MIGRATION is inspired by the saxophone’s representation in many genres of music and its versatility in recreating sounds from both musical and non-musical origins. Despite the saxophone existing for only about 200 years, it has had a turbulent journey as a concert instrument. It was not until the welcoming of the instrument in more popular genres, such as jazz, rock, and film music, that the saxophone really began to flourish. These ties to popular music lie at the roots of the saxophone’s heritage and free the instrument from the restraints that bind most traditional instruments to a particular genre. We strive to capture that freedom and flexibility throughout this album by migrating between multiple sound worlds. These worlds include traditional classical music, popular genres, film music, world music, and contemporary music.
David Maslanka’s Recitation Book takes the chorales of Johann Sebastian Bach and recomposes them into different forms, projecting emotions of courage, melancholy, and reflection. Maslanka characterizes his composing style as being vocal; the singing quality of the saxophone was his inspiration for writing the piece and serves as the compositional foundation for the work. The liturgical references to life, death, and spiritual transcendence are the central themes of Recitation Book. Taking the listeners through sounds of pipe organs, madrigals, Gregorian chants, and chorales, this intimate setting of vocal music for saxophone invites us all to pause, listen, and contemplate in our ever-moving and technologically connected world.
William Albright’s Fantasy Etudes, the oldest work featured on this album, showcases some of the most versatile sounds and varied genres associated with the instrument. The jazz genre has inseparable ties to the saxophone, and Albright uses this style as one of the main compositional ingredients throughout the entirety of the work. Divided into six movements, each caricature vividly displays Albright’s colorful imagination. After an “Index” that serves as a table of contents for the featured themes, Albright opens the work with a musical anecdote of an awkward encounter between two publishers in “A Real Nice Number,” where the punch line of the story is “Now that Claire-de-Lune; that’s a real nice number!” In “Pypes,” he views the saxophone as an elaborate pipe instrument, melding the saxophones’ melodic qualities with sounds of other pipe instruments, such as bagpipes. Albright often dedicates a movement from each of his works to a friend who passed away, and “The Fives for Steve” is dedicated to Stephen Albert, a fellow composer who tragically passed away in 1992 as a result of an automobile accident. Other movements act as allusions to everyday life, such as “Phantom Galop,” which captures the history and sounds of transportation from galloping horses to train whistles and steamboats. The coda of this movement captures the sounds of geese flying over his house in Michigan. Albright’s childhood memory is prevalent in the final two movements of this work. “Harmonium” emulates the Victorian harmoniums of his youth, while “They only come out at night” recalls the noire music from old late-night TV mystery and detective shows of the 1950s and 60s. Each movement of this work migrates between snapshots from the composer’s tragically short life, reimagining them with vivacity, sentimentality, and nostalgia. Albright mixes musical ideas with the sonic cacophony of everyday life throughout this work. Fantasy Etudes serves as the halfway point in our album, a transitional phase from the sounds of the familiar to the sounds of the unfamiliar.
Finally, the album concludes with a newly commissioned work from David Clay Mettens. Inspired by the “Ornithology” series of visual artist Juan Fontanive, Mettens seeks to recreate the visual awe of Fontanive’s installations in his work, Ornithology S. Victorian-era clock parts rapidly turn over images of birds, the composite showing birds of flashing colors in a stuttering, perpetual flight. Mettens hollows out the quartet into two extremes of sound. The first world consists of fluttering tones that depict the various birds and their shifting flights as the pages of the machine flip from one image to the next. The second sound world features the percussive aspects of the saxophone, including key clicks and slaps, transforming the saxophone quartet into an ensemble of barely pitched wooden percussion instruments. Mettens fuses two worlds to create an expansive and unique landscape that brings Fontanive’s visual art to sonic life.