A different kind of concerto style was heard from Jonathan Russell’s Concerto for Bass Clarinet, performed by the orchestra in a world premiere….Mr. Russell emphasized all the bass clarinet’s unique musical effects, including the instrument’s “altissimo” passages and the use of “throat harmonics”… The concerto proved to be an appealing work to hear, often with a melancholy reminiscence of Samuel Barber’s orchestral works. Mr. Russell moved easily through all the registers of the instrument, incorporating funk and jazz styles in long melodic lines….With an extended cadenza that was more of a meditation than a standard 19th-century cadenza, this work succeeded in introducing the audience to the full capabilities of a unique instrument.
The “meat and potatoes and gravy of the concert” came next, as introduced by Diaz: Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, arranged for wind quintet by Jonathan Russell. This twenty-minute reduction was true to the original orchestration, with masterfully performed renditions of the iconic solo bassoon, clarinet, and oboe lines in the opening movement. So much sound came out of these five players that it was at times hard to believe that they were not a full orchestra!
The Imani players poured all that virtuosity into a reed-crunching, physical account of [Jonathan Russell’s arrangement of] Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” What might have been a novelty – five winds imitating an orchestra of over 100 players – radiated authenticity in the Imani account. It was dance music, and ritual music – and it never lost momentum for a second.
Another highlight of the afternoon was Imani’s masterful shredding of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Jonathan Russell’s 2010 arrangement for wind quintet….It was like hearing the Rite again for the first time and left us craving to witness a contemporary dance performance to this arrangement.
Imani Winds…impressed the sox off a good-sized audience with their ear-boggling performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in an arrangement by Jonathan Russell….Very little of the essence of the piece went missing.
The time had come to hear Jonathan Russell’s arrangement for the Imani Winds of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring….This is a masterful arrangement and an astounding performance. For those of us familiar with this work, we’d wait for sections that we simply could not imagine being played by just five wind players and sounding satisfying. In each instance, the clarity was revelatory and the rhythmic and harmonic completeness was a musical miracle. A mid-concert standing ovation ensued.
[The Radius Ensemble] opened with an arrangement (2010) by clarinetist and composer Jonathan Russell of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps…for wind quintet….The result was amazing. The driving rhythms (helped by the outstanding performance of Gregory Newton on bassoon), the primal harmonies, and the sometimes brutal sound, were all there….The sound was not as loud as I heard it in the Berlin Staatsoper, but the piece and the performance were grippingly gutsy and seemed, if anything, way too short.
A previously announced quintet by Harbison was replaced by Jonathan Russell’s arrangement of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” The announcement brought both gasps and chuckles from the audience. It turned out to be a real treat to watch and hear up close some of the best moments of the famous score, namely the innovative woodwind writing. It was also arresting to hear the familiar passages for churning strings showing up in other instrumental timbers.
The arrangement [of The Rite of Spring] was by Jon Russell….Even at 20 minutes, it pared down Stravinsky’s 35-minute score substantially, but it was ingenious, implying much of Stravinsky’s orchestral palette in just five parts — Mariam Adam’s clarinet was a fine stand-in for trumpet, for example, and you could just about hear the timpani. Russell also somehow implied the harmonic density of the original with fewer voices than you’d think possible.
…the high point was the interesting arrangement of the Rite of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky, that required a lot of the group. True, the adaptation done by Jonathan Russell is more highlights than an actual transcription, but the end result is magnificent.
The recital concluded with the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk (Jeff Anderle and Jonathan Russell) performing Ryan Brown’s Knee Gas (On) and Russell’s own arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565. Not only did the duo play with impeccable attention to intonation in both pieces, but they also were able to transform their timbre to sound like a real organ during the Bach arrangement.
Jonathan Russell’s Twelve Bean Groove Machine was a toe-tapping minimalistic affair where popping riffs mingled into a polyrhythmic collage…
The Debussy [Premiere Rhapsodie] impressively well-melded the soloist and the orchestra. This performance gave increasing energy, leading to a smashingly tangy conclusion from a lurking opening. Russell is a real virtuoso with true command over his instrument’s range of expression….
The program continued with the Sqwonk Bass Clarinet Duo presenting a world premiere of the wind ensemble arrangement of Sqwonk member Jonathan Russell’s Bass Clarinet Double Concerto. It is a testament to Russell’s writing and the assertive playing of the duo that this work was the most successful on the program.
Also worth mentioning is Jonathan Russell…who wrote a piece called Twelve Bean Groove Machine for twelve players. It was excellent fun, with great sounds and textures popping out….a special shout-out is in order to both Russell for writing, and Michael Williams for playing an incredibly virtuosic, rocking, and musical flute solo in the middle of the piece.
Garrett and Moulton work well together; they also choose excellent collaborators. Foremost among them was a group of eight top-flight musicians who, under the guidance of Jonathan Russell, played one of the most deliciously appropriate dance scores that has been heard in these parts in a long time….
Jonathan Russellʼs Sonata for Bass Clarinet and Piano was a jazzy crowd pleaser. In three continuous sections, it began with an ostinato bass in the piano supporting whimsical clarinet riffs that gleamed with wit in Mr. Anderleʼs reading, so spontaneous that it could almost have been taken for improvisation. The center section of the Sonata was a tender ballad that made extensive use of the instrumentʼs saxophone-like upper range. The finale was lively, with a slap note-happy clarinet often accompanying the piano.
The gentle introspection of Jonathan Russell’s …in the fir trees: fireflies, with its slow and quiet rising lines, offered a wonderful contrast to the rhythmic intensity and harmonic crunchiness of David Biedenbender’s Surface Tension.
…the [Living Earth Show] duo then performed the world premiere of Jonathan Russell’s “Repetitive Stress.” After a crack about how the piece was repetitive and stressful for the performers (and the audience too…) the duo launched into what my neighbor called “guy music,” a fantastically distorted perpetual motion of awesome.
Jonathan Russell’s Repetitive Stress and Damon Waitkus’ North Pacific Garbage Patch were more-raucous affairs. Russell’s work called for [guitarist Travis] Andrews to exhibit a highly contemporary form of virtuosity: skillful use of sampling software to create minimalistic loops that served as background for [percussionist Andrew] Meyerson’s energetically performed and rock-influenced percussion part….Both pieces gave the audience a wild and most enjoyable ride.
Jonathan Russell’s String Quartet…uses that traditional ensemble for music influenced by the rhythms and harmonies of modern progressive rock. The piece had elements of minimalism, but not the mercilessly repetitive kind. Alongside the idiomatic minimalist gestures, things such as dramatic twists and turns, intricate phased rhythms, and a poignant cello solo to fade out at the end kept the piece engaging and unique.