The Seasons Fall Festival: First Report

The Seasons Fall Festival ended on Saturday night — nine days of concerts interspersed with music education for young people. Visiting world-class artists conducted clinics and workshops for more than 1,200 school children from grade school through college. Subtitled “Side-by-Side,” the festival brought together jazz, classical and Latin music in The Seasons Performance Hall and the Capitol Theatre in Yakima, Washington. Here are a few brief impressions.

Friday, October 10: Eric Alexander opened the festival with “Blues for David,” his tribute to Alexander, horn.jpgfellow tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman. Alexander’s regular pianist David Hazeltine and bassist John Webber were aboard. Seattle’s Matt Jorgensen subbed on drums for Joe Farnsworth, a duty he was also to perform in Bill Mays’ trio and in a chamber concert later in the festival. The highlight of the first set was the cadenza Alexander invented at the end of “Easy Living.” He told me in a post-intermission conversation it was a tune he had rarely played; “I just wanted to explore those harmonies and see what I could do with them.” What he did with them brought out the Coltrane in him. The cadenza was fascinating, and it lasted a good five minutes. Hazeltine and Alexander tied for the peak moment of the second half. The pianist was superb in Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Blues.” In the same piece, Alexander started simply and built complexity through several choruses to a near-crescendo before coming down to take the tune out.

Saturday, October 11: The Finisterra Piano Trio, The Seasons resident chamber group, was featured with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra under conductor Brooke Creswell in Daron Hagen’s triple concerto Orpheus and Eurydice. The New York composer’s four-part work had enough daring and astrigency to keep the YSO audience alert and was accessible enough to keep them comfortable, not an easy balance to achieve with today’s classical concert-goers. The concerto’s interior rhythms presented a rehearsal challenge to the orchestra, which met it in performance. Cresswell should be congratulated for programming demanding new work in an area with conservative audiences and — to judge by the reaction — pleasing them with it. The YSO also handled Mendelssohn and Bizet nicely and delivered a smashing Ravel Bolero.

As part of The Seasons Fall Festival education component, Hagen (pictured) spent a week in

Hagen.jpgYakima working with seven young composers he selected from around the country. At rehearsal, the orchestra sight-read a four-minute piece by each of them, then the members of the orchestra and the invited audience voted on two for performance Saturday night. Eric Malmquist’s “Adventus” and Jesse D’aiello’s “Winter” received their premieres. The winning composers got the full guest celebrity treatment — trips to the stage, shakes of the conductor’s, concert master’s and composer’s hands, bows and waves. They were thrilled. Everyone in the elegant old Capitol Theatre seemed thrilled.

Sunday, October 12: Finisterra provided the instrumental accompaniment for Hagen’s new Gilda Lyons.jpgchamber opera Cradle, receiving its world premiere at The Seasons. It is a one-act piece for two singers and piano trio. The story is of a couple back in their apartment after a party, trying to get their baby to go to sleep. The mother was sung by Hagen’s wife Gilda Lyons (pictured), the father by Robert Frankenberry. The little opera is wry, touching and often funny. It is extremely hip and musical. Finisterra–pianist Tanya Stambuk, cellist Kevin Krentz and violinist Timothy Garland–were at the top of their game in Hagen’s tonal but adventurous score.   

Monday, October 13: Three years earlier, to the minute, the Bill Mays Trio inaugurated The Seasons in its opening concert. Mays’ third Fall Festival anniversary coincided with another birthday, that of Matt Jorgensen, the adaptable drummer sitting in for Matt Wilson, who was on the road with Joe Lovano and John Scofield. Preceded by an hour-long celebration complete with cake and champagne, Mays, Jorgensen and bassist Martin Wind played a repertoire drawn from originals by Mays and Wind, and a cross-section of standards. Mays unveiled a version of the seldom-heard ballad “You Leave Me Breathless, crediting the arrangement and chord changes to the late pianist Jack Brownlow. He charmed his listeners as much with his personality as with his music, wrapping them into the experience.

Tuesday, October 14: Mays returned with trumpeter Marvin Stamm and cellist Alisa Horninventionscolor72.jpg, The Inventions Trio. This chamber group is at home in jazz and the classics. The concert included three new Mays pieces with the umbrella designation, “Saloon Songs.” He preceded

 them with an entertaining disquisition on the antecedents of the word “saloon” and dedicated the pieces to Yakima and the surrounding wine country. A high point: Alisa Horn’s ferocious cello solo based on several Miles Davis blues choruses. Stamm warned me some time ago that he and I would be playing a duet. I chose Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring.” Mays wrote a lovely arrangement for Inventions reinforced by an additional cello (Kevin Krentz), violin (Timothy Garland), bass (Martin Wind), drums (Matt Jorgensen), Marvin’s fluegelhorn and my trumpet. Marvin and I each improvised a chorus, traded eight-bar phrases, then fours, and
Doug&MarvinSpringJump.jpghad a short stretch of simultaneous improvisation. In the picture by Judy Kirtley, I’m the one who looks like his shorts are too tight. Sitting next to Marvin Stamm, I should have been intimidated, but the pros made it relaxed and easy, and no one in the audience threw anything. Next, I read a passage that Mays selected from Poodie James. He orchestrated for the ensemble a beautiful background that swelled and flowed in all the right places. Then came the evening’s piece de resistance. Mays adapted Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite for the septet, opening up passages for improvisation. Switching between fluegelhorn and trumpet, Stamm was brilliant. They were all brilliant, even unto Jorgensen’s glockenspiel solo. This piece should be recorded in this format by this group.

On his blog, Daron Hagen has a comprehensive, colorfully written report about the festival and his stewardship of those seven young composers. Here’s a sample:

A healthy mix of styles and backgrounds were revealed during these sessions: one composer from New Jersey specializes in the film scores he writes for his own films, which he writes and directs; another is one of the busiest performers on Bourbon Street in New Orleans; one was a courageous young fellow from Manhattan making his way in the world with a day job and composing by night; three were students of Stacy Garrop’s at the Chicago Conservatory of Music; one was a Korean doctoral candidate studying with Stephen Dembski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All treated one another with great respect; all bonded as people.

To read the whole thing, click here.

Tomorrow: Ernestine Anderson’s great evening, Jovino Santos Neto, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, and Tierney Sutton.

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit