Review: Ensemble runs the gamut at Skidmore
SARATOGA SPRINGS Ensemble ACJW returned Friday night to Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center to give a wide-ranging program that included a world premiere.
It was the group’s 13th appearance since the ensemble was created in 2007 as part of a joint program between Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard School to support musicians for a two-year stretch. Hence, every two years, the ensemble has different players.
The concert included three 30-second brass trio fanfares written by members of the ensemble. French hornist Laura Weiner and trumpeters Caleb Hudson and Thomas Bergeron played Doug Balliett’s smoothly blended piece to end in a brassy “fart;” Stuart Breczinski’s fanfare was a pops and bluster event; and Bergeron’s own “A Blessing” was a serene affair with Ian Sullivan stroking a single tone on a glass bowl.
Andy Akiho’s new piece, “Speaking Tree,” which will have its Carnegie Hall premiere next week, was for brass quintet, string quintet and a percussionist. Inspired by a nocturnal slumber Akiho took under a tree, the piece evoked those natural sounds of a breeze through the leaves, which quickened into swaying limbs with the possible approach of a storm. This eloquent atmosphere drifted away with repeated motifs that became patterns spread over the 11 instruments with various rhythms that included accented beats and syncopation.
Although the patterns did not themselves evolve, they moved through various dynamic shifts. Colors among the 11 instruments made things interesting, especially with the addition of a steel drum. After building to a loud pitch, the piece ended unresolved. The near-capacity crowd seemed to like it, and Akiho, who was present, seemed pleased.
The brass trio expanded to a quintet with trombonist Stephen Dunn and tubist Dan Peck to play American Brass Quintet trumpeter Ray Mase’s arrangements of four of Monteverdi’s madrigals of 1603. The quintet blended nicely, but what was most interesting was what Mase did with the parts. He shifted tonalities, staggered the trumpet lines, created interweaving lines in a counterpoint style and required much dovetailing of lines. These might not have been in style for a Renaissance quintet, but Mase’s ideas made for fascinating listening.
The string quintet of violinists Clara Lyon and Grace Park, violist Megan Griffin, cellist Alice Yoo and bassist Tony Flynt did an able job with Dvorak’s String Quintet in G Major (1875). An early effort, Dvorak revised it in 1888. The four movements still had his signature lyrical sense and the use of the bass darkened the sound.