In this program, “Under the Influence,” Akropolis presents classical music bearing a wide array of influences, including rock, heavy metal, jazz, chant, and more. Each selection absorbs the characteristics of a different genre, style, or era, and then creates fresh, relevant music, reflecting upon the source while looking forward. Akropolis also explores their own influences as a reed quintet (currently celebrating their 10th anniversary 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.
Composer Marc Mellits’ music contains driving rhythms, soaring lyricism, and colorful orchestrations, which might seem difficult to capture with just five instruments. In the case of his first work for reed quintet–formed in short miniatures like almost all of Mellits‘ music–the listener experiences repetitious motives which, through subtle harmonic 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 a broader sense of the greater architecture in the work, even as motives continue to drive, repeat, and subtlety evolve. Mellits‘ musical upbringing was varied, including rock and electronic music influences, which became a part of his musical instincts early on and make a thrilling contribution to his classical compositions today.
“Refraction” refers to the absorption and then splitting of music influences, 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 topical ideas 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.
For All We Know
“For All We Know” was originally published in 1934 and written by J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. The version performed by Akropolis is arranged from Nina Simone’s performance on her 1959 record, Nina Simone and Her Friends. On this track, Simone accompanies her voice on piano with classical-style, contrapuntal music that weaves itself in and out of the music’s lyrics, making an arrangement for reed quintet a natural fit. The individual, but blended sounds of the oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and bass clarinet play the role of the piano, while saxophone carries the melody: “But tomorrow may never, never come, for all we know.”
Homage to Paradise Valley
Paradise Valley was the business district of Black Bottom, a densely-populated African American neighborhood in Detroit. It was displaced during the mid-century urban renewal, most notably by highway projects. This became the subject of Jeff Scott’s first reed quintet after he and Akropolis visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, while Jeff’s quintet, Imani Winds, was passing through Detroit on tour. Homage to Paradise Valley utilizes Jeff’s diverse musical background as a jazz and studio musician in New York City. This work is made possible through the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Fund. One can learn more about this part of Detroit’s history by visiting the Detroit Historical Society website at detroithistorical.org.
An American in Paris
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 was how to convey these ideas with only 5 instruments. Hekkema brilliantly takes a smaller color palette and combines the instruments to create more textural possibilities than the listener could ever predict. In ways, while Gershwin’s orchestration maximizes the orchestra’s capabilities, the listener might find Gershwin’s ideas even easier to deduce in the chamber music format. The continually repeating and evolving motives make for a challenging but thrilling performance which Akropolis is delighted to bring to the stage.