Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi

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Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Year of Composition: 1992     Composed for the ASQ


Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, October 31, 1994
Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes
Herman Trotter

Fresh from a tour touching down in Erie, Pa., and Beaufort, S.C., during which they played to capacity audiences, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet returned to its home base on Sunday evening to do its bit for the opening festivities at the new UB Center for the Arts and was greeted by a sparse crowd estimated at less than a quarter of a house.

They offered, for the only time in this area, the same program with which they will tour all season. It was comprised of transcriptions, original works for saxes and the ensemble's signature closing mix of jazz and ragtime.

The only work common to this program and the first of the ensemble's series programs offered earlier in October was the opening transcription of a composition by Bach, which the program erroneously identified simply as "K.592." Most listeners, of course, recognized this as a misplaced Mozart Koechel Number.

In his jovial verbal correction of this error, however, spokesman Steve Rosenthal never did fully identify the Bach work in question. It's the Bach-Vivaldi Concerto No. 1 for Solo Organ, BWV 592. Other than noting that the brief, three-movement concerto was played with a good pulse, pliant phrasing and very deft dovetailing of the Finale's lightning fast exchanges, I'd refer the reader to contributing critic Kenneth Young's review in the Oct. 11 for a unique viewpoint on this work.

The three original works for saxes at the center of the program were the meat and potatoes of this concert, but carefully varied in their flavors.

The form of Belgian composer Joseph Jongen's Saxophone Quartet was hard to discern — either a multi-movement work played without pauses or perhaps just a free fantasy. At any rate, it opened with the baritone sax in a rhythmic figure of a rather jaunty demeanor which set a sort of dominant tone. The music then proceeded through several contrasting sections, some with wonderfully fanciful and ornate lyric lines, in which serious and insouciant attitudes seemed to jockey for dominance. But over the longer pull that opening jovial, jaunty ambience kept returning like the rondo theme in a classical symphony or sonata. The extraordinary ensemble performance in the work's tricky rhythms held the larger' form together and emphasized both its serious overall intent and its more playful subsections.

Grand Island composer Stephen Parisi's Saxophone Quartet (11 years in the making, 1980-91) is of a lighter but no less intriguing intent. Its three movements evoked reminiscences ranging from updated old English dances with lots of assertive noodling overlays, to a restful and flowing center with a slight blues tinge, and an almost pointillist final movement, jabbing and assertive with rhythmic pitfalls everywhere. The ASQ avoided all those potholes, playing with technical brilliance while preserving the genial nature of the score.

Former Buffalonian Rocco DiPietro's "Phantom Melos" was quite different, very open in texture, groping and mysterious in its questing lyrical lines, and occasionally dropping an extended phrase with operatic aria resonances. Its apparent climax was reached in a complicated, chattery, cacophonous, staccato section, only to relax into ghostly harmonies and receding tension and the musicians, one by one, stopped playing and turned off their stand lights to end in total darkness.

Jazz and rags concluded the program, with works of Eubie Blake, Euday Bowman, ASQ member Russ Carere and Miles Davis. The latter's "All Blues" in an arrangement by Harry Fackelman was a standout, with its fanciful solos by soprano Sal Andolina and alto Carere over a rocking blues ostinato figure.

Concerto No. 1 BWV 592, Johann Sebastian Bach
Quatuor, op. 122 (1942), Joseph Jongen
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Phantom Melos (1981), Rocco Di Pietro
All Blues, Miles Davis
Amherst Quartet avoids all the potholes
Greenville News, The (Greenville, S.C.)
Saturday, April 9, 1994
Saxophone quartet gives audience surprising tour of versatile repertoire
Janie Caves McCauley

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet brought their brand of serious fun to the Peace Centers Gunter Theatre Friday evening. The ensemble made a convincing case for the versatility of the saxophone as they performed works ranging from classical transcriptions and modern compositions for saxophone ensemble to selections of American jazz and ragtime. But while the quartet clearly presented both the serious and light capabilities of the sax, they also called upon the audience to give up the old stereotypes of chamber music as dry and stuffy. Serving as emcee for the program, tenor saxophonist Stephen Rosenthal introduced the concert by briefing the audience on etiquette. He followed up with a running commentary on the program, sprinkling in wry wit and a few antics along the way. The inevitable Clinton jokes were there as well. Most of the program consisted of chamber music with no strings attached. First the quartet played a transcription of a B-flat Major sonata in four movements by Handel. If the outer movements seemed a bit overblown in the saxophone timbre, the second movement fugue worked better. Each voice was clearly distinguishable in well-shaped lines. The effect might best be described as calliope-like. The third movement was also quite beautiful. But when alls said, Im not especially moved by baroque music transcribed for instruments introduced more than a century later. As the ASQ began to play modern works from the sax ensemble repertory, however, the reason for their success in the world of chamber music became apparent. The four displayed a surprising range of tone color, both dramatic and lyrical, as they charted this territory. Nuages-Scherzo by the French composer Eugene Bozza is a brief tone poem for saxophone quartet. Here the four played with impeccable control and balance. The players fingers flew up and down the metal tubes, performing the saxophone counterpart of The Flight of the Bumblebee with flawless ensemble. Another highlight of the concert was a substantial work by contemporary American composer Stephen Parisi. Saxophone Quartet (1992) is brisk and tuneful in its opening movement, which gives the soprano saxophonist quite a workout. The second movement, which begins slowly, shows off the saxs smooth, buttery tones. The finale, although dissonant at times, offers pleasing melodic motifs and an interesting texture. Histoire du Tango, a four-movement work by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, works well in Claude Voirpys arrangement for saxophones. In the jaunty first movement, Bordel 1900, the virtuosity of the individual players was most apparent. Their tones blended beautifully in the lyrical section of Cafe 1930. After all such serious fun had ended, the ASQ played classics of American jazz and ragtime. In Miles Davis All Blues, first the soprano and then the alto sax comes to the fore as the other instruments provide a soft, repetitive accompaniment. In the end, alto sax player Russ Carere makes his instrument wail boisterously. The lighter side of the program included two compositions by Carere, Masako and Opus 10. The foray into syncopation also included 12th Street Rag. Harry Fackelman had his moment to strut in the baritone runs of Eubie Blakes Charleston Rag. The final encore was a finger-snapping, lithe rendition of The Pink Panther theme.

Nuages, Eugene Bozza
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Histoire du Tango, Astor Piazzolla
Saxophone quartet gives audience surprising tour of versatile repertoire
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, November 12, 1993
Filling seats
Herman Trotter

AT THE BOTTOM of the page, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's program for this season-opening concert carries the following warning: "If you are not a season ticket holder, don't blame us if an ASQ concert is blacked out on local television."

The ASQ has always banked on interestingly varied programs and performance quality to attract their audiences.

But a few years ago shrinking public funding dictated new measures. One of the techniques they began to invoke even more than before was humor, adding such cryptic foot-notes as the above, an obvious send-up of the Buffalo Bills' weekly ticket countdown.

Despite all this, the most artistically successful saxophone ensemble in the country still is having monumental difficulties.

This season they are taking more positive steps to stop the bleeding. They're giving their audience a choice of three venues, presenting concerts once each in a downtown location, the Calumet Arts Cafe; a mid-town location, Nichols School; and a suburban location, the VB North Campus.

Thursday's full house at the Calumet was rewarded with a vintage ASQ program.

Handel's Sonata in B-Flat, with its crisply played Fugue and heart-melting Andante established the immediacy of the Calumet acoustics. The in-your-face sonority could be damaging, but with the ASQ's immaculate ensemble and fine balances it was just a different, not a jarring experience.

Florent Schmitt's 1948 Quartet and Eugene Bozza's 1968 "Clouds-Scherzo" are among the most difficult works in the repertoire, but neither fazed the ASQ.

It was good to hear Buffalo composer Stephen Parisi's 1992 Quartet again. Its easy mix of baroque, folk, jazz, modern and flowing lyric influences, and its concluding chatterbox of syncopated staccato sounds are evidence of a strongly creative homegrown talent.

Stephen Reisteter's new "Fantasy on a Fowl Air" is a hoot. A zillion references to the classics whizzed by so fast it was hard to get a fix on them, and were tied together by a jocular, repeated reference to the Jack Yellen/Sammy Fain song "Are You Havin' Any Fun?" It was a big hit.

So were the obligatory jazz and ragtime offerings, from "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" to Miles Davis' "All Blues," Russ Carere's "Masako" and Eubie Blake's rag classic, "Dictys on 7th Avenue."

Sonata in Bb Major, George Fredrick Handel
Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Fantasia on a Fowl Air (1993), Stephen Reisteter
Filling seats
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, February 10, 1992
Changes in direction mark two Amherst Sax works
Herman Trotter

Sunday's program by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet was essentially a two-man show. The entire second half was devoted to the music of Grand Island composer Stephen Parisi and the first half spotlight shone on Robert Myers, whose Third Quartet was displayed as second prize winner in the ASQ's International Composition Competition.

Almost lost in the shuffie was the very brief Bach Prelude and Fugue in A minor transcribed by Philharmonic hornist Lowell Shaw. His sonorous setting of the Prelude and engagingly chuffy treatment of the angular Fugue made an ideal program opener.

Myers is a faculty member at Boston's Berklee School of Music, arguably the nation's leading jazz institution. Was Myers' work jazz? Not really, although music detectives could find its influences lurking here and there.

I didn't find it disagreeable in any way, just inscrutable. The first movement, marked "Robust," seemed largely aimless wandering punctuated by moments of bracing, hard-edged unison passages. The second and final movement is a double theme and variations.

Myers is obviously extremely knowledgeable about reed instruments. His music is full of fascinating textures, his sonic palette is always changing in almost kaleidoscopic fashion, and the quiet concluding chord was satisfying in a way which almost convinced that his music was not inscrutable, just misunderstood.

Parisi's music was a welcome antidote. The first movement of his recently completed Saxophone Quartet (11 years in the works) was also full of changes in direction, but with much more apparent reason and effect. It's sort of like a pastiche of old baroque dances updated, richly scored and bitingly harmonized, the second an easy swinging reverie and the finale a high velocity, chattery and syncopated romp, extraordinarily well played.

There were three brief premieres. "Marquez" for solo tenor, played By Rosenthal, was a very thoughtful and measured expansion of great inner beauty of the soulful melody played at the outset, while Sal Andolina and Russ Carere played "4 Pieces for 2 Clarinets," engaging miniatures in chirping sonority and playful canonic imitation. "I Sugo" was an innovation, with Harry Fackelman's baritone sax joined by marimbist Raymond Bennett in patterns of considerable rhythmic excitement and some unusual unison baritone-marimba sonorities.

The concert closed with Philharmonic violinist Ansgarius Aylward joining the quartet for Parisi's 1988 Quintet for Violin and Saxophones. The work treats the violin not as a solo instrument, but as an added ensemble member which softens group timbre and perhaps focuses it more narrowly.

Quartet No. 1 (1992), Stephen Parisi
Quintet for Violin and Saxophones (1988), Stephen Parisi
Third Quartet, Robert Myers
Changes in direction mark two Amherst Sax works

Composer Biography

1955 —

STEPHEN PARISI (b. 1955) was born in Buffalo to music loving parents who started him on piano at the age of seven. By the time he was 10 he had already written over 50 compositions. His passion for music and ambition to become a composer led him to the University at Buffalo on a full Fine Arts Scholarship. He studied piano with Yvar Mikhashoff and composition with Leo Smit and obtained a Masters of Fine Arts in Music degree. He has written numerous works for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. Two movements of his Saxophone Quartet No.1 were performed by the ASQ at Carnegie Hall in 1982. His music is characterized by facility, heartfelt melodies, syncopated rhythms, counterpoint, and lush jazz harmonies.