Toronto composer wins sax competition

Works reviewed: 
Saxophone Quartet, Chan Ka Nin
Sinfonietta in C, J.C. Bach
Language of Bees, Leila Lustig
The Buffalo News
Buffalo, NY
May 11 1992
By: 
Herman Trotter

May I have the envelope please? And the winner of the International Composition Competition is...Toronto-based composer Chan Ka Nin for his Saxophone Quartet subtitled Among Friends. The blue ribbon is worth $4,000 plus several repeat performances. The winning quartet opens with spiky textures formed from stark polyphonic lines and staccato attacks, and progresses over its 14-minute duration to a much more serene closing ground. At the end we hear slow, sweet pulsing sound patterns, a suggestion of pentatonic scales and some truly delicious close harmonies. But its not a continuous, gradual journey from acrid to sweet, and other strong impressions left in the wake of Sundays performance are of fast running lines and a generally high energy level. The work also presents some abrupt contrasts. Along the music's clearly marked roadway we heard a consonant unison passage interrupted by contentious counterpoint, a lyrical soprano sax solo over pulsing figures, a dreamy section emerging from slow tenor and alto solos, a few bent pitches injected for spice, and a return to energetic, cacophonous interchanges just prior to the rather calming denouement. The subtitle Among Friends refers to the process of give and take required of chamber musicians in learning how to play together. Its something quite well mastered by the ASQ members, because the balance and ensemble in performing Nin's difficult quartet were virtually flawless. (Click for additional Chan Ka Nin review.) A remarkable but wholly unexpected similarity linked the opening two works on the program. J.C. Bach's Sinfonietta in C, as transcribed by ASQ baritone Harry Fackelman, was an example of jaunty post-baroque music in a nicely balanced and somewhat understated context, with sweetly keening themes and a highly amiable, unruffled demeanor all the way. Leila Lustig's 1983 The Language of Bees is clearly indebted to jazz but also speaks with the same soft tongue and genial manner that seemed to guide Fackelmans transcription of the J. C. Bach work. The four movements attempt musical depictions of various bodily gyrations with which honey bees communicate. Gentle and more animated trilling sounds on both narrow and wide intervals abound in teh first and third movements, interrupted once by a rude noise indicating the intrusion of a skunk in the apiary. The second movement, Slow Drag for Drones, was trill-less but rooted in soft, appealing jazz allusions, while the finale presented a slow alto solo over blues harmonization, with spiraling figures leading to the familiar trills again in the coda. Although this is appealing music on a rather original concept, there is a certain similarity of texture throughout whichlimits its distinctiveness of musical profile. To open the concert, the ASQ members had sashayed into the hall from the rear playing an unannounced ricky-ticky rag. And after a closing group of jazz/rag numbers, they exited in like manner, with the Pink Panther Theme accompanied by audience finger-snapping. Highlights of that final group for this long-time listener were a dawn and dirty blue version of Thelonious Monks Blue Monk, Eudie Blakes Charleston Rag, with superb ensemble and Fackelmans baritone scampering up and down the scale, and ASQ alto Russ Careres Jilly Bean Walk, with its rapibly sauntering gait, delightful syncopation, and unexpected silences.

Toronto composer wins sax competition