Interestingly, the work that tried to please the least was the most compelling. Hayes Biggs’ piece Ave Formosissima harkens back to the dance-mad, melismatic and slightly raucous music of the Middle Ages. But the score, with its zig-zagging lines and pungent dissonances, is genuinely contemporary.”

—New York Times

A Consuming Fire, a short, zesty trio by Hayes Biggs, led off the evening. The piece is framed by some engagingly angular rhythmic writing, with a lyrical nougat at the center.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

[The] most convincing and coherent performance [was] Hayes Biggs’ homage to his composer/pianist colleague Eric Moe, E.M. am Flügel, a short piece with romantic gestures and echoes of Berg and Stravinsky.”

—Aufbau

The Mass for All Saints would be an exciting challenge for those choirs skilled in precise intonation and rhythmic agility. Biggs writes with knowledge of and respect for the expressive capabilities of the human voice.”

—Choral Journal

Hayes Biggs’s wedding motet Tota Pulchra Es, here being sung for the first time, impressed by its quiet solemnity and neat working of its expressive opening motif: not empty fanfares but a reminder of the seriousness and privacy of love.”

—New York Times

Mass for All Saints by composer Hayes Biggs releases shadows transformed into tendrils of light by the arabesque of the vocal line. Contrapuntal procedures are used to their utmost expressive effect. [It] is a work of a melodist of talent in the manner of Puccini, or better yet, Respighi.”

—La Liberté

The Biggs song, Northeast Reservation Lines, is a real party piece... the sneakiness of the changes, the liveliness of the music and the verve of the performance worked handily... a potential recital hit in the vein of Bernstein’s I Hate Music cycle.”

—The Village Voice

All the works tried a return to tonality typical of the decade; the most successful made the return oblique and ambiguous. Hayes Biggs’ O Sacrum Convivium took off from the motet of Tallis, yet it handsomely reconfigured early modes in a modernistic scheme of free tonality.”

—New York Times

Hayes Biggs’ To Becalme His Fever... is a vivid evocation of anxiety, fits and repose. The language embraces pointillistic colors, romantic lines and prickly episodes when the demons hover. Biggs claims a forceful and subtle dramatic hand, along with a keen command of instrumental resources.”

—The Plain Dealer

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02
Dec

My latest: Through to (and Out of) the Other Side (2018), for eleven saxophones

A few weeks ago, a marvelous ensemble, The Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra, under the direction of their founder Andrew Steinberg, gave the premiere performances of this new piece. Andrew is featured on my recently released album on Navona Records (nv6191), When you are reminded by the instruments, where he performs my solo tenor saxophone piece The Trill Is Gone. The denizens of this Megalopolis did a terrific job, despite some challengingly live acoustics in both of the venues (ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn, and First Church Cambridge, Cambridge, MA). The video presented here is of the Cambridge performance.

Through to (and Out of) the Other Side was great fun to write, and it is dedicated to the memory of a mentor of mine from my high school days, N. Stanley Balch (1938-2018), who died this past February. As a teenager I spent a great deal of time hanging out in the band room at Central High School in Helena-West Helena, AR, where Mr. Balch served as the Band Director for nearly 37 years. He taught me some of the first lessons I learned about music for large ensembles, orchestration, and writing for woodwind and brass instruments, exposed me to a lot of modern music — in the realms of classical concert band and wind ensemble music as well as jazz —, and gave me a great deal of encouragement.

Through to (and Out of) the Other Side is in a single movement comprising several sections. The first is fast, syncopated and edgy, gradually morphing into a gigue-like rhythm. After a series of episodes this section gradually circles back to the material of the opening, with siren-like wailing in the altissimo registers of the soprano and top two alto parts. A transition ensues, with some rock and jazz elements and a hint of bluesiness, interrupted from time to time by soft four-part harmonies marked “senza vibrato, ethereal, disembodied.” A very brief accelerando outburst yields to the heart of the work, a slow movement that is by turns lyrical and austere, with fairly large pauses interspersed, suggesting vast spaces. The opening sonority of this section is a simple simultaneous interval of a minor third (C to E-flat), which also happens to be the initiating sound of a haunting late work of Mozart, his Masonic Funeral Music. Not sure how this found its way in — it isn’t part of an exact quotation from Mozart’s piece — but somehow it did. After the climax of this section, a stark two part chorale for the entire ensemble asserts itself before the serious mood is swept away by the final section in waltz tempo. Besides the Mozart reference, another piece — coincidentally also in the key of C minor — wormed its way into my thinking at the end of this work: the Waltz No. 2 from Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Orchestra, familiar to anyone who has seen Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, where it is heard in the opening scene. Again, there is no direct quotation, and this reference, such as it is, is even less obvious than is the case with the Mozart. The overall trajectory of my piece seems to travel from a more upbeat, if rambunctious opening, through a much more introspective passage, ultimately returning to a mood similar to the opening, but with more of a satirical cast.

I hope you will enjoy hearing the piece!

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