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Steve Schwartz, August 2011

…I find in the first movement the greatest interest and focus, both of which decrease with each successive one. The concerto opens with a Hovhaness-like arabesque line. The second movement—labeled “Adagietto”—begins with the sound of the one in Mahler’s Fifth and the same general character. Jones interrupts the flow with slashing discords, and the rest of the movement tries to get back to equilibrium. It’s good drama, or would be if the discords were all that convincing. They just seem tacked on. The third movement flies all over the place, with the minimum cover of classical rondo. That is, Jones pretty much does what he wants and then returns to a refrain…the episodes contain the most interesting music in the concerto. I particularly liked the duos between the tuba and piccolo, which come off without sounding like a stunt, and the allusions to Wagner’s Ring (Crowder enjoyed listening to Wagner as he experimented in his home basement workshop). In all, the concerto gets my respect, although the more modestly-proportioned Vaughan Williams achieves more poetry. Nevertheless, tuba players…enjoy taking it up.

Schwarz and the Seattle do a fine job of championing both pieces. I have no idea what great tuba playing, since I encounter it so rarely, but Christopher Olka convinces me as soloist-hero.

Michael Barone
Minnesota Public Radio, May 2010

As beautiful a composition (and performance) for tuba as you are likely to find, truly astonishing in its lyric sweep and rich harmonic conturs, all gracefully accomplished by the musicians for whom the score was created. A minor masterpiece…hear this one!

Seattle Weekly, December 2009

Mercer Island residents Charles and Benita Staadecker made the laudable decision to celebrate 25 years of marriage by commissioning a new work as a gift to the community. The result, the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra that premiered Thursday, was the third in resident composer Samuel Jones’ series of concertos for brass instruments.

After the Tuba Concerto, written three years ago and just released on a Naxos CD, and last season’s Horn Concerto, it was the turn of the trombone. The orchestra’s principal trombonist, Ko-ichiro Yamamoto, was the soloist for, and, partnered by his colleagues under Gerard Schwarz’s alert direction, he gave a performance of sparkling virtuosity and impressive musicianship.

The concerto is a dramatic form, its plot traditionally concerned with the relationship between the individual and the many. Jones took that topic one step beyond the metaphorical. Responding to Charles Staadecker’s wish to have the work pay tribute to his alma mater, Cornell University, the composer cast the solo part in the role of the student—any student—as he enters academe, and devised a score that chronicles the developing interplay of student and college. Though the subtitle is “Vita Accademica,” Jones notes that the subject is not so much academic life as student life.

Academicism is sufficiently served by some highly skillful inverted counterpoint, and by beginning the third movement with a Bachian two-part invention. But the music also incorporates tunes that recreate the atmosphere of student songs, scoring that includes chimes to evoke the carillons popular at Cornell and other schools, and even a rowdy (and bibulous) football scene featuring a comical duet between the trombone and a sober expostulating tuba, adroitly played on Thursday by Christopher Olka.

Only time can reveal whether the new concerto is a piece for the ages, but it was certainly enormously enjoyable and the audience clearly loved it. The concert opened with a dashing performance of Rounds for string orchestra by Jones’s predecessor in residence, the late David Diamond, and ended with a concerto in a more abstractly classical vein, Brahms’s for violin. The brilliant and intrepid soloist was Vadim Repin, who rewarded the evening’s second standing ovation by masterminding an instant rehearsal and performance of Paganini’s technically breathtaking Carnival in Venice.

Michael Barone
National Public Radio, December 2009

Since I cut my teeth on Tubby the Tuba (the original version) and played sousaphone in high school, you can imagine my delight in finding that Samuel Jones (a distinguished faculty member at Rice University, more recently composer-in-residence for the Seattle Symphony) had created a heavy-hitting, world-class concerto for this neglected yet importantly resourceful and expressive instrument. And, heavens, can Chris Olka make it soar and sing. The Symphony No 3, subtitled Palo Duro Canyon, depicts one of nature’s wonders, an awesome surprise in the midst of a banal Texas landscape, considered sacred by Native Americans. Jones captures its visual, geological and spiritual drama in his almost cinematic score, and Gerard Schwarz conducts both scores with passion.

Paul Ingram
Fanfare, July 2009

The “Palo Duro Canyon” echoes with the sounds of Shostakovich 11, of Smetana and Sibelius, of Copland and Bernstein. After a promising start, your journey into the depths is accompanied by what can seem like the sequential score to a TV documentary. It would be nice to bump into Grofé somewhere on the trail, and then scuttle off in a less politically correct direction, perhaps with dancing girls and peyote. If you like this kind of thing, you know who you are. The Samuel Jones Third (an Amarillo Symphony commission from 1992) is immediately memorable, thanks to the thematic hooks. It is professionally scored, and it makes for wholly undemanding, enjoyable, orchestral background music.

The Symphony is in a single movement, about 24 minutes long. The Concerto (from 2006, in three movements) is about the same length, completing a CD of spectacular shortness. Surely the composer (b. 1935) deserved the full-measure treatment from Naxos. A chamber work would not have added too much to the tab. But the asking price is low, and performance and recording values are high.

Tuba concertos are uncommon, and this one celebrates the life of James Crowder, an expert on wind tunnels and airflow visualization. He was a Wagner fan, and there are Ring quotations in the last movement. The Concerto also spices up the hearty, romantic American orchestral soup, with a pinch of Prokofiev. The central Andante ends with a low note that might have pleased the Russian master. Chris Olka, the principal tuba with the Seattle Symphony (who commissioned the piece), relishes that note, and all the rest.

Naxos provides very full notes by Steven Lowe, but you don’t need them. On this evidence, Jones writes “what you hear is what you get” music. His elaborate descriptions of his own works are reproduced in the booklet, and, as with many composers, the verbal account does not match the experience of the pieces concerned. No guidebook is required, and I’d congratulate Jones for writing so directly. His music floats quite high on the sea of recent American neo-Romantic scores, enough to flood any canyon in the last 20 years already. My problem is, what does all this neo-tonal music say, beyond recalling its influences? The American academic serialists seemed to value tenure above content. The neo-Romantics make for easier listening, yet they rarely sound driven by communicative urgency or significance. Jones has a bit more to say than most of them, and he has a congenial way of saying it (if you like the film-score manner), but I do miss the great American ear-and-mind-stretching tradition.

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, July 2009

Samuel Jones (b. 1935) has significant accomplishments in several areas—he was founding dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in 1973, taught composition there until 1997, conducted the Rochester Philharmonic, and has been composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony since 1997. The works on this album indicate that he is a gifted composer whose music is a pleasure to hear.

Symphony 3 (1992) is subtitled Palo Duro Canyon and attempts to depict that breathtaking geological formation near Abilene, Texas. Commissioned and first performed by the Abilene Symphony, the one-movement, 24-minute work abounds in impressive sounds, gorgeous harmonies, and orchestration touches reminiscent of film scores by John Williams.

Although notes high in the tuba’s stratosphere will limit how often Jones’s new Tuba Concerto (2006) is played, it should become a repertory staple, for it is exciting, skillfully written, and beautifully scored. The superb reading is by Seattle Symphony tuba virtuoso Christopher Olka.

Zach Carstensen
The Gathering Note, June 2009

Not long after this album hit the shelves did the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz premiered another brass concerto by Jones. That premiere was Jones’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra. For this album, Naxos released Jones’s earlier Tuba Concerto. Jones is the composer in residence for the Seattle Symphony. His music isn’t necessarily trail blazing. His music is lyrical and tonal. He doesn’t dabble in microtones or found instruments, but he definitely understands the personality and tastes of the orchestra and its audience. This is made apparent in both of the works recorded for this release.

Christopher Olka is the soloist for Jones’s Tuba Concerto. The work is robust and imaginative. Each movement is imbued with its own distinct character, especially the third movement. Frenetic outbursts by the Tuba are designed to mimic being in a wind tunnel (the concerto is in memory of a wind tunnel engineer). As Jones’s says in the notes: “The tuba has amazing range, agility, and versatility, and in the hands of a master performer it can command the stage on an equal footing with any instrument. I wanted to write a piece that would exhibit all this to the fullest extent, and that would spotlight [Seattle Symphony Principal Tubist] Chris Olka’s great artistry at the same time as it made an apt memorial to Jim Crowder’s life and work.”

The other piece on the CD is Jones’s Symphony No 3, “Palo Duro Canyon.” The symphony resulted from a commission by the Amarillo Symphony. The orchestra wanted a piece based on Palo Duro Canyon. The symphony is in one continuous movement, divided into four sections. Jones set out to write multilayered music for “Palo Duro.” Broad sweeping music gives the impression of the canyon’s enormity and gradual creation by the forces of nature. These gestures buttress the work’s overriding sense of awe. There is also wild scherzo filled with brilliant orchestral coloring that paints a motley picture of what it must be like to gaze on the canyon at dusk or dawn when natural light is at its most mesmerizing. This is an album I look forward to revisiting.

Barton Cummings
ITEA Journal, June 2009

Born in 1935 Samuel Jones studied composition under Howard Hanson and received his Doctorate from Eastman. He established the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and served as the founding Dean for six years. He also served as conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic and since 1997 has been Composer in Residence with the Seattle Symphony

Written on a commission from the Seattle Symphony through a grant from Sandra Crowder in memory of her husband, world-renowned aeronautical engineer James P. Crowder, it was premiered in 2006 with tubist Christopher Olka and the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Gerard Schwarz.

The nearly 24-minute concerto is a brilliant tour de force in three movements, and soloist Christopher Olka is an absolute master artist and a phenomenon as a tuba player. He performs this concerto with such flair and panache that the tremendous technical and musical challenges are mere child’s play in his hands. He has a beautiful, rich, dark tone and has phenomenal technique, excellent intonation, and a range of unlimited extremes.

The Symphony No 3 features some brilliant tuba writing as well, and again Mr Olka plays beautifully as does the Seattle Symphony. Gerard Schwarz brings joy and enthusiasm to his conducting, and the orchestra responds expertly. One can only hope that this is just the first recording of Christopher Olka in a solo role and will bring about more and more. An absolute must have for everyone to own. Highest recommendation!

James Manheim, June 2009

The Seattle Symphony under conductor Gerard Schwarz has carved out a distinct and important niche among American orchestras, programming regionalist works that are neither sentimentally crowd-pleasing nor carrying the requirement of a master’s degree in music to understand. Among their discoveries is Samuel Jones, born in Mississippi and for many years associated with the Rice University music department. The Concerto for tuba and orchestra and Symphony No 3 recorded here take off from the strain of orchestral music that has come down from Copland and are certainly designed to showcase the skills of a large orchestra. Both are uncommonly effective, and the orchestra and tuba soloist Christopher Olka never lose focus in music that has considerable technical difficulties. The tuba concerto was written in 2005, when the composer was 71; Schwarz has praised it effusively, and it’s hard to argue with his evaluation. The work commemorates an aeronautical engineer at the Boeing corporation; its least successful movement may be the finale, which has a specific program dealing with wind tunnels that you’d be unlikely to even come close to by guessing. But the opening Andante con moto has a lovely deployment of the tuba, playing heavily ornamented low lines against more static structures in the strings. The Symphony No 3, “Palo Duro Canyon,” was commissioned by the Amarillo (Texas) Symphony in 1992. This work, too, is programmatic, evocative of the canyon named in the title and its history. Here the musical references are under laid with various abstract structures, creating powerful combinations. The work is in one long movement with four sections roughly corresponding to the divisions of traditional symphonic form, and everything revolves around a trio of tonal centers symbolizing the earth, human existence, and the creative spirit of the universe. The symphony is immediately accessible yet reveals more of its structure on repeated hearings. Recommended for anyone with an interest in American orchestral music.

James Tobin
Classical Net, May 2009

These are both neo-romantic works. Samuel Jones studied with Howard Hanson and it shows. In the concerto there are a couple of brief moments reminiscent of Mahler and Jones actually quotes Wagner. The symphony begins with the kind of rushing notes that Sibelius used so frequently. However, Jones certainly has his own voice, and both the concerto and the symphony show his inventiveness.

The 2006 concerto, which comes first on the disc, opens briefly with the soloist playing the kind of simple figure you might anticipate from his instrument but it immediately grows into an unexpectedly lyrical melody. In much of the concerto the tuba plays softly and as part of the ensemble, though as a prominent voice always. When a high trumpet plays over the low tuba what is most noticeable is the wide pitch range of a contrapuntal passage. Other instances of this are a hushed legato passage with the violins playing softly over a quiet tuba in the second movement and a high flute or perhaps piccolo over soft low notes in the third.

The scoring is for a substantial ensemble and the orchestra has plenty to say throughout. There are loud vigorous sections, with some tension, especially in the first movement, including some clanging percussion. The commentator, Steven Lowe hears the first movement as fiercer than I do. There surely are some strong contrasts, to be sure.

Jones likes dynamic contrast as well as extremes of pitch. The middle movement is both loud and soft. In the finale there are some notable rising and falling scale passages. An unusual effect in the finale is a wind tunnel sound, a tribute to James P Crowder, an aeronautical engineer and an amateur tuba player, in whose memory the work was commissioned and who worked with flow visualization of rapidly moving air on solid surfaces, as the notes relate.

The concerto’s pace is more slow than fast: Movement 1 is Andante con moto, Movement 2 Andante mosso—Adagietto, and the finale begins Largo before shifting to Allegro molto. The fast passages are notable for some very agile fluttering playing by Olka, who has a nice tone throughout. (A personal disclosure: the bass tuba was my own instrument long ago and I never dreamed that a tuba player would have a songful concerto like this to play.)

The Symphony is in a single movement, though with discernible sections. The symphony begins with a tape of actual blowing wind. The orchestra’s winds and strings swoop also. Some of the music sounds mysterious. Early on it takes a solemn, even exalted mood, with plenty of brass and percussion but not just at high volume. There is a bass tread that is fairly soft. As in the concerto there is a wide dynamic and pitch range; the bass is often prominent, sometimes with a high trumpet or horn over it. Jones uses a large orchestra in this work also, sometimes sparingly. At the end, which is beautiful, very gentle, bell-like—even liquid-sounding—percussion is heard.

The subtitle of this work relates to its commission by the Amarillo Symphony. The Palo Duro Canyon is a natural wonder in the flat Texas panhandle. The 1992 premiere was at an outdoor amphitheater and there was a public television broadcast featuring the work, but I did not see it. Concerning the work, Jones said that he wanted it to have many layers of sound and meaning, including an expression of the huge length of time that went into the formation of the canyon. He also was paying homage to Native Americans for whom the canyon was sacred.

There is some beautiful music here and all this music is well worth hearing.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, May 2009

Jones’s Tuba Concerto [is] a very strong piece, imbued with a warm lyricism, full orchestrations and some unusual twists and turns along the way. Commissioned in memory of her husband—aeronautical engineer and amateur tubist, James P Crowder—the piece is more celebration than memorial and even though there is a desolation about the end of the slow movement, the music is still full of questing, forward-looking, gestures. The finale seeks to emulate in music a wind tunnel—Crowder’s specialisation was in wind visualization, making it possible to see the motion of air as it flows over solid objects at high speed—where the engine starts up, gains momentum then, once at top speed, the tuba unleashes a moto perpetuo, intercut with more reflective passages…this is a worthy effort and much of the music is very enjoyable, and Jones is a composer whose work we cannot afford to miss, so I must not, and indeed cannot, be overly critical.

The Symphony is an altogether different prospect. Perhaps being removed from the constraints of writing for a virtuoso soloist and being allowed to let his imagination run free this work shows the better, and more interesting and imaginative, side of Jones the composer. In one continuous movement, in four sections, this is real symphonic music. Starting with the pre-recorded sound of blowing wind, the orchestra gradually enters in a kind of Sibelian forward rush of semiquavers before we’re into Jones’s own American language. This is very powerful stuff indeed, brilliantly constructed, superbly orchestrated, thrillingly compelling. Jones builds a big climax at the end of this most exciting and invigorating opening section—big music, exactly the kind of thing I would expect from a pupil of Howard Hanson, a composer who certainly knew how to build climaxes—which is followed by a pastoral slow movement, very American, very tuneful. A wild scherzo, again brilliantly orchestrated, comes next, taking the place of the sonata form development section; here we’re partly in the west but we’re equally at home in urban conurbations. Another big climax—Jones can really handle his material well—and the work ends in the most beautiful Ivesian transcendentalism.

Whilst the Concerto is a fine work it is the Symphony to which you will return for it has much more to give and is a more complete, and completed, work. The performances are excellent, Schwarz leading strong performances and the orchestra responding with fire and passion. The recording is one of Naxos’s best—the Benaroya Hall has the most stunning acoustic—giving a good concert hall perspective on the big orchestra. With good notes this is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in what is happening in contemporary composition, or just wants a truly satisfying listen to some strong, and enjoyable, contemporary music.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, May 2009

Samuel Jones was a pupil of Howard Hanson at the Eastman School. He has been composer-in-residence at Seattle since 1997…the creativity of this composer is expressed through an accessible tonal idiom. His language is only slightly inflected with the conventions of lyrical Americana. Equally there’s no obvious jazz insurgency.

The Tuba Concerto is not one of those melodically vapid display concertante pieces. Jones puts Olka through his instrumental paces at every level. Of sharply etched inventive substance, it just happens to be a Tuba Concerto. It moves from Herrmann-style aggression to the sleekly singing Andante into adagietto with its deeply satisfying concluding ‘purr’. Jones can sometimes sound like a mix of Malcolm Arnold and Vaughan Williams, the latter of whom also wrote a strong concerto for the instrument although without the grave mien of the Jones. The Concerto was written in memory of wind tunnel engineer James P Crowder—also an amateur tuba player—and was commissioned by his widow.

The single movement Third Symphony is based on the impressions of the Palo Duro Canyon, twenty miles south of Amarillo, Texas. It was premiered by the Amarillo Symphony. It operates at various levels including catching something of the epic scale of the Canyon and its native Indian heritage. At 11.10 we encounter a great singing theme. A rippling melodic lilt is followed by discreet woodwind sent spinning among the orchestra with its evocation of stern statuesque pillars. The work rises to epic Hansonian statements with Sibelian cross-currents as in the string shimmer at 21:01. One can feel climaxes built and evoked rather than unleashed explicitly. This has a familiar yet fresh manner which is in part redolent of the Hanson Sixth Symphony—19:02 onwards. The symphony ends in a discreetly gentle bell carillon veering down into silence.

The recording is full of directional stimulation, good signal spread and ear-tingling detail.

I won’t be avoiding further contact with Samuel Jones’ music—quite the contrary.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

Samuel Jones belongs to that group of American composers writing in a style that is purely tonal and immediately communicates with his audience. A composition pupil of Howard Hanson, they shared a desire to create attractive melodic invention, though you feel some of his inspiration has come from British music, Malcolm Arnold springing to mind in the three movements of the Tuba Concerto. A powerful opening movement leading to a central Andante that explores the creamy texture of the instrument, the work was commissioned in memory of James Crowder, an amateur tuba player, but known to the world for the advances he made in aviation’s understanding of the flow of air over aeroplane wings. That achievement is reflected most graphically in the final movement. The score also incorporates Crowder’s love of Wagner with a quasi-quote from the opera Siegfried, so subtle that it could well pass you by. Throughout it is a testing but obviously rewarding score for the soloist, with a showcase of virtuosity in the opening movement’s cadenza. The Third Symphony carries the title, ‘Palo Duro Canyon’, and is a pictorial description of one of America’s natural wonders some twenty miles south of Amarillo in an otherwise flat and arid part of Texas. It is in one continuous movement of three equal parts, but is equally in several distinct sections, massive orchestral outbursts before the work drifts away into silence. Excellently scored, the Seattle Symphony, with their conductor, Gerard Schwarz, take a colourful journey through the symphony and provide the outstanding tuba soloist, Christopher Olka, with a pungent backdrop. This is another invaluable Seattle addition to our knowledge of American music.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group