Concerto for Orchestra (Eugene Kurtz, Paris)
The Concerto for Orchestra is an absolutely stunning piece of music. It is rich, varied in mood, and possesses a rare vitality that constantly holds the interest of the listener. One could, of course, characterize it as a virtuoso piece, but it is much more than that. Along with the brilliant and extremely affective orchestral writing, there is a very moving and very personal message. The extended middle section with its different instrumental solos is full of poetry, tenderness and forecast of the impending torrent that will eventually break through the orchestral fabric and carry the work to its extraordinary conclusion. The torrent, however, comes in waves of differing intensity that are held back each time until the “right one” comes along, the one that nothing can resist, the one that lifts the audience to its feet, the ending that composers dream of.
Concerto for Orchestra (John Guinn, Detroit Free Press)
Based on a single hearing, the 28-minute four-movement Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned jointly by the Koussevitsky Music Foundation and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is clearly one of the 69-year-old Bassett’s finest and most approachable scores. What struck me most about the piece wasn’t its strong formal shape or its theoretical basis or even its virtuosic orchestration. What struck me most is he music’s sheer, unadulterated beauty. It shimmers with beautiful sound from its haunting opening measures to its unadulterated triumphant final ones, which were so triumphant Thursday night they produced premature applause. The final pages of the slow movement, graced with utterly gorgeous solos from principal cellist Italo Babini, sounded good enough to eat. The giddy third movement glittered like stars in a cloudless sky. The finale was forceful but never turned coarse, because its beauty was so consistently diffused. When it was over, the audience broke into the kind of strong, sincere applause that proved the music touched them deeply. This concerto is a true beauty, and it deserves to be heard again and again.
Concerto for Orchestra (Nancy Malitz, Detroit Free Press, Feb. 7, 1992)
The Concerto’s four-part structure follows a familiar pattern: the first movement is big and ambitious: the second is lyrical: the third has a jovial, scherzo flavor and the finale is a walloping climax. The extreme economy with which Bassett constructed his castle of sound out of a few building blocks would have gotten a nod of approval from Brahms or Beethoven. His central melodic kernel is a variant of the so-called Bach motive that runs like a river through the whole piece, and has been toyed with by composers for centuries.
Yet Bassett’s Concerto is a piece for today. Indeed, time seems to have caught up with him again. One can imagine that his style might have been considered somewhat too instinctive, too expressive, too stepwise and tonal – with suspiciously romantic leanings – a decade ago. Like Berg in the Schoenbergian circle, Bassett has a humanizing touch that really sets free many of the modern colors, harmonies and procedures of his contemporaries. His Concerto is a forceful work filled with orchestrational delights, rich textures and no small number of affectionately written cameo spots for individual DSO players. Neeme Jarvi, the DSO music director, certainly seemed smitten. He lavished care on details and directed the big moments with emotional sweep and no small suspense.
Concerto Lyrical for Trombone and Orchestra (John Story, Fanfare, July-Aug. 2001)
The Concerto Lyrical is, in a purely practical way, invaluable. Trombonists have long been largely bereft of concerto vehicles in a world still largely dominated by the violin and piano concertos of Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. Bassett’s contribution to the genre is of equal merit, for in it he exploits the instrument as only a virtuoso player who also happens to be a fine composer can, teasing out its abilities to speak sonorously, lyrically, and, occasionally, angrily, creating new but always logically cogent contexts that stretch listeners perceptions. The result here is a tour de force that expands the affective parameters of the instrument. This Concerto, performed by H. Dennis Smith, is in all ways essential.
Concerto da Camera (Jim Huntley, Detroit News)
Last on the program was Leslie Bassett’s Concerto de Camera. It is a virtuoso piece for trumpet solo, as well as superb ensemble writing. Easy to listen to, the music has real style and tremendous emotional impact. In music, as in all the arts, there is no substitute for the real thing, and well-crafted music stands by itself. Leslie Bassett has already passed the test of time.
Collect for Chorus and Tape (Edith Boroff, Ann Arbor News)
The concert of Oct.29 began with the stunning projection of Bassett’s Collect for Chorus and Tape, which presented the most exciting sounds of the series. Its newly-thought interactions producing a close-to-perfect statement, compressed and deeply-felt, and realized with obvious appreciation by Thomas Hilbish and the University Chamber Choir.
Echoes from an Invisible World (Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Bassett is an orchestral virtuoso. His expanded percussion group provided subtle shimmers and gourd rattling; the strings were used in clusters of sound that were designed to glow. He piled brass voices in ascending pyramids, chose the English horn to sing a particularly resonant solo line in the middle section. The whole work is made from such attractive sounds and alterations of those sounds that it beguiles and soothes listeners and asks a poetic response. (sound clip)
Echoes from an Invisible World (Thomas Willis, Chicago Tribune)
In its quiet, unassuming way, Leslie Bassett’s music is poetry. His Echoes from an Invisible World, which is having its first local performances at this week’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts, articulates its message line by line, accumulating strength by reference to what has gone before. It has the poet’s combination of virtues, concentration of imagery and economy of means, and an essentially linear development. (sound clip)
Echoes from an Invisible World (Paul Hume, Washington Post)
There was a new work, Leslie Bassett’s Echoes from an Invisible World. Using the orchestra’s larger resources, often with great economy, Bassett has written music of striking beauty, making ingenious use of both chance and something near stasis. Yet he never sacrifices his own control. The performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy was of a kind for which composers wait and pray. (sound clip)
Fourth String Quartet (Joseph McLellan, Washington Post)
Lyricism and drama combine powerfully in Leslie Bassett’s Fourth String Quartet, a masterfully constructed work that uses all the potentials of four string players in five tightly woven, deeply expressive, sharply contrasted movements. Its potentials were fully realized by the Juilliard String Quartet.
From A Source Evolving (American Composers Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Oct. 13, 1991. Susan Eliott, New York Post.)
Leslie Bassett’s From a Source Evolving, on the other hand, has both integrity and charm. The work’s “Source” is a chord that recurs in different voicings and colors. In writing both economical and vertically detailed, Bassett creates a visceral sense of tension that ascends in pitch and emotion to a dramatic climax.
Sextet for Piano and Strings (Richard Dyer, Boston Globe)
The Sextet for Piano and Strings is wonderful imaginative craft at work on interesting material. The piece is in four movements, of which the 3rd and 4th are particularly striking. The slow movement is very slow and very eloquent, following the witty opening movements. It begins with notes stopped by the hand inside the piano and then only slowly begins to flower into song. The last movement is full of excitingly scruffy music. And “excitingly scruffy” pretty accurately describes the performance too.
Soliloquies (The Clarinet, Spring, 1979)
Without a doubt Leslie Bassett’s Soliloquies [clarinet solo] is destined to be regarded as one of the few really fine examples of twentieth-century writing for the clarinet, and is already considered so for those of us who have already performed it. I base these assumptions both on receptions of my own performances of Soliloquies by a wide range of audience types from coast to coast, as well as on my observations when hearing it performed by others. The music is at times extremely brilliant and technically demanding, at other times serenely beautiful.
Time and Beyond, for baritone, clarinet, cello and piano. (Notes of Music Library Association)
Where a composer makes a setting of a bad poem, there is almost nothing he can do that seems to matter very much, except perhaps to obliterate the text completely. When he makes a setting of a good poem, however, almost everything he does seems to matter, and in Time and Beyond, Leslie Bassett offers settings that matter a great deal!
Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, (Jerome Rosen, Notes of the Music Library Association)
Leslie Bassett’s Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano is an excellent work. The music is impassioned, expansive and free flowing, rhapsodic perhaps, but never out of control. There is a large design wherein virtually every detail can be clearly heard as a logical and necessary part of the whole. While he has a style all his own, his use of motivic cells to generate and unify this large-scale, quasi-cyclic trio suggests that he has deeply studied and learned much from the music of Beethoven.
Variations for Orchestra (High Fidelity Magazine)
The variations are not based on a theme; their “given” is a series of colors or mood utterances, but the structure as a whole is really one of “more or less continuous statement, yet statement with developmental or reflective overtones.” The ultimate effect is of an iridescent, shimmering orchestral texture, full of inventions and surprises and continuously fascinating from one end to the other.
Variations for Orchestra (Daniel Webster, Philadelphia Enquirer)
In Variations Bassett has something to say and surpassing skill in saying it. His big orchestra, augmented by celesta, piano, vibraphone, was used to stir up shimmering colors and points of sound. The variations are not on a melody but on moments of sounds, and those moments grow from germ to brilliant flowering. The instruments were balanced as finely as one finds in chamber music with massed effects sparingly and effectively used.