Duo Nuova - Visions
Duo Nuova was an important part of my professional history. Tim McAllister and I first formed our team after a few recital collaborations in the early '90s. Visions, in fact, began as merely a 'demo' recording of some pieces we had performaned on an early recital program. It was intended as Tim's personal demo recording to be used for his application to graduate schools, competitions, etc., which explains why it was recorded in two different studios (and why I left in that damned-irritating wrong note at the beginning of the piano interlude in Distances Within Me. Had I known at that point that the recording was going public, I would certainly have insisted on a second take!). Well, it was well through the recording process that we began thinking of a commercial release. The only thing that held up production were digital glitches found all over the first version we did of the Ravel. It was actually a more colorful and sexy performance, but the damage was so extensive to the recording that we just decided it was easier and cheaper to spend 10 minutes in the studio and re-record the little bastard.
It was once we decided upon releasing Tim's demo as a CD that we decided to make the partnership more 'permanent', and the need for a name for our duo to place on the CD. Tim and I had a LONG brainstorming session one afternoon (long enough to turn into a late evening), that centered around a case of Heineken, a large pizza (no mushrooms!) from Domino's and resulted in a bunch of 'brilliant' ideas for our 'band name' which included DuoDenum, Duo Dicks and (my personal favorite) Duo...dedo...dedodedodedo. "Duo Nuova" was obviously what emerged from that ridiculous evening, and it is a name that has caused a number of rather smug reactions. Over the years we were active, we found ourselves repeatedly correcting press and well-meaning presenters who were always trying to 'correct' what they viewed as our glaring oversight - either changing the name to Duo Nova or Duo Nuovo. I believe it was during an open conversation with students at SUNY-Stonybrook that I finally explained that the perceived mistake in agreement (Nuova instead of Nuovo) was not linguistic ignorance but rather the Nuova was actually a direct reference to William Albright's "la folia nuova" from his Sonata for Saxophone and Piano - a work that was tremendously important to us, as those who followed our activities were very well aware.
Bill Albright came to mean something to us through his continued interest in our activities and our performances of his music. At the time of his passing, he was very anxious to see us record his work Pit Band, which we had performed on a handful of occasions (including one new music concerts at Ann Arbor's Rackham Auditorium which began at 8pm while Tim and I were still at the mall looking at glow-in-the dark Savannah posters at Spencer's, after having just come from Happy Hour at Chi-Chi's. Somehow his timing was impeccable and we arrived just in time to take the stage, in not-so-different a state of mind as Bill himself and, as Albright himself said: "played the 'p' out of that piece." Which reminds me...Bill was always trying to find a witticism on my name that, perhaps, had not already been beaten to death. Believe me, that's not easy to do! Hard to imagine that anyone thinks I haven't heard "Touch of Class" or "Class plays the Classics" or any such moronicitude a thousand-and-one times. (I usually say "I put the Ass in Class!!!") Bill Albright was usually a bit more creative than most (Thanks Wild Turkey!!!), but the most memorable was one backstage encounter with the two Bills (Albright and Bolcom) trying to outdo each other. Of course, when conversations about my name start, I usually drift off to thoughts about Howler Monkeys in Hula Skirts, or what a bad idea candle wax on a blow-up doll might be (and it IS!). The only part I remember is Albright suggesting that, like Basie or Ellington, I should adopt a 'royal' mantel and call myself "Furst Class." I actually laughed at that one and thought "OK, at least that's amusing"...but after about three seconds I changed my mind to "nope, that sucks too."
I received word of Bill's death while having breakfast one morning in Brussels - a fax that told me he had passed away the day before. Tim and I spoke and decided then on to dedicate our series of recital to him, appropriate since all our subsequent programs featured his Sonata.
Duo Nuova Profile
We performed a countless number of concerts around the U.S., mostly at universities, over what could almost be categorized as a multi-year tour. Featuring the works that far more represented what we were about as a duo than the Visions recording might intimate. In fact, I think we came to resent that recording a little bit as it really wasn't the type of programming we were known for, nor represented the tightness of ensemble with which we came to be identified. Our intention had always been to follow up that CD with a 'real' Duo Nuova album that was to include all the anchor works of our touring program. That recording would have consisted of our readings of the sonatas of Denisov, Hindemith, Albright and Greg Wanamaker (a work written for the recording but which, unfortunately, we never performed together). We deliberately waited to record the works because, in my opinion, in the saxophone world there tends to be a consistent rush to record works that are not 'well-seasoned' in artists' repertoires. Tim and I seasoned the hell out of these pieces and I am convinced the eventual recording would have been formidable. Anyway, in December 1999, the final performance of our fall tour was to take place at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York. The occasion was to premiere Gunther Schuller's Sonata for Saxophone and Piano, taken up as part of a commission consortium. We had had a standing invitation to perform there, and the Schuller project particularly interested the presenters. So, we agreed to do the "high profile" premiere by including it on our NYC program. To be honest, we were both quite pissed-off once we received the score. It is an abysmal work, disconnected and insignificant in ever conceivable way. Obviously a complete blow-off of a work from a composer who simply chose not to take the commission or the musical value of the classical saxophone/piano combination very seriously. We had committed to programming the work in New York and reluctantly replaced the powerful Hindemith Sonata with this chirpy cream-puff of a work. It justly received a luke-warm reception and has since died into complete obscurity in the saxophone literature. We served our purpose, and got a little publicity for playing the work "at Carnegie Hall", but it did irritate us more than a little bit that we had to include it in what was, otherwise, a very powerful and industrial-strength program. As it turned out, the Carnegie Hall recital was the last full recital Duo Nuova performed together.
The Duo Nuova Profile was produced by North Country Public Radio and aired on NPR on December 4, 1999. It was a short spot that discussed simply (albeit inaccurately on the part of Gunther Schuller) the process of the commission and premiere. Whenever, I hear myself on this audio, I always ask myself why I didn't breath before speaking. It sounds like I'm trying to get through a really long sentence on some sort of a dare! Oh well, it's a small bit of recorded Duo Nuova history that I think is worth sharing. The recording of the Schuller Sonata was recorded at the same time. We recorded the profile at SUNY-Potsdam one afternoon when Joel Hurd came to record part of our rehearsal. No performances or broadcasts of the Schuller were allowed prior to the New York recital, but we ran through the piece one time while the mics were open and tape was rolling. We already knew at that point we were never going to do another recording of that piece-'o-crap, so that one run-through was going to be it as far as the Duo's preservation of the work was concerned.
The Profile is presented here with permission from North Country Public Radio.