Program Book 1987-1988 page 08
Leo Smit

Leo Smit began the study of piano and theory with his father, a professional violinist, at the age of five. Mr. Smit later studied at the Moscow Conservatory and the Curtis Institute of Music. His teachers included Dmitri Kabalevsky, Isabelle Vengerova, Jose Iturbi and Nicholas Nabokov. In the 1930's and 40's Mr. Smit was pianist with George Balanchine's American Ballet Company, an association that brought him into personal meetings with Igor Stravinsky, and the New York City Symphony, of which Leonard Bernstein was then music director. Mr. Smit made his debut as concert pianist in Carnegie Hall in New York, on February 17, 1939. This was followed a year later by an American tour. In 1950, he was awarded both the Fulbright Fellowship in piano and the Guggenheim Fellowship in composition. Between 1953 and 1955 he toured Europe and in 1967-68 he performed extensively throughout Latin America under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State. In addition to performances in recitals and in recordings, he was heard as guest performer with major orchestras both in the United States and abroad, most notably in 20th-century concertos.

Over the years Mr. Smit has composed a wide variety of works including symphonies, choral pieces, chamber music, and operas. His Symphony No. 1 in E-flat won the New York Music Critics Circle Award.

Mr. Smit taught piano and composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo for twenty years, and has performed many times in Buffalo. This concert, however, marks his first Western New York performance since his academic retirement four years ago.

Notes on Mozart's K. 452
Though ardent lovers of American jazz, French composers, unlike many of their European colleagues, have never outlawed the saxophone from the sacred precincts of classical music. Saxophones have been regularly used as substitutes for French horns in their operatic repertoire. Ravel startled puritanical elements of the musical world by choosing an alto saxophone to playa slavic melody in his orchestration of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Many years ago I chanced upon a recording of a Mendelssohn String Quartet by the elegant Paris Saxophone Quartet which quickly changed my prejudiced view of the saxophone as an exclusively jazz-oriented instrument.

When the Amherst Saxophone Quartet asked me to consider writing a work for piano and saxophone quartet, I decided to try my hand first by transcribing Mozart's jovial Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452. I think that Mozart, lover of glockenspiels and street music, and transcriber of Bach fugues and Handel's Messiah, would approve of this arrangement. — Leo Smit

Notes on my Tzadik
The tzadik, who appeared in remote and isolated Jewish villages of Eastern Europe nearly 300 years ago, was the maker of wonders and miracles through his joyfully ecstatic music, suffusing the "soul of the Universe" with his divinely inspired song.

My Tzadik makes use of a variety of Jewish sources — an ancient Passover song of Babylonian origin, Kabbalistic chant, an Eastern Ashkenazic folk song, and a 19th century Russian melody. Towards the end of the piece, Mozart's birdman, Papageno, unaccountably joins in a village wedding dance, which is interrupted by fanfares of Shofars, a biblical trumpet made of a ram's horn. Tzadik ends with a return to the opening Kaddish, a prayer in memory of the dead.

Amherst Saxophone Quartet Program Book - Leo Smit