Marsalis and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra team up at the Kravis Center
Although the saxophone is best known as a mainstay of American jazz, the instrument originated in France, where it was invented in the 1840s by Adolphe Sax (whose other accomplishments included the saxatromba, saxhorn, and saxtuba).
Designed to combine the speed of a wind instrument with the power of a brass instrument, Sax’s invention has been taken up by military bands and some classical composers. But it was only after crossing the ocean and entering American popular music that the instrument achieved its breakthrough.
Sunday’s concert by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach expressed the instrument’s rich classical and jazz heritage. Prominent saxophonist Branford Marsalis was one of the most overworked soloists to ever appear on a South Florida stage, playing not one but three different tunes.
The concert featured Carmen, Jazz Suite on Themes by Bizet, a new work commissioned by the orchestra. The work was written by Courtney Bryan, a composer from New Orleans who holds a doctorate from Columbia University and teaches music at Tulane University. In a program note, the composer says that the saxophone plays Carmen in music that “presents her freedom, her love and her fearlessness, celebrating an imaginary world in which Carmen lives and wins”.
The work begins with some of the opera’s most famous arias, the Habanera, Seguidilla and Toreador Song, with modernist harmonies, unusual percussion and occasions where familiar tunes veer to unfamiliar places. The piece gets stronger as it progresses. The most effective section played the scene in which Carmen reads her dark fate in the cards. With tension-filled harmonies far more advanced than anything from the time of Georges Bizet, the music swells and Marsalis’ saxophone figurations grow ever more intense, expressing strength, resignation and defiance at heart. of the character of Carmen.
For Debussy Rhapsody for alto saxophone and orchestra, Marsalis sat in the wind section of the orchestra, an appropriate decision for a work in which the saxophone served more as an important part of the ensemble than as a solo instrument. Although this short work is not Debussy’s most compelling, Marsalis’ soft tone fits well into the composer’s hazy, dreamy musical landscape.
Unlike Debussy, the French composer Jacques Ibert Camera Concertina was an unabashed centerpiece, and Marsalis gave an outstanding performance. In the Allegro he played with an assertive tone in brilliant tunes and machine-gun runs, giving the impression that he could finally open up after having held himself back in previous works.
The climax, and perhaps the best part of a rather light-hearted concert, came at the Larghetto, where Marsalis brought a dreamy, shimmering tone to nighttime music full of longing and nostalgia – moods that have long been the saxophone territory – on a bed of resounding harmonies in the orchestra. The brief finale led to a cadence in which Marsalis seemingly plays as fast as humanly possible with a brilliant tone to an effect that was nothing short of dazzling.
Although the orchestra brought a star saxophone soloist, it did not bring a conductor. Since the founding of Orpheus in the early 1970s, when the era’s anti-establishment ethos reached into the most established genre of music, the orchestra has deprived itself of the services of a baton patron. It didn’t seem to interfere with the band’s almost supernatural overall precision and unity of performance.
It is perhaps impossible to make one of the most famous openings sound fresh. But the orchestra’s interpretation of Rossini’s Overture for The Barber of Seville came close. The performance featured witty wind acting, incisive and intense strings in the simulated and sinister figure that resembles the scissor cut, and a driving concluding crescendo.
The string of the orchestra shone in Joaquin Turina The Oration of Torero (The toreador’s prayer). After a turbulent opening, they played long phrases that sounded like prayer phrases, with passages of radiant warmth and lively Spanish-tinged melody.
In encore, Marsalis and the orchestra gave a dark and sensual account of “La fille d’Ipanema” by Antônio Carlos Jobim.
Posted in Shows