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Composition Reviews

Circus Etudes

      Created as a “crowd pleaser” for a professional-level quintet, Circus Etudes is best suited for the end of a recital. The spirit of these four movements is dramatically addressed in the program notes:

      In movement 1, “Dancing Elephants,” a plethora of agile pachyderms do their best to produce pirouettes, jetés, and arabesques for a perhaps overly-idealistic trainer. At one point, the demands of the latter become overwhelming and chaos ensues. But order is finally restored, and the dancing elephants take one more nearly graceful turn around the ring before departing to thunderous applause.
      After that exceedingly serious act, it is time for some comic relief, provided by movement 2, “Clowns.” These masters of slapstick and pratfall use every zany antic in their repertoire to elicit grins and guffaws from the audience.
      “Trapeze Artists,” movement 3, begins simply with the theme in the horn. As the high-flying artists add successively more difficult routines, the theme moves from instrument to instrument with ever-more amazing feats of musical legerdemain.
      To finish the show in grand style come the “Acrobats.” These gyrating gymnasts astound with the precision, perfection and pizzazz of their brilliant and bold movements and maneuvers, a fine finish to a thrilling, chilling, spectacular circus show.

      …The flute, oboe, and clarinet have the most technically challenging lines, yet all performers are kept active. Hornists who have performed Jan Bach’s Skizzen for Woodwind Quintet will find these movements similar in humor and difficulty. To carry the comparison one step further, it might be possible to enhance the circus atmosphere by creating visual backdrops. Certainly the audience should either see or hear the program notes. With or without extra effects, Circus Etudes will be enjoyed by all.
      -Scharnberg, William, “Music Reviews,” The Horn Call [Journal of the International Horn Society], XXI:1, November 2000, p. 83-84.

      Review of Circus Etudes for Woodwind Quintet by Jeffrey Agrell.

      …The most exciting piece is Jeffrey Agrell’s Aviary Divertimento (1997). This seven-movement work was written for Röthlisberger. Each movement depicts a particular type of bird. The first movement, “Hummingbird Toccata,” is performed on Eb clarinet. The movement is an example of perpetual motion, very fast moving, with high trills. Somewhat larger birds, as in movement two, the “March of the Penguins,” which is jazzy, heavier sounding, and almost plodding, is played on the Bb clarinet. In “Toucan Calypso” we imagine ourselves in a tropical paradise with the calypso fell prevailing. The movement begins with percussion effects using the body of the piano, soon enters the clarinet, accompanied by the percussive sounds. The right hand of the piano provides a very simple accompaniment. In “Raven’s Blues,” using the bass clarinet, Röthlisberger “crows” out the line with a distinct blues flavor. The movement is rough and aggressive. There is some use of multiphonics and slap tonguing. “Canary Cadenza” is rather high, yet songful, played on unaccompanied Bb clarinet, showing the skillful and virtuostic technique displayed by Röthlisberger. “Elegy for the Dodo” laments an extinct bird, with the clarinet rather rough, almost plodding in character. There is use of multiphonics and slap tonguing. “Blackbird Boogie” is true to the title, showing boogie-woogie figures in the piano. It is exciting and the clarinet is all over the range. The piano and clarinet trade twos toward the close of the movement, followed by a short fugal-like section. Of all the works on this CD, Aviary Divertimento is the most intriguing and overall fun. The performer must, however, be able to adjust to the various clarinets (Eb, Bb and bass) with relative ease, and be quite virtuostic on each. This is a new work and its first recording. Blues for D.D., also by Agrell, was originally for oboe and was dedicated to Diana Doherty. This three-minute arrangement was done in 1997 for clarinet and piano, and is also recorded here for the first time. …I highly recommend this CD.
      -Neprud-Ardovino, Lori, “Compact Disc Reviews”, The Clarinet [Journal of the International Clarinet Association], Vol. 26, No. 1, Dec. 1998, p. 87-89. Review of Who Nose. Bernhard Röthlisberger, clarinet; Simon Andres, piano. Works by Gershwin, Bernstein, Schnyder, Bolli, Agrell, Horovitz. GALLO CD-951 (distributed by Albany Music Distributors, Inc.)

Repercussions

      “Repercussions” is by another off-center duo, this one consisting of French horn and piano. In the liner notes Jeffrey Agrell states that it was his intention to improvise on his horn in a way that was free of Jazz or classical conventions. The music that emerges is still more classical than
      anything but with a tendency toward exploration and freedom.
      Agrell gets a pure, yearning sound on “Repercussions” and Evan Mazunik’s piano accompaniment is the sort of dread-filled rumbling that brings Ran Blake back to mind. “Diminished Intelligence” has a sense of Swing and is reminiscent of the old Third Stream classical-Jazz style with Agrell showing the nimbleness of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. “Only In Winter” and “Oddio” are contemplative ballads with the latter ending in a brisk piano-horn chase. “Dangerous Divertimento” is a long suite that nods to Stravinsky and encompasses introspection, drama, harsh climaxes, and a touch of Blues. This CD is not casual listening. It’s challenging work that shows one way the Third Stream movement might have gone if it had ever caught on. –Cadence Magazine, June 2006, p. 115-116
      Thank you very much for sharing your CD recording [“Repercussions”] with me.  I was impressed with the pieces – very creative writing/improvising and well executed!  The whole album is full of exquisite simplicity and clever “hooks”. – Kazimir Machala, Horn Professor, University of Illinois
      Listened to your new disk [“Repercussions”] in the car quite a bit – sounds fantastic – really well recorded and played – really interesting stuff! –John Clark, jazz horn player, New York City

Blues for D.D.

      The jazz-inspired encore [Blues for D.D.]… was a little gem, a showpiece for extravagant, virtuostic technique and individual interpretive style.
      – The Australian
      ‘Their laid-back sense of swing in Jeffrey Agrell’s Blues for D.D. was infectious – its stiff technical challenges simply weren’t an issue’
      -Derby Evening Telegraph
      ‘The last item was the UK premiere of Blues for D.D. by Jeffery Agrell. Written in a jazz style it facilitated an impressive final flourish of oboe pyrotechnics from this talented young performer’
      -Ongar Gazette
      When I heard Jeff Agrell’s Clarinet quartet back in 1993, I was absolutely amazed. I loved it so much that I asked him to write me something. Blues for D.D. has been a hit every time I’ve played it. For me, it never stops being challenging, it never stops being fun, it always makes me laugh and feel good (once I’ve got my breath back!!). Its outrageous demands have extended my limits to a point I would not have thought possible, and for this, I will be eternally grateful. It may be a short piece but its impact has been far-reaching. I feel truly honoured that it has been written for me. –Diana Doherty, international oboe soloist and prinicipal oboe of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
      Storms of applause rewarded the duo [Bernhard Röthlisberger and Philip Smith], who had played together as one. With a highly charged encore from the pen [Blues for D.D.] of Jeffrey Agrell, which … demanded reckless virtuousity, these most highly talented musicians said good-bye.
      -“Neue Mittelland Zeitung”, Switzerland, September 2000.

Rhythm Suite

      Rhythm Suite by Jeffrey Agrell captures a wide variety of textural and rhythmic executrices displayed by clarinet and marimba. This four movement work features each player in a variety of rhythmic complexities and tonal inner workings. This is a great work for professionals and experienced students.
      -Stefan Ice

Oh, No!

      “Oh, No!”: good, rich, fine, fun, effective. Our quintet has played it 4 times now. Thanks from all of us. It has become repertoire.
      – The Wisconsin Brass Quintet
      “Oh, No!” has become a quintet favorite. We’ve been performing it on almost every concert we’ve done for the past month or so. (That’s about 8 concerts.) It’s a lot of fun to play and the audience always gets a kick out of it too. It’s a real crowd pleaser. Thanks for writing it!
      -Quantum Brass
      We have come to expect challenging and diverting programming from the Florida Brass Quintet, but its recent concert was even more eclectic and satisfying than usual…. Jeffrey Agrell’s “Oh No!” was delightfully dirty – great fun for both the musicians and the audience. Benson’s solid beat, MacCluer’s high trumpet and Salatino’s low-down trombone were superb, as were Solowey’s oddly appropriate horn and Hunsberger’s driving, double bass-like tuba.
      – Sarasota Herald-Tribune
      “Oh, No!” will be the finale number on our program. One thing for sure – we really like the piece! It is a very cool chart!!
      – Brassafrass Quintet

Jive Concerto

      I enjoyed “Jive Concerto” very much. I previously had the pleasure of hearing my young trombone students at the Guildhall School of Music playing your “Gospel Time”. This was one of their real favourites and inspired them to do some really hard work.
      -Christopher Mowat, Brass Wind Publications and Guildhall School of Music