Fast and Slow (1984), Lejaren Hiller

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Fast and Slow (1984), Lejaren Hiller
Year of Composition: 1984     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, June 11, 1994
June in Buffalo takes time out for tribute concert
Herman Trotter

On Friday evening, June in Buffalo took note of the fact that the UB Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, which changed the face of music forever in the Buffalo area and for several years throughout the world, was founded 30 years ago.

Its first director, Lukas Foss, returned to hear one of his works and to play piano in another. Compositions by two other directors, Lejaren Hiller and Morton Feldman, were also performed while another former director, Jan Williams, participated as both percussionist and conductor.

This was a departure from June in Buffalo's usual format, but the tribute and the high caliber of the evening's performances made the diversion singularly appropriate.

Before sitting down to play his 1982 "Solo Observed," Foss dedicated the performance to the late Yvar Mikhashoff with the three eloquent words: "I miss him."

"Solo Observed" arises from a quiet, ostinato-like phrase which is interrupted briefly, developed subtly but extensively, and subjected to a slow accretion of both dynamics and emotional intensity. It reminded me of the the kind of riveting listening experience Foss has generated many times in performances of such works as the Bach concertos.

After a couple of trips up and down the dynamic scale, vibraphone, cello and electric organ slowly feel their way into the ensemble, commenting on the proceedings and generating rhythmic figures verging on jazz riffs. After everyone else had cut off, the piano continued with a short, inconclusive phrase, as though it had a willful mind of its own.

Morton Feldman's "For Frank O'Hara" was the very antithesis of the Foss work - frail wisps of sound in delicate colors, projected in sustained tones or silences, and, except, for one raucous drum roll, never above pianissimo level. The performance by seven woodwinds, sfrings, percussion and piano conducted by J an Williams was a model of sostenuto playing which kept the delicate fabric aloft and in perfect balance at all times.  

Lejaren Hiller's 1984 "Fast and Slow," played by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, represented another stark contrast, offering listeners the only conventionally consonant music of the evening. The "fast" movement was strong, insistent, rhythmic and full of guttural sonorities, evolving into a near-jazz jam ambience with loping lines over a firm, recurring three-note cantus, and always a sense of declamation.

The "slow" rejoinder is opened by the baritone in a motif that sounds like it's going to break out into "I Loves You Porgy." That's rather fitting, because the main thing preventing this music from sounding like a swing-era big band ballad is the biting harmony Hiller provided. It proceeds in questing phrases and sometimes groping lines, with a short, more loosely rhythmed central section. The quartet played this bracing, engaging music with impeccable ensemble and balance.

The program concluded on a joyous, unbuttoned and downright wacky note with Foss' "Paradigm," with Williams as percussionist also conducting an ensemble of electric guitar, violin, clarinet and double bass. It's in four movements, approaching slap happy musical mayhem at the outer extremes.  

A constant, jabbing, rhythmic pulse propels the first movement as the musicians all belt out snippets of the declaration "Someone will be held responsible," an angry, shouting musical continuum with unearthly wails from a huge steel strip malleted by Williams.

The second movement is aleatoric prose, with words chosen randomly from provided lists to make up unpredictable phrases and Sentences, all punctuated by wispy instrumental interjections, and as much silence as sound.

Williams' deft manipulation of the flexatone sets the tone for the purely instrumental third movement, made up of seemingly intentional weak chords and feeble, groping sounds.

But this was succeeded by the all-out bash of the final "Lecture" movement, with a long text about what constitutes safe music shouted by all the performers, generating greater volume and cacophony than their instruments. At the end Williams whacked each musician's stand as a stop signal, but in the best Foss tradition he was ignored by guitarist Don Metz, who continued to play right through the applause and curtain call, eventually forced to a halt by a big bear hug from the composer.

Fast and Slow (1984), Lejaren Hiller
June in Buffalo takes time out for tribute concert