Closely Related Fungi (1996), Jonathan Golove

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Closely Related Fungi (1996), Jonathan Golove
Year of Composition: 1996     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, February 8, 1997
Amherst Saxophone Quartet strings together a pleasant mix
Thomas Putnam

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet was in disguise for part of this program, which mixed saxophone quartet pieces and string quartet pieces with mixed results.

The saxophonists had on their slippers, but not their powdered wigs, for their performance of a Mozart String Quartet (K. 590). Candlelight would have been appropriate and made more chilling the moans of disapproving ghosts of the Budapest String Quartet.

This began the program as the grand statement of classical acceptance. We do belong. Years have passed without their daring to cross the border, but now the sax players have their Classic Visa, and you can be sure it's a card.

Actually the players in the last movement made a case for the misplacement of Mozart in the 18th Century. The allegro had a fine open-throated verve and a natural richness of color that was very satisfying, neither timid nor apologetic. The ghosts were quiet.

What followed was Chan Ka Nin's Saxophone Quartet (1989), an ASQ prize winner and a richly various piece. Its fleet, contesting energies suggested scenes of theater or dance, with blue lighting. What was odd (this comes from not knowing when a disguise is on and when it is off) was the feeling that Chan's music would sound wonderful played by instruments other than saxophones.

What a score for a ballet this would be - a kind of Asian Spring, for the suggestion of the freshness and openness of Copland is not too distant. A string orchestra, for example, with some use of the technique of col legno, hitting the strings with the wood of the bows; and percussion, and contrabassoon definitely.

Another saxophone quartet was Jonathan Golove's "Closely Related Fungi" (1996), which the composer introduced and applauded. Nevermind the title unless you are obsessed with programmatic aids. It had only the damaging effect of allowing one of the players to put down the sax and take up the lectern to deliver a series of exclamations on the subject of mushrooms.

Much more persuasive was the, well, persuasion of Golove's music, the French softness and patience that made the piece such a lovely throwback. Here we are at one turn of the century and still in arm's reach of the last turn of the century. Time seems very long at the end of a century, perhaps.

Golove said that while writing the piece, he was fathoming Charlie Parker, the bop saxophonist, but we don't really hear that kind of saxophone here, for this is not a convoluted and chromatic music. Ellington saxes, perhaps, more sweet than acid. Also, Golove's rhythms are not really fascinating, that is, the piece gets along very well without sharply cut figures. And it was quite nice to hear this kind of tonal persuasion.

We truly were treated to tonal persuasion and rhythmic flash in the ASQ's performance of Jean Rivier's "Grave et Presto." Apparently this piece has been in the quartet's repertory from the start, and no wonder. Here is languorous tone and quickly painted urban bustle. (The ghosts of the Budapest are stirring, they are envious.) The performance was nearly perfectly delicate (this was no Classicism in Slippers), and at the end a marvel of here-we-go-don't-look-back ensemble flash.

To show that a generalization is a dangerous thing, there was a string quartet transcription that worked famously. Sometimes to borrow is better. William Grant Still's "Danzas de Panama" may sound sultry played by strings; it certainly sounds great played by saxes. These are colorful dances, with fascinating rhythms, and if you can't dance, that's OK. ASQ has the splashy choreography, and they're wearing shoes that fit.

Quartet in F Major, K. 590, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Saxophone Quartet, Chan Ka Nin
Closely Related Fungi (1996), Jonathan Golove
Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier
Danzas de Panama (1953), William Grant Still
Amherst Saxophone Quartet strings together a pleasant mix

Composer Biography

JONATHAN GOLOVE is a native of Los Angeles, California and a resident of Buffalo, New York. He currently serves as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Music Department at UB and at the Eastman School of Music. Mr. Golove's works have been performed in a variety of locations in North America and Europe, by such ensembles as VOX NOV A, the Ensemble Court Circuit, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, Maelstrom Percussion, and The Instrumental Factor. He has received commissions, awards, and grants for his work from organizations including the European Academy of Music/International Festival of Lyric Art of Aix-en-Provence, ASCAP, the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music, Meet the Composer, and the Darius Milhaud Society. An active performer, Mr. Golove has appeared as cello soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Slee Sinfonietta. He is featured as electric cellist on a number of recordings with composer/performer Vinny Golia.

Composition Notes

"Closely Related Fungi takes as its point of departure the strong similarities in tone color between the instruments of the saxophone family (especially the case with the members of the wonderfully blended ASQ, who inspired the work's composition). As the piece develops, differences in the playing styles of the individual players are made increasingly apparent to the listener. This process of differentiation mirrors that which the amateur mushroom hunter must undergo in learning to distinguish good edible species from poisonous relatives or look-a-likes! Additionally, the work was influenced by jazz improvisers' (in particular, Charlie Parker's) predilection for creating extended melodies on the basis of a fairly limited group of melodic motives. I am also fascinated by the immense and subtle variety of rhythmic approaches to the same musical material taken by jazz musicians, and have sought to incorporate a similarly kaleidoscopic view of the basic rhythmic figures used in my composition. Closely Related Fungi is dedicated to the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, who premiered the work in February 1997." — Jonathan Golove