and with intense focus. Every entrance and phrase ending was done impeccably. In fact, their playing was so startlingly good, I must admit that I sharpened my ears just to see if they would make a mistake. They didn’t. Now, if one asks them after the performance if they were satisfied, they may point out the minutest of details that they might change. But, you must understand that musicians of such caliber are always concerned with the smallest detail.
Following the Haydn, was a three movement work by the American composer, Paul Schoenfield. Schoenfield is a native of Detroit, and for a time, the main thrust of his musical life was concertizing on the piano. He studied with Rudolph Serkin. Quoting from his website:
“Although he now rarely performs, he was formerly an active pianist, touring the United States, Europe, and South America as a soloist and with groups including Music from Marlboro. His recordings as a pianist include the complete violin and piano works of Bartok with Sergiu Luca. His compositions can be heard on the Angel, Decca, Innova, Vanguard, EMI, Koch, BMG, and the New World labels. A man of many interests, Paul Schoenfield is also an avid scholar of mathematics and Hebrew.”
Schoenfield’s work is a three movement composition entitled Café Music. This is the first time I have heard this composer’s work, and I was totally unprepared for the surprising character of this piece. It was an absolutely glorious rag, infinitely more sophisticated than the well-known rags of Joplin. It had an overtone of French jazz that was so popular in the 1920s and 30s, but it is infinitely more difficult. It certainly was a tonal piece, but the jazz chords were often infused with modern harmonies and the structure, with modern ideas. Keep in mind, that this was the first time I ever heard this work, but the transitions between themes seem to always employ the most avant-garde harmonies, and then, with the return of the theme, the rag idiom and harmonies would reappear. The first movement is marked Allegro, and The Clavier Trio had a rather quick interpretation of the tempo marking, but it was a very natural sound, I assure you.
The slow movement, marked Rubato – Andante Moderato, was a slow stride, with incredibly sweet sounding string work from the violinist and cellist, whose mellifluous qualities were given emphasis by the slow stride rhythm from the piano. The harmonies were incredibly lush with a little bit of dissonance and deceptive resolutions. The Clavier Trio’s playing is so crystal clear, that every nuance and harmonic change could be heard very easily.
The last movement, marked Presto, was a blindingly fast blues/rag. The tempo taken by The Clavier Trio was absolutely breathtaking, considering the technical difficulties that each of these musicians faced in this last movement. It is extremely difficult writing. They never faltered, their entrances were always together, and the insistence of the driving rhythm never failed. It was exciting to listen to and a joy. David Korevaar’s pedaling was perfect in this last movement (as it was throughout the whole recital), and I bring it up, because clarity in this last movement is absolutely essential, and I think many lesser pianists would have had difficulty. Mr. Korevaar did not, and Mr. Fomin and Mr. Castro-Balbi, even though they were hard at work, were impeccable.
For some time, everyone has known that Brahms was very careful to destroy not only his letters that he did not want anyone else to read, but also early sketches, and even complete works, that he thought were unworthy. The Piano Trio in B Major, Opus 8, is a youthful work which was revised thirty-four years later at the invitation of his publisher, Simrock. It is this revision of the earlier work (which was also criticized by Clara Schumann) that is most often performed today. Like Brahms’ other trios, it is in four movements. The second movement, which is a Scherzo, gives this work an almost symphonic feel. In fact, the first movement has so many themes, that it is easy to consider it symphonic in scope. The Clavier Trio performed this work with the required balance, and the wonderful cello playing supported the very passionate work of Mr. Fomin, the violinist. Throughout this work, The Clavier Trio showed profound musicianship which reminded me of the performances that I have twice heard by the Beaux Arts Trio. Why? Because the concept that The Clavier Trio has of Brahms struck me as being identical to the concept that Pressler, Guilet, and Greenhouse had. The last movement has some very dark and mysterious writing, and Korevaar emphasized this with very subtle changes in tone. I have a recording of this trio with the Beaux Arts Trio performing, though Isidore Cohen has replaced Daniel Guilet as violinist (this recording was done in 1986, and I am not sure what year Daniel Guilet left the trio. I first heard the Beaux Arts Trio perform this trio in 1958). At any rate, the sameness of concept and sound between the Beaux Arts Trio and The Clavier Trio is amazing.
Again, I am sure there will be those who read what I have written, and think that the comparison of The Clavier Trio to the Beaux Arts Trio is nonsense. I would invite all of those individuals to attend a Clavier Trio performance after spending some time listening to the Beaux Arts Trio recordings.
There was a decent audience in Grusin Hall, but truthfully, it should have been larger. I think that The Clavier Trio should perform regularly in Denver, so that Denver audiences will hear more chamber music that is world class. I say more, because there are already some very good chamber organizations in the city and the Metro area. But The Clavier Trio, and I do not intend to take anything away from any of the other organizations, is absolutely world-class.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Bill Hill and Friends, Carmen Dragon, David Baker, Hayg Boyadjian, James Getzoff, James Pellerite, Michael Mauldin, Nancy Bloomer Deussen, William Hill
Laurel Records has just re-released a CD that was originally recorded in 1984, and the CD attracted my attention for a couple of reasons. First, the composer on the record is David Baker who teaches Jazz, Improvisation, and Composition at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. The second reason this CD caught my eye, is because it features one of the most distinguished flute players in the world, James Pellerite, who, for at least 30 years, was a member of the faculty at the Jacobs School of Music. He became a member of the faculty in 1957, the year before I enrolled at the Jacobs School of Music as a freshman. Of course, back then, it was not called the Jacobs School of Music. However, I can remember James Pellerite performing with the Baroque Chamber Players, which was a chamber ensemble comprised of faculty members including Marie Zorn, harpsichord, Jerry Sirucek, oboe, James Pellerite, flute, and Murray Grodner, bass.
But, before I get ahead of myself, allow me to introduce you to the people on this specific CD.
The following is from Mr. Pellerite’s web site:
“As a performer on the modern flute, Mr. Pellerite is well-known as an orchestral musician. He succeeded his renowned teacher, William Kincaid, as solo flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has held the position of principal flute also with the symphony orchestras of Detroit and Indianapolis and performed with orchestras of Chautauqua (NY), Radio City Music Hall (NYC), L’Orquestra Sinfonica de Puerto Rico, as well as, the San Francisco Symphony, Dallas Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra. His performances have included those under such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Casals, Neville Mariner, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski and Igor Stravinsky.
“For many years he served as Professor of Flute at Indiana University, and many of his students now hold prominent university and symphony positions. During much of his career as a classical flutist and artist teacher he has appeared throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and abroad. Numerous residencies have included tours to Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and People’s Republic of China. For a return invitation by the National Youth Orchestra of Hong Kong he offered classes and woodwind seminars. Since leaving academia, James J. Pellerite has pursued a new career — performing contemporary music on the Native American flute. His publishing company, JP-PUBLICATIONS, well established as a leader in the field of contemporary flute literature, has commissioned works by American composers for the Native flute. Beautiful compositions have been created by an impressive roster of outstanding musicians. They feature the Native flute in solo, chamber, and orchestral settings.”
I still have a 1962 Bulletin from the Indiana University School of Music, and it has photographs of Mr. Pellerite and his colleagues who performed with him in The Baroque Chamber Players. What is astounding to me, is that Mr. Pellerite is still a very active performer, and truly, why not? Performing has been his life, and composers such as Colorado’s own William Hill, Hayg Boyadjian, Nancy Bloomer Deussen, and Michael Mauldin, are actively writing works for him and the Native American flute.
The composer on this particular CD from Laurel Records is David Baker.
“David Baker is a Distinguished Professor of Music (Jazz Studies); Chair, Department of Jazz Studies. As a composer Mr. Baker has been commissioned by more than 500 individuals and ensembles, including Josef Gingold, Ruggerio Ricci, Janos Starker, Harvey Phillips, the New York Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Beaux Arts Trio, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the Louisville Symphony, the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, the Audubon String Quartet, the International Horn Society, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Chicago Sinfonietta, and the Plymouth Music Series. His compositions total more than 2,000 in number, including jazz and symphonic works, chamber music, and ballet and film scores.
“Professor David N. Baker received the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ “Living Jazz Legend Award” for lifetime achievement on March 3 in Washington, D.C. The honor is one of many accolades Baker has received in his extraordinary career. During the past year, he received the International Association for Jazz Education Lawrence Berk Leadership Award in recognition of meritorious efforts to organizationally strengthen and further the mission of the International Association for Jazz Education. He also received the Indiana University Sonneborn Award that recognizes an IU faculty member who has achieved international recognition for work as a performer, composer, scholar, and educator.”
Quoting from the liner notes that came with the CD, David Baker writes:
“The Concerto for Flute, String Quartet, and Jazz Band was written for and dedicated to another of my Indiana University colleagues, the great classical flutist and pedagogue, James Pellerite.… Classical formal structures are utilized in two of the movements, Sonata Allegro form in Movement I and the Passacaglia in Movement II… The Concerto was premiered on May 2nd, 1971, at Indiana University with James Pellerite as flute soloist and myself as conductor. Both his performance that night, and on this recording, clearly demonstrate the artistry and virtuosity which have marked him as one of the greatest flutist of our time.”
There are two compositions on this CD by Dave Baker. The work that was written for James Pellerite is the Concerto for Flute, String Quartet, and Jazz Band. The opening is a little reminiscent of Gil Evans, because it starts with tone clusters that resolve outwardly by half-steps into 9th chords and 13th chords. The band that plays on this recording is the 27 member Indiana University Jazz Band and String Quartet, so there is a wonderful, full, big band sound. When Pellerite makes his entrance in the first movement it immediately brings back many of memories of hearing him play simply because of the incredible sound that he gets from a flute: it is warm and full and round with amazing breath control. He plays remarkably long phrases without ever taking a breath. This is an absolutely excellent piece of music: it is definitely jazz but it is also unmistakably a “classical” work of the 20th century that uses jazz harmonies and rhythms. The art of this work is immediately noticeable, as is the art of James Pellerite. Those two elements go hand-in-hand. I have never heard octave overtones and fifths on the flute (think double stops on a violin).
The second movement is subdued and almost dreamy. As the Passacaglia proceeds, there is a section that uses only the string quartet and flute that is very much like a chorale. Its appearance is a surprise, and yet completely logical and intensely beautiful. There are many moments in the second movement that are positively pastorale-like, serene and peaceful.
The third movement of this Concerto has some of the most astounding virtuosity from James Pellerite and the IU Jazz Band that it is very difficult to describe. First of all, it opens with a kind of East Coast jazz sound, fairly hard driving and very rhythmic. But there is a passage work similar to a glissando, except that in every four note group there is a turnaround – or a “reverse.” It is done at absolutely blinding speed by the band members, and then by Pellerite. It really sounds like something Liszt might have written for the piano. Pellerite enters with a very jaunty theme, and infuses the movement with incredible riffs, including some repeated notes, again done at a startlingly fast tempo. The highlight of this movement, for me at least, is a cadenza where the percussion section – really, just the drum set – acts as a foil to Pellerite’s improvisation. It is long and it is difficult, and it is wonderful to listen to, because it is done in the form of a conversation between the two. It demonstrates amazing skill of the performers and the composer.
As I said in the opening paragraphs, I heard Pellerite play many times when I was in school at Indiana as a piano major, but this recording cements the fact that he is one, as Baker says in the liner notes, of the greatest flutists of all time. And, and I wish to emphasize this: he is still performing actively. His main interest for the past several years has been the Native American flute. I will certainly review some of those recordings in the near future.
The other work on this CD is the Concerto for Violin and Jazz Band, which features the late James Getzoff on violin, but instead of the IU Jazz Band performing this work, it is the Hollywood All-Star Jazz Band with the late Carmen Dragon conducting. Again, I will quote from the liner notes written by the composer David Baker:
“The Concerto for Violin and Jazz Band represented a major compositional breakthrough for me. It was my first serious third stream work, and was commissioned by, and dedicated to, my dear friend at Indiana University, colleague Josef Gingold, one of the most important violinists and violin teachers of the 20th century. I approached the composing of this work with excitement, nervousness, and not a small amount of trepidation; and spent countless hours listening to violin works, studying scores, and pondering solutions to the challenges posed by combining the jazz and classical elements I envision for this piece. Josef offered technical advice, encouragement, and suggestions that I found very helpful in creating a work that would reflect the virtuosity and artistry of both the violin soloist and the accompanying jazz performers.
“The Concerto had its premiere April 5, 1970, at Indiana University, with Josef Gingold as violin soloist and myself as conductor. Since that time it has been performed throughout the United States and Europe and has received especially outstanding performances by Paul Biss and Steven Shipps, two of Gingold’s most accomplished pupils. The recording presents the artistry of violinist James Getzoff, the wonderful long time concertmaster of the Glendale Symphony, and one of the busiest and most highly respected soloists and concertmaster’s in the Hollywood film, television, and recording studios; and also features an exceptional group of jazz musicians gathered together as the Hollywood All-Star Jazz Band, under the direction of the great conductor-composer-arranger Carmen Dragon.”
In the opening of this work, the violin sounds very avant-garde, almost serial in technique. The first movement is driving, and the solo violin gives way to jazz chords which are almost unexpected after the writing style of the solo opening. But it works and, as a matter of fact throughout this entire Concerto, there is a genuine contrast between the “jazz” of the band and the very serious and wonderfully played style of the violin writing and performing. It is abundantly clear that David Baker is a fine composer because the writing for the violin (and I will wager, even without the aforementioned help and suggestions from Josef Gingold) is so remarkably idiomatic. And I hasten to point out that the two styles of writing – that is to say the contrast between solo and band – never conflicts musically.
The second movement of this Jazz Concerto is absolutely beautiful, and I mean beautiful in the sense of listening to a Mendelssohn or Brahms or Tchaikovsky violin concerto. If you doubt me, buy the CD and listen to it. The second movement is haunting, and is full of technical demands which are not dissimilar to the technical demands faced by the violinist in the Bach Chaconne. There are double stops and occasional contrapuntal voices. It is enormously skillful composing, and enormously skillful performing. It is soulful, and again, like the Flute Concerto also on this recording, it is very pastorale like. What makes it even more fascinating is that the writing dissolves into a Blues style that simply takes your breath away. The third movement is a hard-driving East Coast style that is broken by a slow section that is absolutely sweet in sound and this, in turn, breaks into a boogie. There is a cadenza to the third movement, which again demands superior technique from the violinist. And again, it sounds 12 tone in structure with some exquisite high notes and mellifluous writing. The cadenza ends with trills that provide the clue (just like a romantic period concerto) that the cadenza has come to the end.
This CD, with its fortunate combination of artists James Pellerite, David Baker, and James Getzoff, simply has to be heard. It reminds me very much of the new CD entitled, Live, by Bill Hill and Friends. And again I point out, that William Hill has composed for James Pellerite.
This CD combines a very elegant style of jazz composition, with a very elegant musicianship. Considering everyone involved with this CD from composer to performers, I am not surprised at all.
It is from Laurel Records, LR-825.