Values and Proposals No. 6 for saxophone septet

The Values and Proposals No. 6 is a work for saxophone septet.  This work was a first prize winner of the 1982-83 “New Works Project” competition sponsored by the New England Conservatory of Boston, Massachusetts.  The work was performed by the New England Conservatory Contemporary Ensemble with John Heiss as Musical Director.

Instrumentation: Bb Soprano Saxophone; 2 Eb Alto Saxophones; 2 Bb Tenor Saxophones; Eb Baritone Saxophone; Bb Bass Saxophone.

This work is published by Seesaw/Subito Music of Verona, New Jersey.

Performed during 1983 by the New England Conservatory Contemporary Ensemble in Massachusetts (3/3/83 in Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory; 3/4/83 in the Little Center, Clark University, Worchester; 3/6/83 in Benzanson Hall, University of Massachusetts at Amherst) with John Heiss as Music Director. 

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REVIEW/MUSIC–The Boston Globe, Saturday March 5, 1983

New works heard at NEC

THE NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY CONTEMPORARY ENSEMBLE — John Heiss, director, with guest conductor Eiji Oue, in a concert of music by Mark Saya, Peter Child, Edward Cohen, Harvey Stokes, and Edward J. Miller, presented Thursday evening at Jordan Hall, Boston.

By Richard Buell

Special to the Globe

Was this a bit of a taste of the creme de la creme of contemporaty music?  Here, in any case, were the five winners (out of some 196 entries) of the 1982-83 “New Works Project” administered by the New England Conservatory, funded in part by the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities.  The judges were composers John Harbison, Leon Kirchner, Joseph Schwantner, and Yehudi Wyner.

As a concert, this was the way to do it.  Not only were the performances by John Heiss’ Conservatory Contemporary first-rate — lucid, virtuosic; there was also a shrewd, composerly intelligence at work as to what work should be next to what other work on the program.  Everybody benefited.

Mark Saya’s “Lullabies” (1979), a setting of two poems by Stephen Knauth (“Mama Lamenting, 1958; Baby Picture, Circa 1932”), was audaciously tonal, warm in feeling and warm in its use of a soprano-string quartet combination, though it seemed impossibly gauche, at the start of the second song, to have the vowel “oo” (in “true”) sung near the very top of the soprano’s range — easy decipherability wasn’t one of the piece’s virtues.

The performance of “Ensemblance” (1982) said again what a resouceful, facinating composer Peter Child is.  The was a lot of timbral punning between the live instruments and computer-generated tape — a prismatic, seductive surface maybe a little like early Schoenberg — but also a mastery of phrase structure, of making the piece unfold or “go” as a real composition.

Edward Cohen’s “The Ruin” (1980) was elevated in feeling, atonal, finely wrought, embedding its text (an Anglo-Saxon “Ozymandias” -like rumination on a vanished civilization) in a kind of expressionist cadenza that alternated evocations of violence with passages of calm and pensiveness.  Marijane Zeller (soprano), Amir Shiff (violin), and Joel Wizansky (piano) made excellent advocates for this piece, the weightiest on the program.

“The divertimento part” was how John Heiss described the second half, and rightly so.  Harvey Stokes’ “Values and Proposals No. 6” (1981) elicited many striking sounds from a saxophone septet — sporano through bass — and was linear, spun-out in colorful threads (as against dialectic, beam- or block-like), and showed an attractive personality.  In “Playing the Odds” Edward J. Miller displayed an almost frightening awareness of up-to-date brass virtuosities, but the opposing tape element was nothing like — roars and blip-blips that Bally and Atari and company have turned into a cliche.  In its Midwestern way, however — forgive the condescension or don’t — it made for an effective parade piece.

A newsy concert.