Splinter, by Chicago-based composer Marc Mellits, is probably the most popular work of the reed quintet repertoire. Composed in 2014 expressly for the reed quintet instrumentation of clarinet, oboe, saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon, Mellits delivers a work suitable for introducing the reed quintet to ears which may never have heard it before. Splinter is comprised of short “miniatures,” each with their own personality. Combined, they each express unique emotional qualities through hocketing rhythms and colorful orchestrations. Mellits often composes for amplified acoustic instruments, including percussion, piano, and strings. Rhythmic drive and development is a major component to his music, but does not over shadow his use of elongated phrases, subtle and effective harmonic motion, and beautiful textural creations.
Homage to Paradise Valley
Homage to Paradise Valley was commissioned by and composed for Akropolis in 2019, with support from the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning program. 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, including large scale highway projects. This became an interest of Jeff Scott’s 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. One can learn more about this part of Detroit’s history by visiting the Detroit Historical Society website at detroithistorical.org.
Rites for the Afterlife
After Akropolis and two other reed quintets chose Stacy Garrop as winner of the 2018 Barlow Prize for music composition, she was granted the Barlow Endowment’s prestigious prize to compose her first reed quintet, which Akropolis premiered in 2018. It was the first time the Endowment chose the reed quintet to award this prize for a new composition.
Stacy chose for her subject matter the Egyptian’s beliefs about the afterlife. The piece follows the soul into and through the afterlife, including the spells and enchantments contained in The Book of the Dead, the funery barque which tows the soul through the Netherworld, its arrival in the Hall of Judgement to be weighed against a feather from Maat—the goddess of truth—and its final resting place at the field of reeds where it is united with family members, harvesting plentiful crops along the Nile under a brilliant blue sky forever.
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. Hekkemabrilliantly 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.