Akropolis Reed Quintet, Friday, October 7, 2016
In its continually evolving "Under the Influence" program, Akropolis directly compares sets of music from different generations. For this installment, they have chosen the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, George Gershwin, Marc Mellits, and David Biedenbender to comprise a Baroque suite and modern miniature pairing, followed by two works separated by nearly a century, connected by popular sounds of their time.
Through these compositional and aesthetic progressions, Akropolis also explores their own influences as a reed quintet, now performing in their 8th season, as they build their ensemble's repertoire and re-visit their personal and collective inspirations by which they have forged their genre-bending identity.
Rameau composed this E minor suite, nicknamed "Le Rappel des Oiseaux", both as a concert work and as a method book ("pour la mécanique des doigts"). The movements serve as development of proper ornamentation. They are both architected precisely and sewn through improvisation. In this arrangement, Akropolis draws out each ornament as a unique color, and enables Rameau's counterpoint to shine.
The more rhythmic nature of France's Baroque style also plays nicely into the hands of five wind players of like-minded instruments, combining the full bodied sound of a Renaissance band with the harpsichord's poignant articulation. As an ensemble, Akropolis has been increasingly drawn to Baroque music, noticing parallels between it and the more minimalist works of many prominent living composers.
Indeed Western Classical music's foundations are present in works like Rameau's, and composers like Marc Mellits constantly refer to these fundamentals. The 8 movements of Splinter, in a manner much different than Rameau's work, represent an ideal concept of space both vertically and horizontally in music. Mellits describes his music as containing "driving rhythms, soaring lyricism, and colorful orchestrations", which might seem difficult to capture all at once. In the case of his first work for reed quintet--formed in short miniatures like most of Mellits' music--the listener experiences repetitious motives which, through subtle changes, create elongated phrases and broader musical structures. Even among the identical openings of movements 1 and 6 (as well as a few bars of directly transplanted content in movements 5 and 8), the listener gets broader sense of the greater architecture in the work, even as motives continue to drive, repeat, and subtlety evolve.
The second set opens with David Biedenbender’s boisterous new work, Refraction. "Refraction" refers to the splitting of ideas as well as to the type of assembly the composer uses in this piece. Sounds are almost taped and glued together, and at times they seem to pour out from the central texture of the piece. The composition melds several genres, including death metal and Gregorian chant, but never fully boxes them in. “Death Metal Chicken” is inspired by a popular YouTube video of a howling rooster with death metal music being played in the background. The “Kyrie” shimmers with ancient qualities. The final movement, “Goat Rodeo”, refers directly to a chaotic situation that might come to a resolution, but not willingly so. Biedenbender not only re-purposes various genres and combines them with brilliant colorations; he creates a fully-formed, new object which could never be as brilliant without the tatters and shreds which seem to be falling from it.
In conclusion, Akropolis presents a work inspired not only by the popular music of the early 20th century, but marked by a special moment in music composition in which the concept of "acceptable" art music was beginning to rapidly evolve. In An American in Paris, Gershwin aimed to create one of his more serious works despite his natural affinity for frivolity. He consulted Ravel about this conundrum, who wisely instructed that if Gershwin was making more money than Ravel (which he was), he shouldn't change how he writes his music. He sought advice from Nadia Boulanger, the great teacher of Aaron Copland and others. She also wisely suggested to Gershwin try to be no one but Gershwin. And so, using complex motivic development which is constantly modulating and changing form, Gershwin manages to create his most accessible, but simultaneously most complex piece of music.
Among the challenges Dutch saxophonist Raaf Hekkema faced in arranging the work were how to convey these ideas with only 5 instruments. The listener might find Gershwin's ideas even easier to deduce in the chamber music format, and Hekkema brilliantly manages to maintain Gershwin's lush orchestrations by having all 5 members performing for nearly all of the arrangement. The continually repeating and evolving motives make for a challenging but thrilling performance which Akropolis is delighted to bring to the stage.
Program notes provided by Akropolis Reed Quintet