Housing Project (1985), William Ortiz

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Housing Project (1985), William Ortiz
Year of Composition: 1985     Composed for the ASQ

Review

Pittsburgh Post-Gaxette (Pittsburgh, PA)
Thursday, March 25, 1993
Sax quartet plays with heart, soul
Mark Kanny

Now that there's a sax player in the White House there will be no stopping the, Amherst Saxophone Quartet.
 
Their concert last night, which included a novelty piece about the musically literate president, marked the return of this ensemble to Carnegie Lecture Hall.

Last season the Amherst Saxophone Quartet helped launch the Backdoor Concerts at The Carnegie. Once again, tenor sax player Stephen Rosenthal punned so uncontrollably that he drew friendly hissing from the audience. But the musicians' playful attitude creates an engaging atmosphere.

Yet it's not as thought they are casual about their music. Together for fifteen years, they are complete masters of their instruments. Their stylistic versatility and expressive sensitivity are world class.

Equally impressive and rare is the selection of music they play. Last night's concert showed why the Amherst Saxophone Quartet just earned the ASCAP/Chamber Music America 1993  first prize for adventuresome programming.

The concert opened with a rich performance of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." One expects but should not take for granted that sax players will excel at jazz.

Handel followed Monk. That's a leap stylistically, but it was no problem for these musicians. In fact, the way soprano sax player Salvatore Andolina made long notes burst with feeling could serve as a model for any musician playing baroque music.

Several works on the program were commissioned by the Amherst Saxophone' Quartet. David Stock's "Sax Appeal," first heard at Summerfest three years ago, holds up welL Hearing it again, the lyrical impulse of the Sarabande and the high energy of the outer movements were impressive.

"Housing Project" by William Ortiz, written in 1985, was an affectionate recollection of childhood. The folk tune and brief bit of singing by the instrumentalists are minor parts of a lovely major piece, lasting more than 12 minutes.

The evening's major novelty was "Mr. Bill Goes to Washington," written for this concert by Keith Powell, a graduate student in composition at Carnegie MeIlon.

Music was the servant of humor, as fragments of "Hail to the Chief" were folded into other music. The famous opening of Wagner's "Tristan" was included to contrast chromatic with chronological music. "God Save the King" was a reference both to Elvis and to Bill's time at Oxford.

No less inevitable for these players than funning the president was the encore, Henry Mancini's PInk Panther theme. It served as a recessional, with the audience still snapping its fingers as the musicians bopped off stage."

'Round Midnight, Thelonious Monk
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Housing Project (1985), William Ortiz
Mr. Bill Goes to Washington, Keith Powell
Sax quartet plays with heart, soul
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, December 7, 1992
Riches aplenty for sax quartet — with one exception
Kenneth Young

This concert in the Nichols School Boocock Library found the Amherst Saxophone Quartet in a particularly mellow mood, though Stephen Rosenthal's usual tongue-in-cheek commentary was tinged with a bit of wry gallows humor as to the financial state of the arts in general and the ASQ in particular.

Rosenthal even threatened to go the way of Madonna and publish a book of intimate photos wrapped in mylar with the title — you guessed it — "Sax."

Artistically, there were riches aplenty, with the quartet's trademark liquid blend and easy virtuosity everywhere evident. With one exception, the program leaned toward the lighter mode, from the opening French delight of Pieme's "Introduction and Variations Sur Une Ronde Populaire" to the closing group of jazz and ragtime transcriptions. That one exception was the late Carlo Pinto's "Saxophone Quartet," composed for the ASQ in 1985.

Rosenthal stated that the group considers the work a masterpiece and Herman Trotter, music critic of The Buffalo News, admires its "strong' sense of integrity."

Perhaps it was the contrast with the lighter music, but I found the piece entirely unattractive, even granted its stark, intense and probing quality. The three movements fairly bristle with musical information and sophisticated compositional technique, but there is a sense of conscious effort throughout that leaves the impression of dutiful craft rather than inspired imagination - an admittedly subjective reaction which nevertheless trumps any "masterpiece" notions for this listener.

The piece was beautifully played by the ensemble. The other contemporary work composed for the quartet was William Ortiz's "Housing Project" (1985), a bit of musical autobiography from the composer's upbringing in the New York City Projects, It was apparently a happy childhood — no screaming graffiti, despair of poverty or sudden violence. Rather, a dreamy pastiche spiked with the occasional sound of traffic noise, then lapsing into a Latino folk tune, altogether pleasant.

The opening Pierne variations were brilliantly played, the affable diatonic tune getting some wild chromatic treatment with the theme slyly peeking through cascades of passagework. In Debussy's "Golliwog's Cakewalk," the quartet caught the rinky-tink quality of the piece, with rubato sounding like a clown playing kick-the-can.

A transcription of Bach's "Air on the G-string" was pretty enough, but the jazz numbers were much more comfortable and idiomatic — Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight" just dripping with style, Joplin's "Paragon Rag" equally smooth and slippery — and Jimmy Giuffre's "Four Brothers" tight and bright, a close-harmony jazz scherzo.

Saxophone Quartet (1985), Carlo Pinto
Housing Project (1985), William Ortiz
Riches aplenty for sax quartet — with one exception