Sound-splendor was with the Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra in its Boston debut at First Church of Boston as Andrew R. Steinberg conducted eleven saxophones in the new, the not-so-new, and a Grieg gem, which they transformed into something simply divine. Brevity was fully welcome, especially for a Saturday afternoon. Was brevity also in order where only saxophones played?
Surround sound came from First Church of Boston’s balcony in the opener. The spatial feature of this architecture only further heightened the exceptional musicianship of these young saxophonists who formed an orchestra of two sopranos, four altos, two tenors, two baritones, and a bass.
Void in the Mirror of the Snow recognized the saxes’ unique delicacies, their blend, as well as certain unusual extended techniques. In Nima Janmohammadi’s nine-minutes, both physical and temporal space provided an attractive canvas for crystal clear saxophonings. Cultured clustering counterpoised single carefully pitched and non-pitched sounds as in percussion. Standing at the raised pastor’s platform facing the audience, Steinberg capably conducted the 2018 commission conceived with First Church’s acoustical spaces in mind.
Steinberg reminded us that one of Edvard Grieg’s best-known works was first a piano piece and only later a string orchestra piece. Transcribing Holberg’s Time: Suite in Olden Style for saxophone orchestra constituted something of a miracle. So refreshing it was, better yet, revitalizing, this performance soared among the very best of renditions of Grieg’s wondrous little suite. Their full engagement in music-making at very high levels was as much in evidence to the eye as to the ear. This was the first known performance in Boston of John C. Worley’s arrangement, edited by John McCoy.
Dating from 1981, Three Pieces for Eleven Saxophones often eluded me. The German-born Swedish composer Werner Wolf Glaser’s serious ruminations would at times find grounding and at other times leave me hanging. Yet, because of the MSO’s complete focus, if not obvious devotion to Glaser’s dark-hewn pieces, listening never ever became a chore.
Gleb Kanasevich chose the non-traditional route for Impedance (2018), asking players to become wind, insects, or birds, in the end a kind of nature environment. These musicians took to it like ducks to water.
Extraordinarily tuned and synced to tone as much as to poetry, and with Steinberg’s astute and refined leadership, Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra became one glorious instrument.