Michael Gandolfi is one of our most unique, visionary contemporary composers. His music cuts across all manner of styles and influences, from jazz and rock to works intended for a children’s audience, such as his Pinocchio’s Adventures in Funland. Galdolfi’s music has been played by many of the country’s major symphony orchestras and audiences have consistently appreciated the approachable and eclectic nature of his work.
The three works here are a perfect example of the most appealing aspects of his music and make for a terrific introduction to his music for the novice listener. Each piece here is – essentially – a concerto for a wind instrument and orchestra. The opening work,From the Institutes of Groove, is scored for the versatile – but seldom heard – bass trombone. Written for the present soloist, Angel Subero, and the BMOP, this work draws upon the talents of the soloist; especially in the “salsa”-inflected opening movement, “Too Jazz for Rock.” I was especially taken by the second movement, “Rising in the Wing”, that draws from minimalism and even a slightly “Renaissance-brass” sound but with what Gandolfi calls the “twist” that – unlike most minimal music – the pulse and melody remain steady and long-lined, the harmonies change constantly. This is a really fine and compelling work that keeps the listener engaged from start to finish.
Gandolfi’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra is an equally interesting piece and, although not as unusual a choice as bass trombone; a new bassoon work is always welcomed! This piece was written for Richard Svoboda, the principal bassoonist with the Boston Symphony and is scored in a fairly traditional three movements. However, the voice and tone of the work is hardly “traditional” in its approach. I enjoyed every minute of this refreshing and innovative work. Svoboda is a wonderful player and this concerto with its sparkling orchestration is an essential addition to the bassoon repertoire.
The Fantasia for alto saxophone has the most unusual structure of the works represented here. Gandolfi considers each of the four movements a “panel” characterized by an approach to orchestration that defines the movement as well as provides its title. In “Rising Steps”, the music is built in the manner of ascending scalar passages. The coyly-named “Bolero, Scissors and Paste” is a reference to the jazzy “snake charmer” melody that infuses the movement and “cut and paste” to the composer’s use of small motives within the whole. The equally attention-getting “Recitative Surreale” takes material from the first movement and joins it to a quote of a recitative from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and played in mirror-fashion as well (surreal…) The closing “Minimal Security” is comprised of two opposing motives; chromatic and bright versus diatonic and dark. Eventually the two minimalist-treated ideas occur at once as the work comes to a close. This, too, is a very impressive work and this is another great addition to the repertory. Kenneth Radnofsky, for whom it was written, is a great player.
The more I hear of Michael Gandolfi’s music, the more impressed I am. He has a very personal style grounded in an engaging approach to harmony and rhythm, in particular which makes his music immediately accessible. The inspirations for his pieces are eclectic and fascinating and they seem like great fun to play as well as to listen to.