Concerto for saxophone blends musical styles
The Louisville Orchestra presented its sixth Coffee Concert of the season yesterday at the Macauley Theater. Music Director Akiro Endo was the conductor, and Harvey Pittel the saxophone soloist. The program: Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein, Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra ("Ode to Lord Buckley") by David Amram and Symphony No. 104 in D major ("London") by Haydn.
"Ode to Lord Buckley" is a misleading title for composer David Amram's enjoyable concerto for saxophone and orchestra, unless is familiar with the late entertainer and comedian to whom the work is dedicated.
The composition received its Louisville premiere yesterday at a Louisville Orchestra Coffee Concert under the direction of conductor Akira Endo. The soloist was Harvey Pittel. The composer was also present to make brief introductory remarks.
Amram's concerto has nothing to do with lords. It is not music of pomp and circumstance, and it certainly is not stuffy and aloof. Lord Buckley, Amram tells us in the program notes, was "an underground genius of spontaneous American poetry and humor," an artist who borrowed freely from various styles, periods and disciplines.
Amram's work reflects that eclecticism. It breaks no new ground and might even be criticized for a willingness to stay well within the bounds of "light" classical or even movie music, but it is nonetheless skillful in its blending of orchestral sound, its unusual classical use of a solo instrument and, most of all, its clever mixture of musical styles. In short, it is pleasant and wholly entertaining.
The music reflects the young composer's background. Amram, whose instrument is horn, has played in jazz groups and symphony orchestras and was sent on a U.S. State Department tour of the Middle East as a composer and conductor.
The first-movement allegro sets an exotic tone which characterizes the whole composition, beginning with a rousing percussive fanfare. Soon the principal motive of the movement has been introduced, bouncing around from one orchestral ensemble to another. The saxophone takes this motive, repeats it and seems to improvise on it, jazz style.
The middle andante espressivo strips away some of the orchestral texture, leaving a quiet ensemble of strings and woodwinds to accompany the lyric, floating line of the saxophone. A jazzy interlude featuring legato strings, swishing drum brushes and a mellow, jazzy solo is especially delicious.
A drum roll and brass fanfare shift the mood in the final fast movement, in which Middle Eastern rhythms and melody take over, sounding like orchestral belly-dance music. The saxophone now seems to imitate various Arab and African instruments, repeating over and over an intricately detailed melody, always with slight, highly virtuosic variations. A tonal center, absent for the most part in the first two movements, now makes itself firmly felt.
Pittel, who plays with a golden, flute-like tone and lovely intonation, gave the concerto a sensitive, atmospheric reading, demonstrating the considerable interpretive possibilities of the saxophone.