This past Saturday, Feb. 17, the Main Concert Hall of the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center hosted yet another wildly successful evening of live pieces of contemporary music. This weekend featured the talents of saxophonist and URI faculty member Johnathan Amon, with accompaniment from fellow members of the Chagall Performance Art Collaborative Saxophone Quartet.
The pieces of music featured ranged greatly in styles and composers, but almost all- save for the final piece, Fugue in G Minor BWV 578 by Johann Sebastian Bach, which was composed sometime between 1703 and 1707- were pieces composed within the last 100 years. Amon himself is a champion of contemporary music, and has performed original material by many modern-day composers, including Harold Shapero, Robert Lemay, Shih-Hui Chen, and many others.
Between two distinct sets, the first featured four solo performances by Amon on alto saxophone, beginning in earnest with Reverie, a piece composed by successful chamber orchestra, choir, and film composer Mark Popeney. The piece is pleasantly befitting of its name- Reverie, which refers to a peaceful daydream or a quiet moment of meditation, and it was a fitting introduction to the event. The intensity was increased slightly for the second piece- Diptere, a piece composed by Jean-Claude Risset, a revolutionary composer of both orchestral and electronic music who was active during the latter half of the 20th century.
Though Amon remained the only musician onstage, his performance of the piece was accompanied by prerecorded instrumental tracks, which included horns, percussion, chimes and drones- a veritable wall of sound in comparison to both the previous piece and the piece to follow. Flamenco Sin Limites, which once again saw Amon playing bereft of accompaniment, is a piece composed in 1997 by saxophonist Jaime Fatas, who based the movement of the piece on flamenco, a style of music derived from the folklore and musical heritage of southern Spain.
Amon ended the first set with Brooklyn, a piece composed by Italian composer Claudio Gabriele. Inspired by the city after which it is named, Amon once again employed a recording over his performance, but, rather than music, the recording contained ambient noises one might hear on a walk through the streets of Brooklyn- pigeons cooing, cars zooming past, a subway train rattling by. The relatively mundane here is transformed when juxtaposed with the clear, jazzy tone of Amon’s saxophone, which invoked the city streets of New York even without the accompanying sound effects.
Following a short intermission, the lights dimmed, and Amon returned on alto sax, this time joined by the rest of the Chagall Performance Art Collaborative Saxophone Quartet- Dennis Shafer, prolific musician, instructor, and live-composer, on soprano saxophone, Andy Wilds, educator and accomplished chamber musician, on tenor saxophone, and Scott Chamberlin, avid performer and student of the saxophone, on baritone sax.
Wasting no time, the quartet dove right into Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5, a piece composed in 1938 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, a Brazilian composer who combined the techniques and style of his idol, Johann Sebastian Bach with elements of Brazilian folk music. The following piece, a sequence of movements unified under the title of Suite No. 5, was actually composed by Jeremie Jones specifically to be played by Dennis Shafer.
Modeled after the structure of a Baroque era dance suite, the piece combines techniques traditional and strictly contemporary, even allowing room for improvisation amongst the quartet, as it moves through four separate movements- Prelude (andante), Allemande (moderato), Courante (allegro) and Sarabande (lento).
For the final piece of the performance, Amon and the quartet ended with Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578, a piece by legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Composed in the early 1700’s, the piece breaks continuity with the rest of the selected works in terms of historical era, but the choice to end with Bach was an obvious one, as traces and echoes of his work were abundant in the modern pieces, and his legacy amongst lovers of classical music and music in general was clear.
For more information on events by the URI Department of Music, of which there are many scheduled for the coming weeks and months, visit www.web.uri.edu/music/music-department-events/.