In 2009 I heard the Prism Quartet play Pagine, a set of arrangements by Salvatore Sciarrino of works spanning several centuries. I was taken with suppleness of the ensemble, its ability to adapt itself to widely divergent styles. I was also struck by the license Sciarrino took in collecting vastly different works into a single set, a license that fit nicely with my view of music.
The generations born in the mid-20th century were the first to experience music in their formative years via both live performance and on recordings. As one result, juxtapositions that would have confounded our forebears sound perfectly reasonable. Jumping from Carlo Gesualdo to Cole Porter is stimulating, where it once might have been distressing.
I latched onto Sciarrino’s premise as a foundation for Nine for Four, a collection of pieces from the 14th to the 20th centuries that have had a strong impact on the way I think about music. The pungent harmonies of Machaut and Scriabin, the nimble wit of Josquin and Beethoven: listening to these compositions through the prism of a saxophone quartet emphasizes how vastly different they are from one another, and how similar.
Eight years later, Prism is premiering the set on a concert with Sciarrino’s Pagine and William Bolcom’s arrangements from Schumann’s Album for the Young. The performance is this Saturday night – Jan. 7 – at the DiMenna Center in NYC. Details below.