NEW YORK—A newly commissioned double concerto for jazz soloists and symphony orchestra received its world premiere at a December concert of the New York Concerti Sinfonietta.
Unveiled at St. Joseph’s Church Yorkville on Dec. 11, “Reed Reflections” spotlighted the talents of the 25-year-old twins, Peter and Will Anderson, co-winners in the Jazz category of the New York Concerti Sinfonietta’s International Concerto Competition.
The Sinfonietta was adroitly led by guest conductor Alan Kay, a Juilliard faculty member who is co-principal clarinet of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Dr. Julie Jordan, a piano faculty member of The Juilliard School Evening Division, is artistic director of the New York Concerti Sinfonietta.
On this occasion, the 32-member Sinfonietta’s personnel included concertmaster Adela Pena, who previously was first-chair violinist of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and a founding member of the Eroica Trio; cellist Andrew Yee of the Attacca Quartet; and Jeff Scott, horn player of the acclaimed Imani Winds quintet. In addition, the evening’s soloists—the Anderson twins—served as the Sinfonietta’s clarinet section for the remainder of the program.
Creating a synthesis of jazz improvisation and classical music (often referred to as “Third Stream”) can be problematic. Prominent jazz musicians who have successfully accomplished this include Gunther Schuller, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Lewis (of the Modern Jazz Quartet), Art Tatum, and Charlie Mingus.
Fusing jazz soloists with a classical orchestra, however, is a task fraught with peril. A notorious example was the “Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra” by the Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann. In an RCA recording made in 1954, the jazz band—the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra—swings frenetically, while the accompanying Chicago Symphony, led by the august Fritz Reiner (whose métier was not boogie-woogie), sounds hopelessly square. The two just don’t mix; the effect is like oil and water.
Kyle Athayde neatly sidesteps this dilemma in his new work, “Reed Reflections,” a three-movement quasi-concerto that artfully combines classical resources with jazz elements and harmonies, including opportunities for the soloists to improvise.
To demonstrate the Anderson twins’ versatility, the paired soloists play clarinets in the first movement, flutes in the second, and saxophones in the last. (The title, “Reed Reflections,” is therefore a partial misnomer, as the flute is not a reed instrument.)
The Anderson twins are graduates of the Juilliard Jazz Studies program. Composer Kyle Athayde, who wrote “Reed Reflections” for the Anderson twins, is himself an alumnus of Juilliard Jazz.
In October, the Anderson brothers concluded an off-Broadway run of their show “The Anderson Twins Play the Fabulous Dorseys.” The following month, Will Anderson appeared with the New York Concerti Sinfonietta in a revival of Artie Shaw’s Interlude in B-Flat for solo clarinet, jazz rhythm section, and string orchestra, itself an important example of jazz-classical fusion.
Peter and Will Anderson are identical twins. It is impossible to tell them apart by sight. In “Reed Reflections,” the same holds true of their sound; their playing exhibits such unanimity of timbre and synchronized timing that it seems as if one was hearing a single instrument. Their virtuosity is exemplary; they are something of a phenomenon.
The first movement of “Reed Reflections” is a nostalgic tribute to the big-band sound and musical style of 1940s dance bands such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra. One could practically see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers gliding across a Hollywood sound stage in a ballroom rumba.
The second movement is a lyrical homage to the impressionistic moods of Debussy. It features the flute, an instrument that Debussy so memorably employed in “Syrinx” and “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.” At one point, the gentle undulations are evocative of the “Forest Murmurs” in Wagner’s opera “Siegfried.”
The last movement is a virtuoso romp for saxophones, echoing one another’s phrases—built on ascending and descending scales—in a fast-paced perpetual motion. The movement proceeds with great high spirits worthy of the finale of a Haydn symphony. A passage of neo-Bachian counterpoint provides a brief excursion into the minor mode shortly before the close, which ends with a joyous flourish reminiscent of a Rossini overture.
“Reed Reflections” is a cheerful and highly accessible work. It was well-received by the appreciative audience.
Preceding it on the program was the serious and dramatic Brahms Piano Concerto in D Minor, op. 15, which was a distinct contrast. It received an outstanding performance by International Concerto Competition top prize winner Jin Hwa Lee. A graduate of Peabody Conservatory, the Korean-born Ms. Lee is currently a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at the University of Michigan, studying with Arthur Greene.
Playing a new Yamaha C7 concert grand piano, Ms. Lee, who is tall and slender, generated a surprisingly powerful sonority. Her exceptional articulation of Brahms’s thorny keyboard passagework had superlative clarity. The manner in which she brought out inner voices and clarified the counterpoint conveyed her perceptive insight into the foundations of Brahms’s style in Baroque music.
It was a pleasure to hear the concerto played with such technical, musical, and interpretative command. Ms. Lee’s fingerwork was, for the most part, splendidly clean, save for a momentary lapse of concentration in the transition preceding the finale’s coda. Her passionate performance of the opening movement had grandeur, majesty, and—when necessary—excitement. The rapt Adagio slow movement and playful Rondo finale were played with similar conviction, subtlety, and refinement. Overall, it was a profound, fresh, and illuminating performance.
Future concerts of New York Concerti Sinfonietta International Concerto Competition winners will be held on Feb. 25 in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall and Feb. 26 and May 5 at the Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village. For information or to apply for forthcoming competitions, contact www.newyorkconcertisinfonietta.com and www.juliejordanpresents.com.
Michael Sherwin, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in music criticism, currently writes for The Epoch Times and Wagner Notes.
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