Randy Hall

Neither Proud Nor Ashamed: New Music for Saxophone

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American saxophonist Randall Hall speaks for many instrumentalists in the field of contemporary concert music when he states his dual aims: to explore "the modern manifestation of the old nineteenth century virtuosic ideal," which includes "a variety of special effects and pyrotechnics," while also trying "to come to terms with music in a post-rock & roll world and infuse the raw energy of rock into serious art music without creating some type of hybrid that is alien to both worlds." The saxophone is perhaps an ideal instrument for such a dual project, for the special effects and pyrotechnics of the contemporary classical saxophone are often enough those that come out of a rock (or, more often, jazz) saxophone during the woollier phases of a concert as it rolls into late night. The most successful realization of such ideas comes at the very beginning, ironically enough from French composer Christian Lauba rather than from any of the American composers on the program. Lauba's HARD (1989) lives up to its name -- it's a fierce, turbulent composition. Technically, however, it gives the listener coming from the world of rock plenty to hang onto with its growls, use of tonguing for sharp articulations, and bends of pitch and vibrato. The work is a fascinating example of the expansion of rock instrumental technique into an avant-garde realm. The rest of the program falls toward the more conventionally experimental side of the spectrum. While a work moving in the direction of pop or jazz might have been appealing in terms of balance, there is no doubting Hall's virtuosity. Luciano Berio's Sequenza VIIb appears in a transcription for saxophone, giving the piece a gutsier and less tortured feel than the original oboe version. Several other works feature interaction between the saxophone and computer-generated sounds -- taking the music out of the realm of solo performance, perhaps, but sampling a variety of ideas. The most appealing is American composer Nicolas Scherzinger's Schism (2003), in which computer and saxophonist each operate within a given pitch universe. The saxophonist improvises using these given materials, and the computer "reacts" to the player as the music proceeds. Hall in turn picks up on the computer's music. The results are something like an aural equivalent to one of those Flash online games where the point is more to create patterns than to win--one in which the user touches off complex, colorful patterns with simple operations. Such games are addictive, and Scherzinger's piece is hardly less so. The title of Hall's album comes from another computer work, Kevin Ernste's To Be Neither Proud Nor Ashamed, which in turn is derived from a remark by orchestration treatise author Cecil Forsyth (who is also credited as an inspiration on the cover of Frank Zappa's Freak Out! LP) to the effect that the saxophone had little history of which the player could be either proud or ashamed. While one may take issue with aspects of the program, this is a contemporary solo release of interest to an unusuallly wide variety of musicians.

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