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ClassicsOnline Home » AIKMAN, J.: Venice of the North Concerti - Violin Concerto, "Lines in Motion" / Ania's Song / Saxophone Concerto (Wetherbee, T. Sullivan, Lande)
Award-winning composer James Aikman’s music is ‘accessible and inventive’ (Fanfare magazine), and these three works embrace a colorful tapestry of stylistic influences, including jazz and pop. The elegantly simple and subtle Ania’s Song is described by the composer as a ‘peaceful isle’ between the supple lines and intricate counterpoint of the Violin Concerto and the Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra with its translucent orchestration and echoes of Alban Berg. Leading American soloists join one of Russia’s finest orchestras for a recording with truly international appeal.
By Robert R. Reilly
By Jerry Dubins
James Aikman (b. 1959)
Violin Concerto: Lines in Motion • Ania’s Song: A Pavane for String Orchestra • Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra
The present recording contains three works for large ensemble written in recent years. Aikman’s music, as it has developed over the past three decades, has knitted together a variety of styles and languages, and represents an amalgam of his broad experiences as a musician. The music on the current recording moves with comfort and surety from pop to jazz, from Schubert to Prokofiev, Barber and more modernistic impulses. He is as at home within the confines of the major scale as he is ranging through the total chromatic, and he is as able to find great richness in a simple string texture as he does when weaving a colorful tapestry from the full orchestra on which to display his soloists. Aikman’s gift is to make even the most familiar gesture seem fresh and green, while fully acknowledging its heritage in earlier music. Part of what makes this so is the unaffected directness of his emotional expression. This is not music that is touting its knowingness, or that is hiding behind a show of erudition. While its craft is impeccable, its aims are not to impress, but to share and rejoice in a full heart.
The Violin Concerto: Lines in Motion predates the saxophone work by only a year, and while it too revisits earlier music, it offers striking contrast in the ways its three movements unfold. Here, the main body of the work is the central movement, Quasi una Fantasia, while the first and last movements serve as a frame. The opening Prologue/Improvisation begins with what seems like a simple series of chords in the orchestra, out of which eventually floats the soloist in long supple lines. But those chords are a kind of key to this work: the listener will notice that they are constantly changing color and density. In fact, they are the product of an intricate counterpoint of motives running through the orchestra, and we are being taught at the outset that this will be a work that will yield its greatest beauties to the listener who can hear how the individual voice contributes to the song of the whole.
Ania’s Song was originally written for string quartet to celebrate the birthday of Ania Dowgiallo, wife of Thomas J. Beczkiewicz, co-founder of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Here it is recast for string orchestra. As the composer notes, “Ania’s Song, built around the initials of her name (A, D, B), resonates in a larger fashion as well. Ania is of Polish royalty, complete with castles and the like, yet lost so much in WWII. She eventually became a US citizen and married Tom. Recently, she and her family have been able to return and visit. Ania’s Song is a tribute to the nobility that lives within sublime acceptance of life’s travails. It also addresses reflection, joy, peace, memory.” The music is elegantly simple and subtle, achieving its effects through the exquisite placement of a single note or shift of texture.
The Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra has its roots in two earlier works, Call and Response for alto saxophone and piano, and the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano. The first movement opens with a repeated and extended rising figure in the saxophone that will provide much of the material of the music to come. This figure, made from a series of overlapped triads of various kinds, echoes the rising line formed from the tone-row of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, and the music that follows shares with Berg’s work a number of allusions to tonality, along with an affinity for pellucid orchestral color. The orchestration includes piano, so that what had been the saxophone’s sole interlocutor is now surrounded with the massed and varied colors of the orchestra. The remaining two movements reinvestigate the music of the first two movements of the aforementioned Trio, but both reverse their order, and rework their content. It is particularly interesting to hear what had been the introductory movement of the Trio form the culmination of the Concerto, and to hear how the same music serves in these two radically different capacities.
All three works herein combine an immediacy of their moment with a transparent view into the past. In the case of the two concertos, this includes a view into the composer’s own past. Both works revisit earlier chamber compositions with fascinating results. These works are thoroughly comprehensible as self-standing compositions, but are enriched by a comparison with the earlier chamber music. The changes are striking, ranging from direct orchestration to elaborate recomposition. Transforming the interactions of a trio of chamber musicians into the figure-and-ground perspective of a concerted work creates an entirely new understanding of the music.
I’ve written this music as a contribution to the musical repertoire I’ve studied and enjoyed nearly my entire life. Saxophonists do not yet have centuries of concert music written for them, though some of the greatest performing artists of our day play the saxophone. I’ve written this Saxophone Concerto because these dedicated virtuosi deserve abundant musical creations worthy of their talent. I love hearing saxophone with orchestra. Violinists have a wealth of musical literature, yet since I’ve had a lifetime of association with great violinists, I believe I have written something viable and worthy of that tradition. I poured myself into these concerti for the vast sonic possibilities and musicianship of the orchestra as well as those of the soloist. I’ve written these concerti to be enchanting interactive works for both soloist and orchestra. Ania’s Song serves as a peaceful isle between the more dynamic works.
Throughout my career, I’ve been able to work with great musicians. It’s essential for the seamless energy of the music to work with players whose backgrounds are wide and who approach the music with the same degree of purpose that I do. Taimur Sullivan, Charles Wetherbee, and Maestro Lande are classical music artists of the highest level, who have also listened to and played jazz and various forms of pop music. That is precisely how we are genuinely able to project the variety of stylistic nuances I call for in the music on this recording, as vastly different as: “a la rock guitar solo,” “breathy, like Paul Desmond,” “non vibrato, as in Renaissance vocal music,” “give and take as in dancing,” “with calm assuredness.” Nothing is anachronistic. All is vocabulary.
After hearing a recording in New York City of my sonatas for violin and piano, Maestro Lande asked me to write the Violin Concerto that he, Chas, and the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra would soon premiere in the city of Stravinsky’s childhood, of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and other great composers. The Violin Concerto’s success brought Taimur’s saxophone concerto and Ania’s Song the following year. While there for rehearsals, the performance, and recordings, we walked the same streets those composers walked. That remains particularly meaningful to me. So does the inspired spirit that sprung from the orchestra upon hearing the music and interacting with each of the exceptional soloists! We are proud of this cross-continental achievement that shows music is a universal language.
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AIKMAN, J.: Venice of the North Concerti - Violin ...