Marc Mellits, Splinter (2014)
Becky Turro, Thaw (2018)
Astor Piazzolla, Libertango (1974) arr. Rueda
Rob Deemer, Gallimaufry (2015)
George Gershwin, An American in Paris (1928) arr. Hekkema
Composer Marc Mellits’ music contains 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 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.
Thaw As a companion to Splinter and also inspired by the natural world, Thaw was composed for Akropolis and premiered in June, 2018. Composer Becky Turro provides the following notes about what inspired her as she composed Thaw: “Thaw was inspired by a trip with my girlfriend to Acadia National Park, Maine, in early March. Each movement is about a specific part of Acadia we encountered during our time in the national park. The first movement, “Hyperborea,” was inspired by Cadillac Mountain, seen in the aftermath of a snowstorm that arrived on our first day there. The second movement is titled, “Echo Lake,” which is also a place within Acadia. This movement begins with a smooth, frozen texture that slowly thaws and melts away as the sun comes out. The third movement, titled “Kaleidoscope Cove,” is the most flowing and bright, and characterizes the ocean dancing and crashing against the orange cliffs. Chronologically, the movements move from frozen to melted, thawing into the arrival of spring.”
Closing the first set is Astor Piazzolla’s famous Libertango, first released in 1974. “Liber,” meaning “liberty,” was one of Piazzolla’s compositions in the “tango nuevo” form he would continue exploring for the rest of his career. Piazzolla’s tangos have become popular with classical musicians because Piazzolla was classically trained and his compositions often contain intricate counterpoint. Nuevo tango includes elements of jazz, modern classical dissonance, and a variety of instrumentations for which Piazzolla composed. This makes his music malleable, and Akropolis is delighted to have discovered this arrangement of Libertango while conducting a master class at Northwestern University in February, 2018.
In Gallimaufry, Deemer uses each instrument as a different, unique material, considering its sound, volume envelope, and articulations. He combines them to allow the listener to hear both each instruments’ singular colors as well as the reed quintet’s combined palette. When conceiving this work and beginning to compose it, Deemerannounced to Akropolis his vision of the piece and of the reed quintet as an object: a giant Dr. Seuss-inspired instrument that could break apart into smaller pieces, morph and evolve, then return to its original form. “Gallimaufry” is a word which means “hodge–podge” or a gumbo or stew.
An American in Paris
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, as was the world itself. 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.