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.
Michael Robinson says
This sounds like a fascinating piece! It certainly is amazing how versatile and mesmerizing the saxophone is. Not everyone knows how its inventor, Adolf Sax, envisioned a new instrument combining the flexibility of woodwinds with the power of brass instruments. There was also a thought of saxophones replacing the string instruments of the orchestra (!), timbres and textures it actually may approximate by using a certain vibrato.
Sadly, Sax didn’t live to experience the full power and influence of the saxophone when it became arguably the most significant musical instrument of the twentieth century; the spearhead of American jazz culminating with musicians including Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Lee Konitz and Jackie McLean. Those familiar with my writings know how I believe modern jazz superseded European classical music as the primary “serious music” of the Western Hemisphere from roughly the mid-forties through the mid-sixties with some significant overlapping. This likely would not have been possible without Sax’s invention, which did in fact succeed in possessing the finest qualities of woodwinds and brass and then some.
And Sax didn’t even get to hear the exquisite use of various saxophones in Bolero by Maurice Ravel!
Michael Robinson says
typo: Adolphe Sax