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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSS, Florian: Suite for Soprano Sax and String Orchestra
By Derek Ansell
International Jazz Journal, England
By Glenn Astarita
All About Jazz
The Suite was the concluding composition from a year of studying at the Guildhall School of Music in 1995/96. After numerous compositions for the GSMD Big Band and various small ensembles, I found myself more and more drawn to the "English way". I found there was a difference in attitude towards music in general compared to what I had been used to at that time so I started to listen to English composers of the early 20th century like Britten, Delius, Warlock or Elgar. First of all, I found the harmony and melody of that period very close to the modern jazz idiom, secondly it best reflected what I thought to be the "English way" – a combination of pastoral tunes with rather elaborate harmony, much like the modern-day reharmonization of standard jazz tunes.
After a while I discovered that this music also worked very well when put into a jazz context. It was when I re-orchestrated a Peter Warlock composition for big band that I decided to not only have a piece for string orchestra played by a jazz ensemble but write my music for a string ensemble. This idea got me going and I started planning the Suite.
Before I started writing, I talked to a lot of string players and went to many orchestra rehearsals in order to find out about their abilities to adapt to a "jazzy environment". That seemed to be no problem! Then I decided to have a jazz rhythm section in the piece too, that could pull along the music without having to through-compose everything. I did not want a piece of music that was organized in every detail but one that should leave the musicians room for the unexpected and natural development. The idea to feature the soprano sax as the melodic leader through the movements fitted the pastoral, "English" feel the composition should have.
Both Jochen Ruckert (dr) and Dietmar Fuhr (b) have been very creative musical companions in the last years, so I was very happy when they decided to play on the project. I've known conductor Manfred Knaak for several years and I knew he would be the perfect link between the string players and the jazz group – which proved to be true!
The Event String Ensemble is a loose group of freelance string players that works in various musical areas, so I could be assured of their flexibility towards my music, also their working-speed and unparalleled enthusiasm was sheer pleasure.
I got to know David Liebman in 1994 when we met at the IASJ convention in New York City. Since then we kept in touch and when I told him about my plans he was interested in doing it right away. I am glad he joined the project, not only because he was my first choice for the job. His creativity in improvising gave the project its final boost.
(Note: Part numbers indicate order of composition)
1. Tune in / Overture. I like the idea of introducing a large scale composition with an overture that sets the mood for the music that is to come. This piece starts off with a very simple rising melody with the strings playing chords underneath. After the repeat the band enters and David improvises on the changes. This development reflects the whole idea behind the Suite – joining composed and improvised parts together to form a new entirety.
2. Part I. The first movement picks up the mood of the Interlude but leads to a more propelling section. The tune of this movement is based on the composition Vortex which I originally wrote for my Quintet (Seasons & Places – Florian Ross Quintet; available on Naxos-Jazz 80629-2) right after my first visit to London in 1994. When I started working on the Suite, I decided that my first impression of London translated into music should also resonate in the first movement.
3. Piano Interlude. When the band, the strings and Dave first came together to rehearse the piece, we felt that the movements of the Suite should be connected by improvised interludes rather than stand on their own. Here the piano takes the first interlude by developing an ostinato figure that rose out of the last chord of Part I.
4. Part II. This movement was written backwards. I started off with the tune at the end and then worked my way backwards to the beginning. This way the piece unfolds like an opening flower. The melodic material of this development derives entirely from the tune. This composition was inspired by Peter Warlock works for string orchestra.
5. Piano Interlude.
6. Part VI. This is the architectural piece of the Suite. All material is based on a twelve-tone row. The long atonal chords in the beginning are derived by multiplication of intervals within the row, and so are the rhythmic values and the position of the notes. As the "row of chords" slowly works its way down to the lowest point, Dave plays on a resting chord to mark the change of direction. After this the chords work their way up again at increasing speed and agility. The following solo vamp is an original quote of the row which leads into rising chords like in the beginning, this time broken up rhythmically, but again solely consisting of "row material".
7. Bass Interlude.
8. Part III. The concept of this piece was inspired by Kenny Wheeler. He often uses circular forms that seem to have no beginning and no end and just flow endlessly. Also the use of the descending pattern of fifths and the harmony moving forward in a circle-of-fifths-type manner underlines this impression. The second half of the movement echoes the resting chords of Part I and eventually leads back to the circle. Dave and I end the piece with a last statement of the fifths motive.
9. Part V. In this movement the bass plays a prominent part. After the opening with drums, strings and no bass, one expects it to enter in its usual r犨e but then it shares the melody with the soprano. The piano accompanies that melody with its ostinato, so the strings are not needed to state the harmony – this frees them to colour the melody. In the second part the cellos open a vamp which is now being developed by the string section before the soprano solo. Dave plays an incredible solo over all those moving lines before we hear a recapitulation of the "military rhythm" in Part I that leads back to the piano ostinato. Now the strings take over the figure to liberate the piano for a brief solo.
10 Soprano Interlude.
11 Part IV. This ballad is based on an earlier composition called Over the Rooftops. It reminds me of the view I had from my study in London while I was working on scores.
12 Band Interlude. After everybody in the band has started off a piece, we now do it together.
13 Part VII. This piece is based on an earlier composition called Bridges and is dedicated to Benjamin Britten and Frank Bridge. Just as they found bridges between pastoral songs and the music of the 20th century I tried to bridge jazz and three-part harmony, free playing and chords, fast and slow. There are also small "bridges" between the intro, solos and theme which is inspired by the Adagio of Britten Variations on a theme by Frank Bridge, Op. 10.
Florian Ross, January, 1999
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ROSS, Florian: Suite for Soprano Sax and String Or...