Inspired by the launching into flight of Admiral butterflies, the Admiral Launch Duo — saxophonist Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and harpist Jennifer Ellis — propelled an audience of enthusiasts into an evening of adventurous listening on Thursday at the Carl B. Taylor Auditorium at the Schenectady County Community College. The concert opened the SCCC Chamber Music Series.
Almost all the works performed were commissioned by the duo in the last year including three world premieres, except for Ida Gotkovsky’s “Eolienne” (1969) and Yusef Lateef’s “Romance” (1991). Saint-Saens’ “Fantaisie” was re-arranged for soprano sax from the original violin/harp of 1907.
Surprisingly, the timbres of the two instruments blended very well, regardless of whether Hulting-Cohen played soprano, alto or tenor saxophone. What made it work was the exceptional facility he had on all the saxophones even to stretching the high ranges to what could be considered extended technique territory. Ellis, too, was very adept and ventured into such effects as knocking the harp’s body, brushing the strings with a screwdriver to sound clattery, or plucking bass strings for a raspy sound.
They began with Patrick O’Malley’s “Thaumaturgy” (2014), which had lovely lyrical lines for soprano sax interspersed with manic flurries of lots of notes. In the Saint Saens arrangement, Hulting-Cohen navigated the demanding technical challenges impressively and Ellis played her lush part with a sure hand.
Christine Hedden’s very short “Amhrain na Caisc” (“Easter Song”) (2014) was sweetly lyrical. Stephen Rush’s “Whirlwind” (2015) for alto sax and harp was rhythmic with a driving tempo and many fast technical passages for sax. There were some rock effects with the harp twanging strings like an electric guitar and the occasional exchanging of motifs from sax to harp. Although there were some interesting moments, the piece seemed scattered without any direct development.
Gotkovsky’s work for alto sax and harp was beautifully conceived in five movements with the sax playing mostly in its central range. There was a kind of siren song, a marvelous waltz, two dramatically stated movements, and a slick, clever movement. All were performed impeccably.
Dylan Baker’s “Night Wanderings” (2014) was a bit unfocused with manic moments against a low tenor sax; Natalie Moller’s “Starshine and Moonfall” (2014) had an undulating harp and long melodies for alto. Lateef’s “Romance” was splendid for its spare writing, which conveyed much romantic nostalgia in a restrained palette.
The next series concert is Dec. 1.