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"Lest We Forget" CD - A Review

Ira Novoselsky-Bandworld

 

 "Lest We Forget: The Music of Robert Jager", volume 2 has just been released by Mark Custom Recordings and is available from MCR and Amazon.  Here is Ira Novoselsky's review.

 The common thread of Lest We Forget is music specifically commissioned to honor America and our U.S. Armed Forces.  The program includes one of Jager's most popular works, Esprit de Corps; a sparkling musical celebration to energize any concert.  Also included are Lord, Guard and Guide and Variants on the Air Force Hymn; a contrasting pair of settings of the same tune which is the official USAF hymn.  Mystic Chords of memory is dedicated to the musicians of the U.S. Navy band who died in a plane crash after performing in Rio de Janeiro.  The Wall was commissioned by the USAF Band and is dedicated to the names preserved on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall.  The highly emotional Epilogue:Lest We Forget was written to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II.  The program concludes with Eternal Vigilance (The Long Brave Line); a joint commission from the Air Force Academy Band, the Coast Guard Academy Band, the United States Military Academy Band and the Naval Academy Band.  Special mention to the composer's wife Sally for the striking cover art which appears on this fine recording.

Testament: The Music of Robert Jager

Ira Novoselsky-Bandworld

Robert Jager needs very little introduction to band musicians, his extensive list of quality compositions have stood the test of time for over fifty years. Ron Hufstader and the University of Texas at El Paso Symphonic Winds offer the listener a sampling of Jager you will enjoy hearing again and again.  The collection begins with "Highland Fling", a wee bit of Scotland for bands that will appeal to all.  "Testament" is a tribute to the Six Flags Festivals and their contribution to music education. "Concerto for Band" is a rather challenging work written for the Walter Beeler Memorial Band Series and is followed by the popular "Colonial Airs and Dances" which is based on songs from the American colonies. "Hebraic Rhapsody" is next; this composition utilizes the melodies from four Hebrew folk songs/dances.  "Chorale and Toccata" is a two-movement work from 1967, rich in quartal harmonic structure.  The closing work is probably one of Jager's most performed compositions, the "Third Suite".  The performances on this collection are immaculate; I highly recommend this recording and eagerly await a followup Jager CD. (Testament: The Music of Robert Jager is a release of Mark Custom Recordings)

OF THINGS REMEMBERED - Adrian Symphony Orchestra

Arlene Bachanov-Adrian (MI) Daily Telegram

In the middle of the concert, bookended by the (Beethoven) concerto and the (Mozart) symphony, was one of those moments that has set the Adrian Symphony apart from other orchestras like it many a time: a world-premiere performance.  The work was OF THINGS REMEMBERED, by John Dodson's (the conductor) professor and later colleague at Tennessee Tech University, Robert Jager.  Jager originally wrote the piece as a two-piano work, with a different title, for musicians Catherine and Herman Godes.  Later, he rewrote it for string orchestra and gave it its new title, and it is this incarnation which appeared on Saturday's program.  Over the years, Dodson has been quite the champion of Jager's compositions, and good for him, because Jager has written some really extraordinary pieces, including this one, that deserve to be played by orchestras everywhere.

OF THINGS REMEMBERED begins with a little musical moment representing the Godes' first initials and last name.  After that, the music becomes melancholy, even wistful, perhaps evoking reminiscences of the past.  The mood turns dark in the second movement, conjuring up Herman Godes' time in a concentration camp during World War II.  A recurring ascending violin phrase serves as a glimmer of hope, but it's constantly battled by the incessant grimness of the rest of the movement and interestingly, when the phrase occurs at the end of the movement it is truncated, as if tragedy has interrupted it.  Then there's the third movement, which is light and evokes the triumph over tragedy that was part of Herman's life story.  And Jager slips a sly reference to a work from more than a century ago into the ending, with a snippet of Haydn's E-flat Piano sonata as his own version of a musical joke.

It's an interesting and very evocative work that makes you think about life and the power of music to capture emotions, and to have had Jager on hand Saturday to hear his piece first-hand was an added bonus.  He had to have been pleased with the way the Adrian Symphony, led by his former student, performed it, because the work sounded terrific.

Esprit de Corps - Adrian Symphony Orchestra

Arlene Bachanov, Adrian Daily Telegram

Jager - who happens to have been Dodson's (John Dodson, the ASO conductor) composition professor - originally wrote (Esprit de Corps) specifically for the Marine Corps Band in Washington, DC, and later came back to it and reworked it for orchestra.  It is based on the Marine Corps Hymn, and what it is, is Jager seeing what he can do with the building blocks of the original tune.  The result is a colorful, jaunty, tuneful work that's great fun to hear.  Not only did it fit perfectly with the other works on the program, but Dodson and the ASO gave it a top-notch performance.

The Grandeur of God

John Nelson, Directeur Musical Honoraire

THE GRANDEUR OF GOD.  What a title!  Jager certainly captured about as much as a human can of such a forbidding subject.  I found it very effective, well written for both voices and instruments, encompassing an amazing breadth of sounds and beautifully balancing grandeur with mystery.

Like A White Daisy Looks

Arlene Bachanov, Daily Telegram - Adrian, MI

"Like A White Daisy Looks" is, quite simply, an extraordinary work.  It has a melancholy to it without being maudlin; there's a gentleness and an elegance to the music that, even without knowing Elizabeth Green (for whom it was written), makes it obvious she was much-loved, and remembered fondly, by the composer. 

Symphony No. 1 for Band

Paul Hume, The Washington Post

Jager's symphony is a handsome affair from start to finish. There are many fine passages of thematic originality and a solid sense of structural design. There is no question of the vitality and brio of the work, or of its excellent workmanship.

I Dream of Peace

The Presbyterian Voice

This music paints a haunting picture of war, while it movingly engages the texts of children of Bosnia and Croatia who had seen their lives torn apart by war.

I Dream of Peace

Dr. Peter Robb, Artistic Director and Founder of PICCFEST, Eugene, Oregon

Jager is helping define an emerging genre in which composers regard the aesthetic possibilities of children's voices on equal terms with the orchestra and adult choral color palette.

I Dream of Peace

Peter Berquist, The Eugene Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon

The major work on the program was the West Coast premiere of I DREAM OF PEACE by Robert Jager...The children's abhorence of war and its consequences and their longing for peace are deeply moving, and Jager's setting only heightens these feelings.  It's an intense piece of music.

I Dream of Peace

Stanley Schmidt, founder of Collegium USA

Jager's stunning work opens with a short, austere symphonia employing strong dissonance that paints a stark mood of the realities of war where a wasteland is left and nothing is present. "War is the saddest word that flows from my quivering lips"...begins Movement Three.  The young soloist, one of many solos voices...conveying the sadness of war and at the same time offering the listener a hope for our future.  {Movement Four} The growing force of strong uneven rhythms along with pervasive dissonances in the orchestra and the intense aleatoric speaking from the chorus created the chaos of a raging battle. Testimony (the fifth part) was one of the most moving sections of this sensitive composition...the orchestra background enhanced the narration of the singers who showed us terror and hopelessness with their body language and their voices.  Finally composer Robert Jager leaves us with a dream of peace.  We hear a relaxation of the tonal structure, but yet the essence of war remains somewhat in the background.  The choir sings, "When I close my eyes I dream of peace."  Dona nobis pacem instructs the musical mood."

The Wall

Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post

Robert Jager's THE WALL had its premiere Sunday night on the West Lawn of the Capitol by the National Symphony Orchestra. The audience, estimated at between 65,000 and 70,000 people, applauded Jager enthusiastically.  THE WALL is a meditation on mortality, which ends in consolation with a long, spacious melody, but en route it passes through moments of considerable anquish.

I Dream of Peace

Mary Alice Stollak upon conducting I DREAM OF PEACE in Carnegie Hall

I am told that three (curtain) calls is unusual for Mid-American Productions. Bob, I believe that the audience kept applauding because of the compelling nature of the work. It deserves to be performed in even grander venues. I am so pleased that I chose your work for this performance.

Concerto No. 2 for Alto Saxophone

The Saxophone Journal

This is a true epic fantasy for the saxophone in the theatrical sense.  It opens with a lovely and tender soliloquy by the alto and then the excitement begins.  the band enters with all the excitement that an adventure fan could ever want.  The piece lightens up with beautiful lines intertwined between the band and the soloist.

I Dream Of Peace

Ken Glickman, Lansing State Journal

A dark mood prevailed during the final concert of the Greater Lansing (MI) Symphony Orchestra season.  Conductor and music director Gustav Meier opted for four somber pieces.  Beginning with Brahms' Tragic Overture the orchestra then performed I Dream of Peace by Robert Jager...The acclaimed Michigan State University Children's Choir, directed by Mary Alice Stollak, was featured in I Dream of Peace.  The work grew out of a UNICEF book of the same name with images of war by children of the former Yugoslavia.  The letters and poems from that book provided the text for the seven-movement, 22-minute piece.  The horror and pathos of war is made even more dramatic when expressed by the angelic voices of a children's choir.  Jager's delicate orchestration allowed the children's voices to be heard in a wonderful blend with the orchestra.  Peace is a poignant work that was performed with sensitivity and warm expression.

 

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