Reviews and quotes

CD review - Music by Russell Peterson:
Concerto for Alto Saxophone
Concerto for Timpani
Fargo-Moorhead Symphony with soloists
Russell Peterson and David Eyler

"If you fancy the timpani or the alto saxophone as a solo instrument, these two works by the young American Russell Peterson (b1969) will bring you much delight. In both, the saxophone plays the role of a dreamy, occasionally wild and sexy, instigator. In both, the timpani is ready when all hell breaks loose.

Peterson's Timpani Concerto is more, however, than just a lot of banging on a can. And the Saxophone Concerto is more than mere caterwauling. Peterson maintains a high level of interest with expert instrumental writing in an eclectic tonal idiom whose influences include film music, Ravel (not surprisingly, Boléro), Shostakovich, Armenian folk melodies, African drumming techniques and even an academic bar or two.

And yet, the overwhelming impression both concertos leave is the sound and texture of the two solo instruments. With David Eyler making every stroke of his instrument a marvel of precision, power and, occasionally unexpected lyricism, and Peterson playing with great abandon and dazzling virtuosity, the music has a seductive allure and visceral excitement that is more than the sum of its purely musical parts.

The effect is heightened by the passionate and occasionally brilliant playing of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, which has a distinguished history of more than 70 years' service to music-lovers in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

The composer's engaging, informative liner notes provide an excellent road map to the listener's understanding and enjoyment. Add the full-range, colourful recording and there is no reason to hesitate if you are open to the considerable pleasure conservative American music can generate."

---Laurence Vittes, reviewer; GRAMOPHONE Magazine, May 2003


CD review -
American Breath - Music for Saxophone

"While many high-profile composers self-consciously use non-classical influences to talk a good accessibility game, the three composers on this new release starring the excellent saxophonist Russell Peterson speak directly to a wide audience by organically incorporating conservative jazz idioms without compromising their works' integrity as substantial, through-composed music.
The 30-minute Sonata of David Maslanka (b1943) opens with a haunting mood that leads to a series of occasionally violent outbursts before subsiding into a deconstruction of the initial theme. The slow movement follows a similar pattern, beginning with an exceptionally beautiful opening. The finale starts furiously, building to a richly complex aria at a slower tempo before expending its energy in a series of intriguing, semaphoric episodes.
Mahler in Blue Light is a 23-minute tribute to the eponymous composer by Larry Thomas (b1952); it's in the form of a passacaglia based on 27 bars from Das Lied von der Erde (which appear briefly in the third movement) and betrays none of its academic roots (Bell teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music). Instead, it flows along with a lovely, lyrical swing, enhanced by gorgeous playing from cellist Tremaine, that reflects the composer's description of the music as a portrait of Mahler "seen through the saxophone's blue light," its initially neutral stylistic context moving serenely towards faint echoes of German romanticism.
Peterson's own 16-minute Concerto, featuring Spanish rhythms and a lovely second-movement duet with vibraphone, is an effective vehicle for his striking command of color and dynamics. Schneider is a full-blooded partner in the chamber music, and the Tri-College Percussion Ensemble is outstanding in the Concerto. The highly-charged sound is riveting, while the liner notes by the three composers are invaluable."

---Laurence Vittes, reviewer; GRAMOPHONE Magazine, February 2003

CD review -
American Breath - Music for Saxophone

"Saxophonist and composer Russell Peterson teaches at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and plays in the Transcontinental Saxophone Quartet, whose recording I greatly enjoyed (July/Aug 2001:249). I was introduced to this flamboyant performer at a recent concert, and this recording confirms that he is a first-rate saxophonist with a huge dynamic range, dramatic flair, and heartfelt expressiveness.

The centerpiece of the program is the first selection, David Maslanka's haunting, 30-minute Alto Saxophone Sonata. In both I and II, emotions are poured through standard tonal resources and ever-changing textures. With moods ranging from melancholy to anguished, the movements remind me of what Maslanka wrote about his saxophone quartet "Mountain Roads," that awareness of death's inevitability "Makes experience of all things both deeply sweet and deeply sad." Peterson does creative things with long notes, subtly changing from vibrato to straight tone when the piano has something of harmonic interest. A furious III, where the harmonic language is free, has Peterson fairly screaming and the pianist pounding away.

When listening to contemporary saxophone music, I dread the altissimo register, where loud, extremely high notes have shrill tone and unpredictable intonation. Peterson has as much control there as anyone I've heard, but in a climactic moment in I of the Maslanka, it's distorted and excruciating. To their credit, he and Larry Thomas Bell use altissimo sparingly, but the very first note of Bell's 1996 "Mahler In Blue Light" had me lunging for the volume control. Based on a passage from "Der Abschied" in Das Lied von der Erde, the set of variations is scored for alto saxophone, cello, and piano. If saxophone and cello sounds like an odd mix, it works well, probably because each has some grit in its tone. Balance is sometimes an issue, though, as cellist Diane Tremaine tends to disappear when either the saxophonist or pianist Douglas Schneider plays intensely.

Russell Peterson's two saxophone concertos--one I heard recently with orchestra and now this one with percussion ensemble--suggest that he is fond of ethnic flavors, virtuoso displays, and simple harmonic structures. Both works make use of a dramatic sound effect created by a key slap followed by a high-pitched, falling wail. The best thing about this piece is the rich sound of multiple marimbas, ably supplied by the Tri-College Percussion Ensemble (students of Concordia College, Minnesota State University Moorhead, and North Dakota State University in Fargo)."

---Barry Kilpatrick, reviewer; AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April 2003

CD review -
American Breath - Music for Saxophone

"The classical saxophone has always been an explorer with the spirit of the dedicated pioneers in history. Occasionally they get the recognition they deserve, but much of the time they don't, yet they keep forging ahead. Driven by inner goals and passions, they continue searching for their dreams through uncharted musical horizons, or at least down the lesser travelled path.

The proponents of the saxophone are pushing the limits all the time. What limits? All of the limits: physical limitation of the instrument, literature, performance venues, performers, time, and the limits of human creativity and imagination. As this creative struggle continues national alliances have formed and helped to develop a spirit of energy.

This CD celebrates one of these clutches of saxophone and brings it to the front for all of us to enjoy. American Breath - Music for Saxophone is all of the above. In the words of Russell Peterson, 'The music on this CD represents a distinctively American aesthetic in contemporary music; at once sophisticated and bold, drawing on classical tradition yet embracing modern mainstream culture. It is my pleasure and my passion to give this singularly vital music voice and breath...' The CD features three North American composers and saxophone soloist Russell Peterson. The three composers are Larry Thomas Bell of Boston, David Maslanka of Missoula MT, and of course Russell Peterson of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Russell Peterson is an outstanding soloist who pushes and exceeds the limits of the saxophone. His tone is supple, clear, and resonant. His use of vibrato is extremely musical and judicious. His interpretive skills are a delight to the ear and weave musical stories that easily invite the listener's imagination. His articulation is sharp, clear, precise and rapid. Included with this is the soul of the artist. This soloist has the magic to turn the notes into a wonderful sound fantasy. His abilities are such that when he is pushing the limits of anything it sounds quite normal and is performed with deceptive ease.

This CD opens with an intense Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano by David Maslanka. The piece opens with beautifully simple lines for the alto with light delicate interplay with the piano. It segues to a ferocious line for the alto. Russell Peterson shows extreme and admirable control over the instrument and the music. The wide dynamic contrasts are brought out with ease and artistry. The second movement displays a beautiful line for the alto that seems to float to the ear effortlessly. The third movement opens with startling contrast with its speed and intensity. The Sonata is an artistic tour de force for the saxophone yet in this recording it sounds effortless.

Mahler in Blue Light, by Larry Thomas Bell, is the second selection on the venue. It is moody, intense, extremely moving, and in its own way quite beautiful. It is also a tour de force for the saxophone with the inclusion of a cello as well as the piano. In fact, this is the only chance that saxophonists get to perform Mahler anywhere. The piece opens with a high concert F in the altissimo register. The trio creates a beautiful ensemble and establishes how extremely well the also and the cello create music together.

Hopefully this piece will get a lot of performances as it deserves to be heard often. This is a superb performance by an equally superb ensemble and composer.

The final piece is Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Percussion Orchestra by saxophone soloist Russell Peterson. This is a fascinating piece, and it is amazing how much music a percussion orchestra can create. It is truly a piece that should become standard repertoire for the alto saxophone.

Russell Peterson has shown himself to be a master of the instrument and a superb performing artist, plus a fine composer. He has the spirit of the saxophone pioneers from the past and extends this spirit to the future as well."

---Paul Wagner, reviewer; SAXOPHONE JOURNAL, May/June 2003

CD review -
American Breath - Music for Saxophone

"Three exciting American works which employ the alto sax and other instruments to convey a bold and sophisticated feeling that doesn't try to ignore the instrument's connection to a musical world well outside that of classical. In the third movement of the Maslanka Sonata the composer was influenced by the madrigals of Gesualdo. All four movements of the Bell work are a passacaglia based on a fragment from Mahler's Song of the Earth. He saw the piece as his own Mahler portrait seen through the blue sound of the saxophone. Performer Peterson's own concerto was for me the hit of the CD in its successful mix of classical and pop. The first movement shows an influence of minimalism Steve Reich and in the third movement it is both Spanish modes and heavy metal rock. This work is a winner, and the entire CD is worthy of major attention."

---John Sunier, editor/publisher; AUDIOPHILE AUDITION e-zine, March 2003


"You are one of the greatest players I ever heard...The world should take notice of your remarkable saxophone playing and highly communicative artistry. "

----Donald Sinta, world-renowned saxophonist & teacher; University of Michigan


"Russ, I think that you are an amazing player, and your performance of my Sonata for Alto Saxophone is fantastic-over the top! The thing I like best about it is that nothing is held back. The high technical challenges are met head-on, giving you the opportunity for a particular personal expression. Many players are happy just to be able to get the notes; you have found a personal reason for all that struggle and pain. Your pianist, Doug Schneider, is also amazing--a matched pair for this enormous piece!"

---David Maslanka, composer


"From all of these miracle rate the talent was impossible. Out of the group of prize winners, there were four especially outstanding performers. First, the rhythmic and outstanding saxophonist Russell Peterson as prize winner from the Geneva International Saxophone Competition; he was a man who possessed outstanding musicality and flair. His technical gifts were outstanding and they reflect the fact that he is such a worthy prizewinner from this competition. He performed the Villa-Lobos' Fantasia which was a musical gem, unfortunately much too short of a work--I wish it would have not ended. Peterson was faced with rhythmically difficult music that was performed flawlessly. His musicality and communication didn't last long enough, it left me wanting to hear more from him!" (translated from German)

---Peter Cossé, adjudicator-St. Petersburg "Musical Olympus" Summit of the Prizewinners, 1996


concert review

"Saxophonist delivers virtuoso performance...Russell Peterson not only is an extraordinary alto sax player, he also is an accomplished composer. He demonstrated both talents Saturday night by playing his Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, which was completed in 1999. It was a virtuoso performance...Peterson coaxed a remarkable range of sound from his instrument, working with energetic joy to communicate the emotions of his compositions to the audience."

---Jack Zaleski, reviewer-THE FORUM daily regional newspaper, Fargo ND - Moorhead MN

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