Making the Frozen Serpent Dance (2001), Davide Zannoni

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Making the Frozen Serpent Dance (2001), Davide Zannoni
Year of Composition: 2001    
Ansioso (The Serpent)
Ballad (The Frozen)
Finale (The Dance)


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, November 22, 2002
Quality shows
Jan Jezioro

Earlier this year, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet was knocked out of their position as quartet-in-residence at the University at Buffalo, not for any reason that was based on their level of artistic accomplishment (round up the usual weak-kneed suspects: budgetary shortfall, etc.). Thursday evening, at their Allen Hall concert, broadcast live on WBFO, the ASQ clearly demonstrated by their high performance level that they were by no means ready to throw in the towel.

In this concert, the second in their current season, the ASQ played to their strenght, with a program heavily weighted towards recently written, listener-friendly, music. Yes, the program began with three arrangements from "The Art of the Fugue" by Bach. The ASQ played the pieces seamlessly — no surprise, since the pieces have been a part of their repertory for a long time, having appeared on their best-selling CD.

The performance really took off, though, with the American premiere of "Motherless Child Variations" by Perry Goldstein. Based on the spiritual of the same name, Goldstein's highly innovative treatment of the tune, through the course of six variations, never obscures the original song. Each of the members of the quartet got a chance to have their say, as the piece moved from its somber beginning through the blues into a swing jazz mode after a brief, funky stopover.

"Phantom Melos," by Rocco DiPietro, was composed on top of a tall downtown building, for the centenial of the City of Buffalo, as the composer tried to imagine all the people who had walked the streets below in days gone by. Beginning with long, drawn-out notes, each of the players got to perform solos in the forlorn opening before the piece solidified into a ghostly, off-kilter march that nicely captured a sense of nostalgia for the past.

The opening movement of "Quartet for Four Saxophones" by Anita Perry, a classically composed work, was an engagingly played lyrical song. The andante invoked a lonely feel, but more one of pastoral wandering than urban angst. The humorously written scherzo was played with the appropriate galumphing qualtiy, while the high energy playing of the ASQ pushed the final rollicking rondo movement to an exciting finish.

"Making the Frozen Serpent Dance" by Davide Zannoni started out strongly enough, with short songlike fragments developed over edgy, nervous figures in "The Serpent." The middle section, "The Frozen," by way of contrast, was a dead patrol interlude. The finale, "The Dance," relied too heavily on a pastiche of popular tunes to provide an effective conclusion to the piece.

"Yuppieville Rodeo" by Mike Mower was a short, highly entertaining piece that featured a down and dirty growling duo for tenor and baritone, highlighted by a screaming alto solo — a great way to end the evening.

The Art of the Fugue, J.S. Bach
Motherless Child Variations (2002), Perry Goldstein
Quartet for Four Saxophones (1989), Anita D. Perry
Making the Frozen Serpent Dance (2001), Davide Zannoni
Yuppieville Rodeo (1993), Mike Mower
Phantom Melos, Rocco DiPietro

Composer Biography

DAVIDE ZANNONI was born in Spoleto, Italy. He started his career as a jazz drummer, subsequently joining the Maggio Fiorentino Orchestra, under the direction of Zubin Mehta in Florence, Italy as a percussionist. He also received a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Bologna. After studying composition and piano privately in Italy, he accepted a scholarship from Queens College, where he studied with Thea Musgrave and received his M.A.

Dr. Zannoni has written several solo, vocal, chamber and orchestral works. He has received various commissions from different performers and organizations such as the New York Festival of Song, The Downtown Chamber Players, The Darkwood Consort, and Tetraktis Percussion Quartet. Some of his works have been recorded by Federico Poll and Ivano Ascari on the CMT and AZ labels. His works have been choreographed in Italy and the US. by such groups as Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and he wrote the music for "Where Did Forever Go", the award-winning documentary on Alzheimer's disease. His music is regularly performed in the U.S., Italy and abroad, most recently in Canada, Israel, Brasil, Australia, Japan and England.

Composition Notes

Making The Frozen Serpent Dance, for saxophone quartet, was written with the intent to pay an affectionate tribute to some of the music that played an important role in my artistic evolution. In addition to the presence of harmonies and scales typical of jazz, something not unusual in my music, the work presents references to musical worlds often rather distant from each other, especially in the final movement. The title comes from a poem by Robert Lowell." The work is structured in three movements:

  1. Presto with anxiety (The Serpent), which emphasizes the rhythmical and timbral qualities of the saxes.
  2. Ballad with languor (The Frozen), a ballad in the jazz tradition which emphasizes the expressive and harmonic qualities of the saxes.
  3. Finale with energy, (The Dance), which revisits, not without a certain dose of irony, various musical influences that have enriched my musical path through the years, most of which are easily identifiable.