Penelope's Knees: Double Concerto for Alto Saxophone, Bass, and Chamber Orchestra, was composed for Lynn Klock, Salvatore Macchia and the new music ensemble Ancora. On one level it is in standard fast-slow-fast concerto form, with a slow introduction. (The "movements" are played without pause.) But more importantly it can be heard as a continuous evolution of ten three-note chords, first revealed very gradually during the introduction. The particular sorts of evolution undergone by each of these trichords are musical metaphors of various natural processes, e.g., cell division or crystal formation.
The introduction, a primordial morass from which emerge the primary trichords, might be subtitled "Genesis," with a nod to Milhaud's La Creation du Monde, the first great classic for saxophone. Within this section the bass first presents the rhythmic motifs which cohere in the following Allegro to provide the basis for a variety of dialogues between and among the soloists and orchestra. This music is abruptly interrupted by the "second movement," a series of variations over an ostinato figure derived from the proliferation, with mutations, of one of the original trichords. What unfolds is a little triangular drama among the saxophone, bass and tuba, a microcosm (in a way) of the tensions inherent in the parent cell. The boundary between this music and the closing Presto is obscured by the intrusion of fragmentary echoes of the Variations, in the saxophone and bass parts, into the skittering tutti of the Finale. Following a double cadenza, the elaborate tonal chains built from the trichordal cells begin to degrade and collapse until only traces of rarefied, free-floating musical matter remain. The ten original trichords hymn the piece to an unsettled close, a lingering harmonic in the bass suggesting further music not unlike the very opening...
The title, chosen at first entirely for reasons of euphony, can be seen in retrospect to have colored the piece with the patient longing of Penelope, as she knelt by the water's edge awaiting the return of Odysseus.
-- Lewis Spratlan