Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2011 by Fred Flaxman

Program 185
"Lee Actor"

MUSIC: excerpt from the opening of Lee Actor’s Dance Rhapsody, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor [Navona Records NV5848, Track 4] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and I’m going to devote the next hour to the symphonic music of the tuneful, rhythmic, contemporary American composer Lee Actor -- my latest compact discovery.

We’ll hear first his Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. Then we’ll listen to his Dance Rhapsody, and finally we’ll hear his Concerto for Horn and Orchestra. The performances are all conducted by Kirk Trevor and feature the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra. All three pieces are on the same 2011 Navona Records compact disc, which also includes Actor’s Opening Remarks for orchestra and his Celebration Overture.

MUSIC: Fades out

Lee Actor was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1952. He trained for two careers, neither one of which was as an actor, despite his name, which is spelled exactly like the word. He studied to be a musician and a software engineer. And yet the music we’ll listen to together is for acoustic instruments and it reminds me more of Shostakovich in parts than it does any kind of electronic composition.

Lee Actor was a violinist with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in New York while completing an advanced engineering degree at the nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Then, while working as a software engineer in the Boston area, he studied composition.

After moving to California in 1978, Actor took a master’s degree in composition at San Jose State University, and did further graduate work at the University of California in Berkeley. But then he returned to software, which started a long and successful career in the videogame industry. But in 2001 Actor decided to devote all of his time to composition and conducting. For the next hour we’ll listen to the most impressive results of that decision.

Let’s start with Lee Actor’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, which was written in 2009. This is what Actor himself writes about this piece in the program notes for the CD:

“The existing solo saxophone literature is modest in size when compared to that of instruments such as the piano or violin, and generally tends to emphasize jazz-inflected or the lighter, popular stylistic elements often associated with the instrument. One of my goals in writing this piece was to exploit the considerable dramatic and expressive possibilities of the saxophone. ... The result is a piece that expresses a full range of emotions, from intensely dramatic to poignantly lyrical to slyly humorous to triumphantly joyful.”

MUSIC: Lee Actor: Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor with Debra Richtmeyer as soloist [Navona Records NV5848, Tracks 1, 2 and 3]

Lee Actor’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor. Debra Richtmeyer was the saxophonist on this Navona compact disc.

You are listening to the music of the very much alive-and-kicking American composer Lee Actor on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in total timing of the program.]

As you’ve just heard, Actor’s music is filled with rhythmic drive, catchy tunes, and orchestral color. Perhaps that will be even more obvious in our next selection: Actor’s Dance Rhapsody, which was composed in 2010. It is in a single movement and incorporates various dance rhythms, including the waltz, tango, and fandango.

MUSIC: Lee Actor’s Dance Rhapsody, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor [Navona Records NV5848, Track 4]

Lee Actor’s Dance Rhapsody, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor.

Lee Actor was a scholarship student at the Aspen Music School. In addition to composition, he has also studied conducting. In 2001 he was appointed assistant conductor of the Palo Alto, California, Philharmonic. A year later he was named the Philharmonic’s composer-in-residence.

Actor’s Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, written in 2007, was the first prize winner of that year’s International Horn Society composition contest. It is a work of compact dimensions, consisting of three movements and takes only about 13 minutes to play.

The orchestra accompanying the solo French horn is also of modest size, which the composer said he did intentionally. He avoided other brass instruments in order to allow the tone color of the French horn to stand out.

Let’s hear this delightful little concerto now as performed by Karol Nitran with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor.

MUSIC: Lee Actor’s Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, performed by Karol Nitron with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor [Navona Records NV5848, Tracks 5, 6, and 7]

Lee Actor’s Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, performed by Karol Nitron with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirk Trevor. This was from the same Navona Records compact disc that you heard earlier in the program with Actor’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra and his Dance Rhapsody. The CD has two more very pleasing orchestral works on it as well: the first is called Opening Remarks; the second, Celebration Overture. Consider those pieces two bonuses for purchasing the CD, which you can do with a link from our website: compactdiscoveries.com.

And that concludes this hour devoted to the music of the contemporary American composer Lee Actor. This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening. Thanks, as well, to Navona Records, a Parma Recordings imprint, for supplying the music used in this hour. Please join me again next time for more Compact Discoveries

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you. [0:28]

Total Program Timing: 59:00