About this Recording
8.559626 - LENTINI, J.: Chamber Music - Orchestra Hall Suite / El Signo del Angel / 5 Pieces (Ganson, Applegate, VanValkenburg, Chanteaux, J. Davis)

James Lentini (b. 1958)
Chamber Music


James Lentini was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where his earliest musical experiences included singing as a boy chorister in elementary school and taking up the guitar at age the age of eight. Heavily influenced by the Beatles and other rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s, he developed virtuoso rock guitar skills while playing and recording in Detroit bands from the age of fifteen into his twenties. Lentini developed an interest in the classical guitar and entered Wayne State University in Detroit as a classical guitar and composition major, studying guitar with the legendary Joe Fava and composition with James Hartway. He went on to study composition with Jere Hutcheson, Robert Linn, and Morten Lauridsen, earning a M.M. in composition at Michigan State University and a D.M.A. at the University of Southern California. Extending his interest in writing music for chamber ensembles and orchestra, Lentini developed a style that is noted for its imaginative structure and substance and for deft handling of instruments through creative orchestration. His compositions have been described as “some of the most alluring contemporary music you’re apt to find” by veteran music critic John Guinn and the publication 21st-Century Music has called his music “strikingly original.”

Lentini’s works have been performed by distinguished solo artists such as guitarist William Kanengiser and recorded by ensembles that include the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinu° Philharmonic Orchestra, and the St. Clair Trio. Members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra regularly perform his works, and commissions include those for the Hanson Institute for American Music, Plymouth Symphony, and the Rawlins Piano Trio. Lentini is a recipent of the Segovia International Composition Prize, the Atwater-Kent Composition Award, the McHugh Composition Prize, a grant from “Meet the Composer” and several awards from ASCAP. He has participated as a juror in the Segovia International Guitar Competition in La Herradura, Spain, and was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome. In 2007, he accepted an appointment as Dean and Professor of Music of the School of Fine Arts at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Composer’s Notes

Orchestra Hall Suite for bassoon, violin, viola, and violoncello was commissioned by the late Detroit arts patron James Persons, who asked for a work to be written to honor the venerable home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the man who had much to do with saving the historic building from destruction, Mr Paul Ganson, who joined the DSO as a bassoonist in 1969 and remained until his retirement 35 years later. The piece is written as a historical triptych that marks four important eras of Orchestra Hall. The first movement is entitled Opening Night and paraphrases the introduction from Weber’s Oberon Overture, which was the first work performed at the inaugural concert in Orchestra Hall by the Detroit Symphony on 23 October 1919. The second movement, Paradise Theater, refers to the name given to the hall after the DSO had moved to a larger performing space (Masonic Auditorium) in 1939. The Paradise Theater housed great jazz performances in the 1940s by artists such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Lionel Hampton, among others. Homecoming (movement three) uses a theme from the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, which was performed in a series of concerts celebrating the official return of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to the refurbished hall in September, 1989, and the final movement, New Millennium, celebrates the continuing association of the Detroit Symphony and Orchestra Hall, which is now a part of the Max M. Fisher Music Center that opened in 2003.

El Signo del Angel (The Sign of the Angel) for harp and viola was commissioned by a new music festival in the city of Tres Cantos, Spain, a suburb of Madrid. The title was inspired by the memory of an event from my past, where I recall an unexpected impulse while driving that had me turn abruptly for no apparent reason at an intersection I would normally drive straight through on a daily basis. As it turned out, the quick turn resulted in a narrow miss of an oncoming emergency vehicle that sped through a red light. Had I not turned, I would have been in a tremendous collision. Whether a coincidence or oddity, the event served as a source of wonderment as to the existence of the guardian angel I had heard about during my parochial school upbringing. The harp and viola trade thematic ideas throughout the work, presenting lyrical and reflective moments and sweeping idiomatic passages for both instruments.

Composed while I was living in Los Angeles, Five Pieces for Cello and Piano presents alternating movements of energetic momentum, atmospheric soundscapes, and expressive lyricism. The first movement, Dialogue, consists of statements that alternate between the cello and piano. The second and third movements, Fantasy and Nocturne, are somewhat free in character, and the fourth movement called Song is based on an extended melodic passage for the cello with a flowing piano accompaniment. The last movement, entitled Coda, includes a cadenza for the cello comprised of musical ideas from all five movements.

East Coast Groove for tuba and piano was composed during my years living in New Jersey in response to a commission by the Nuovi Spazi Musicali music festival in Rome, Italy. Written for tubist Velvet Brown, this one-movement work explores the use of the tuba as a virtuosic instrument. The title refers to the rhythmic and melodic “grooves” that are played in various sections by the tuba and piano, including a jazz-like cadenza section for the tuba that appears in the middle of the piece.

Scenes from Sedona for viola and violoncello presents a musical landscape of selected monuments found in Sedona, Arizona. The first movement, Boynton Canyon Hoodoo, presents a musical picture of a hoodoo (a spiral stone pillar) that stands in Boynton Canyon. The musical motives include a consistent “spiral-like” idea and a slower moving melodic line that both work their way into the upper range of the instruments, as if moving in a spiral up to the peak. Cathedral Rock is based on the visual image of Sedona’s famous landmark. The idea that this monument emerged from a land mass prompted a quotation from Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral). The third movement, Coffee Pot, is inspired by another famous landmark in the Sedona region, named Coffee Pot Rock. Devil’s Bridge (movement four) is based primarily on the “devil’s interval” (a tritone), and also features effects such as striking the strings with the wood of the bow (col legno battuto), pizzicato, and glissando. The final movement, Bell Rock, uses the viola and cello to depict the ringing of bells. Scenes from Sedona was commissioned by duo Celliola (Tom Flaherty, cello, and Cynthia Fogg, viola) and the work is dedicated to them.

Montage for piano trio highlights ensemble interplay, while providing virtuosic solo passages for each of the instruments. The first movement (Moderato con forza) begins with an aggressive introduction from which most of the musical materials that follow are derived. The second movement (Larghetto espressivo) is lyrical in nature, offering many solo passages beginning with the violin followed by the cello and piano. The final movement (Allegro con fuoco) utilizes two main themes (one accented and intense, the other melodic), which recur in varied forms that are expanded and developed for the duration of the piece. The title is a reference to the rapid shifts in character and motivic exchanges that exemplify the compositional process employed in this piece, much like the technique used in film where several pictures or images are flashed quickly on the screen. These brief musical ideas serve as a basis for development and structure, and in essence determine the overall form of each movement. This work was commissioned by the late James Persons of Detroit.

James Lentini

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