Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock

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Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Year of Composition: 1990     Composed for the ASQ
Set Up
Blues
Sarabande
Jump

Review

Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, March 30, 2001
A delightful potpourri
Garaud MacTaggart

Ever Since Adolphe Sax invented his lung- and reed-powered assemblage of curved metal tubing and multitudinous buttons, there have been classical composers that were intrigued by its sonic possibilities. These days it is an instrument more closely associated with jazz, blues and honkin' R&B instead of Debussy, Glazunov and Hindemith. Now, on the cusp of a new century, things are meshing together, and a new generation of classical composers is still looking at and being intrigued by this unique instrument.

That was and is the whole thrust of just about any Amherst Saxophone Quartet concert during the past 20-some odd years and this was certainly the case Thursday night as they unveiled six mutant works that range from the overtly serious to the playful. There were moments where Duke Ellington shook hands with Norton Feldman and times when echoes of gospel shouts whipped between phantom preachers and congregations. It was all a delightful potpourri and a good way to end the group's season. The evening started out with Dana Wilson's "Come Sunday Mornin'," as the members of the quartet entered from different corners of Slee Hall at the University at Buffalo North Campus, bringing their sound together physically and audibly. Wilson was in the audience for this performance and dutifully received applause. Robert Carl also was present and his "Duke Meets Mort," an effort at combining the styles of Duke Ellington and Mort Feldman, was fairly successful, also garnering kudos from the people present.

"Drastic Measures" by Russell Peck closed out the first half of the program with a well-constructed score wherein the quartet engaged in piquant harmonies and the tossing of riffs back and forth, generation a strong pulse that showcased the group's rhythmic flair. The back end of the evening was a blend of whimsy and seriousness. The world premiere of Kim D. Sherman's "Ditties" unveiled a set of seven snippets with the two longest of them timing in around 30 seconds, give or take a few moments while the others were ephemera to the tune of 10-15 seconds. It generated the chuckles that the composer (via the medium of tenor saxophonist Stephen Rosenthal) hoped it would. "Sax Appeal" was composed by David Stock specifically for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet and proved to be the major event on the program. His four-movement score was filled with jazz quotes and featured, in the "Jump" portion, a near constant rise and fall of rhythm patterns with melody lines strung between the beats like fresh laundry on a breezy day. The "Blues" section of the piece showcased some mid-tempo, 21st century blues bobbing and weaving but the "Sarabande" went from a beautifully articulated opening to breathy punctuations before winding back to a lovely ending. All in all, another fun, interesting concert from the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. This program will be repeated at 7:30 tonight in Westminster Presbyterian Church. A broadcast of their program can be heard at 4 p.m. Sunday on WBFO-FM.

Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Duke Meets Mort (1992), Robert Carl
Drastic Measures, Russell Peck
Ditties (1997), Kim D. Sherman
A delightful potpourri
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, February 8, 1993
Amherst Sax quartet dusts off the big band sound
Herman Trotter

There were two premieres on this program by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, attractive lighter pieces, but the bulk of the concert was devoted to exploration of repertoire that the ensemble hadn't played for some time.

In the 1930s and 1940s Jean Rivier (1896-1987) was considered a leading light among emerging French composers, but his work is not heard much today. The ASQ opened with his 1938 "Grave et Presto." It proved very attractive, with its sweet, hollow chords and gently probing tonal progressions, followed by the scampering "presto" section which had a sort of stop-start feeling about its pulse and intermixed reminiscences of the "grave" section for contrast. For all this, though, it's a rather tightly written piece and the ASQ's ensemble was immaculate in setting it forth.

Paul Creston (nee Joseph Guttoveggio) wrote his Suite, Op. III in 1979. Though American, this music has an extremely light texture and nimble voice leading, yet seemingly owes little to jazz influence, which makes it sound more Iike the work of the French school. The ASQ was returning to Creston's Suite for the first time since recording it in 1984, and gave it a cohesive, persuasive performance, the quietly ambling pace of the Pastorale movement a special pleasure.

But the major work which made the biggest impact was Pittsburgh composer David Stock's "Sax Appeal," written for the ASQ in 1990. It made a bigger impression on this second hearing, sounding in general like a kind of overstated evocation of progressive big band sounds of the I 940s.

The first movement's sweeping figures and massive block chordal architecture moved along very insistently and punchily but behind the musical bravado was an engrossing harmonic progression.

A growling baritone sax underpinned the Blues movement's slowly shifting patterns, while the slowly moving Sarabande was propelled by a pulsing rhythm and capped by an intriguing pealing figure.

The finale, called Jump, was a pell mell rush, with every man for himself, it seemed. One bold, brazen idea after another went racing by, but it was well enough constructed that it held my interest hypnotically.

Making its debut was "Masako" by ASQ's alto, Russ Carere, a tribute to a Japanese woman now living in Buffalo who had been of immeasurable help in expediting details' of the group's recent guest appearance at Kanazawa, Japan, Buffalo's sister city. It's an up tempo piece in sophisticated jazz style with an abrupt but satisfying ending. There's also a little inside joke at the start, the sound of the soprano sax in a high register two-note chirp, apparently similar to the real Masako saying "Hello" on the telephone.

Also premiered was Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debbie" in an arrangement by Ron Corsaro done several years ago but just now going public. It's gently swinging, smooth jazz lines came right after Stock's "Sax Appeal" and made a wonderful transition to the lighter part of the program.

Two rags by Russ Carere completed the announced program, "Rascal Rag" and "Jilly Bean Walk," with "Vivacity Rag" tossed in as an encore.

Grave et Presto, Jean Rivier
Suite for Saxophone Quartet (1979), Paul Creston
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans
Masako, Russ Carere
Amherst Sax quartet dusts off the big band sound
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, January 14, 1991
Adolph Sax's 'phone' recalled
Herman Trotter

Amherst quartet shows contrast in old, new works

About a century and a half ago Adolph Sax's saxophone first warbled a tune and won a silver medal at the Paris Exposition.

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet took note of this historical fact in Sunday's concert,

and by way of honoring the saxophone and its inventor they programmed the oldest known work for four saxes, Belgian composer Jean Baptiste Singelee's 1857 First Quartet, Op. 53, and one of the newest, David Stock's 1990 "Sax Appeal."

These works were not played consecutively, but it was still easy, in the ASQ's excellent performances, to hear the vast broadening in tonal, harmonic and especially textural vocabulary which the saxophone quartet as a genre has undergone during that time.

Although the five-movement Singelee opus had the requisite contrasts in tempo, its sonorities were predominantly smooth and silky, its lines liquid and free flowing, with great attention paid by the composer to proper voice leading.

The music, particularly the three slower movements, had a feeling of academic correctness guided by an inventive mind. Singelee's individuality seemed to emerge mostly in the two fast movements, in which loose-limbed rhythms and the use of staccato phrasing was prominent.

Stock, who is director of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and a member of the Duquesne University faculty, wrote "Sax Appeal" for the ASQ. It's an eclectic piece which nonetheless bears the composer's individual stamp of easy expressiveness and wit within the context of an obviously serious compositional essay.

The greatly enlarged vocabulary was clearly audible from the outset, with its eccentric, nervous pulsing. Also discerned were some extraordinarily wide pitch ranges at the seams, coruscating runs of great difficulty and a satisfying sense of form. It concluded with a sudden retreat to pianissimo.

The second movement, called Blues, evoked the sonority of 1940s swing bands' reed sections, but with progressively more intricate rhythms, much use of silence as a structural element, and tiered or layered entrances. It connected directly to the Sarabande.

Tonally low lying at first, this intriguing movement edged progressively higher ,after each appearance of a chordal refrain or other linking passage, then moved through a series of sequential entrances, the stateliness of the sarabande dance form preserved throughout.

The last movement revealed wide timbral contrasts, a lot of cat-and-mouse chasing in frantic, scurrying motion, and at one point the novel sound of one of the reeds overblown just enough to simulate a bulbous, woody timbre like an amplified English horn.

This was the work's third performance, and the ASQ has mastered it. It's an exciting addition to sax literature.

The program concluded with the Saxophone Quartet No. I by Eddie Sauter, the famed big band arranger and partner in the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. His quartet, however, sounded to these ears like a brief homage to Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," from the upper register baritone solo which invoked Stravinsky's opening bassoon solo, right on through many of its other motivic and rhythmic devices. It's a very interesting and probing piece.

Earlier, Jean Pierre Beugniot's "Pieces for Saxophone Quartet" also made a strong case for itself. The four sections were character ized by accessible atonality and movements featuring brief motivic elements and rapid noodling over a howling baritone ostinato, a martial fantasy, a smooth and progressively more tonal Andante movement, and a scampering tour de force as a Finale.

The audience was rewarded with yet another superb performance as an encore, Thelonius Monk's "Blue Monk." It was an easy swinging blues featuring an attractive looping soprano solo over a baritone walking bass.

Premiere Quatuor pour Saxophones, Op. 53 (1857), Jean Baptiste Singelee
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Saxophone Quartet No. 1, Eddie Sauter
Pieces pour Quatuor de Saxophones, Jean Pierre Beugniot
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Adolph Sax's 'phone' recalled
Pittsburgh Press, The (Pittsburgh, PA)
Saturday, July 14, 1990
Amherst Saxophone Quartet mixes quality with Sax Appeal
Donald Rosenberg

A concert by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet is a blend of virtuosity and lunacy. The members of this ensemble bring musical purpose and technical flair to whatever they set their reeds buzzing, but they're certainly not afraid to have a grand time along the way.

The elements forced Summerfest to move its final concert of the season -- featuring the Amherst musicians -- inside Fox Chapel Episcopal Church last night, and the chapel's acoustics proved generous to the four gentlemen in sneakers (no kidding) who provided the evening's engaging artistry. The site actually couldn't have been more appropriate, in a way. When four crackerjack saxophonists merge their individual voices in chordal grandeur, the result sounds remarkably like a pipe organ at full tilt.

Lets not imply there's anything ecclesiastical about the Amherst. While these fellows take their music-making seriously, they're not purists about repertoire. How could they be, when the saxophone wasn't born until the 1840s? The droll introductions by the groups tenor saxophonist, Stephen Rosenthal, fortunately didn't spill over into the performances, except when wit was required.

Beginning with J.S. Bach's Badinerie and Concerto BWV 913, Rosenthal and his colleagues --Salvatore Andolina, soprano sax; Russell Carere, alto sax; and Harry Fackelman, baritone sax -- demonstrated how the timbral differences of their respective instruments can be put to vivid use in Bach's contrapuntal discussions. Some listeners might shriek at the sound of saxophones in this literature, but even Bach altered his instrumentation frequently.

A composer who'd also be unlikely to complain about the Amherst's agility and cohesiveness is Pittsburgh's David Stock, whose Sax Appeal received its premiere last night as a commission in honor of Summerfest's 10th anniversary. The appeal of this work lies not in any cheeky in-jokes, but in its rhythmic vivacity, elegant lyricism and affectionate nods to Stravinsky and Gallic composers of the 1930s. The saxophones are used in figures that swirl in rhythmic unison and travel through wild metrical changes. In two connected slow movements, Stock has the ensemble singing the blues in wailing phrases and then moving from chorale-like utterances to anxious flights. The urgent lines of the finale, Jump, test the digital precision of its players, which the Amherst almost negotiated on target. If Sax Appeal would benefit from some trimming, Stock has concocted many inventive ideas and dapper sax sonorities.

The Amherst's whimsy suited the insouciant melodies of Jean Rivier's Grave et Presto expertly. And when the players dug into four jazz vignettes by Andrew N. White III, their sense of interplay was nimble and irresistible.

For dessert, the musicians served several rags they'd studied under the late Eubie Blake, including Blake's Charleston Rag, in which Fackelman's baritone sax belched with aristocratic grace, and Joplin's Elite Syncopations. And although the Amherst disappointed by not performing its transcription of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony (not really, but Rosenthal made it sound enticing), the players did end the night with one of the most famous sax pieces of recent times. You know the composer -- local boy named Henry Mancini. The piece, of course, was The Pink Panther, which the fun-loving Amherst saxes gave a gleeful workout.

Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock

Composer Biography

Composer/Conductor DAVID STOCK is Professor of Music at Duquesne University, where he conducts the Duquesne Contemporary Ensemble. He has been Composer-in-Residence of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Seattle Symphony, and is Conductor Laureate of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, which he founded in 1976. He retired as Music Director of PNME at the end of the 1998/99 season, after 23 years of dedication to new music and the living composer.

Among his many commissions are Kickoff, premiered by the New York Philharmonic under Kurt Masur during the Orchestra's 150th Anniversary; Violin Concerto, premiered by Andres Cardenes and the Pittsburgh Symphony under Lorin Maazel for that Orchestra's 100th Anniversary; and Second Symphony, premiered by the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz. Stock's compositions have been performed throughout the United States and in Europe, Mexico, Australia, China, and Korea. He has recorded on CRr, Northeastern, MMC, Ocean, and Ambassador. Stock has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, five Fellowship Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, five Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and grants and commissions from Ella Lyman Cabot Trust, the Paderewski Fund for Composers, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the Barlow Endowment, Boston Musica Viva, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Richard Stolzman, Duquense University, the Erie Philharmonic, and many others.

Composition Notes

"Sax Appeal was commissioned for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet by Summerfest, a music festival in Pittsburgh, for its tenth anniversary season. The score was completed in June, 1990, and the premiere took place that July. The work is in four movements: Set Up, Blues, Sarabande, and Jump; the second and third movements are played without pause. Sarabande, the third movement, began life as a piece for recorder quartet, but seemed equally at home in the world of the saxophone. Jazz is clearly the primary influence, as befitting the genre that brought this wonderful instrument into its own. The homogeniety of the instruments from top to bottom also helped shape my sound-world." — David Stock