WASBE day 3 is in the books, sadly my last full day here.
The day began with a repertoire session featuring the Ohlone Wind Orchestra from Fremont, California directed by Tony Clements. They had an exciting but very bright sound that was often quite tight but also showed some of the inconsistencies typical of a community (in this case college/community) band. They gave committed performances of several quite difficult works:
Grand Fanfare by Giancarlo Castro D’Addona
For the President’s Own by John Williams
Salome by Gareth Wood
Starsplitter by Philip Rothman
Berglicht by Oliver Waespi
Today’s session for me was much less appealing than yesterday’s. Most of the music to me seemed trite and cliché. The Grand Fanfare started off like a fanfare indeed, then followed exactly the form of a Swearingen overture. Salome was one band cliché after another, and in the inevitable comparison to Strauss’s pathbreaking opera, it came up well short. I had an immediate positive reaction to the chord structure and color palette in Berglicht, but it soon settled into another collection of clichés. None of these pieces really displayed any originality. More on the positive end was Starsplitter. Rothman has a flair for ensemble color and a clear voice (with some resonance of John Adams in this piece), but it comes with some rather extreme difficulty, particularly in the woodwinds. The most intriguing piece on the session was the Williams. Perhaps ironically, it sounded the least like a movie soundtrack of them all. The writing was linear verging on contrapuntal and somewhat virtuosic, which was appropriate for a Marine Band showpiece. This also made it hard to process immediately, and thus I would find it difficult to justify programming it. But its un-movie-like sound reminded me that John Williams is actually an excellent, thinking composer who has adapted his music to many a situation in the past, and whose range can never be underestimated.
After a very short break, Odd Terje Lysebo from Norway took the stage to give a lecture on quality in music, an important and fraught topic in wind band circles (or the “wind ghetto” as Lysebo wryly called us). This is mostly a repertoire blog, so I will not go into detail on this talk, other than to list (below) the handful of pieces that he singled out as possessing quality, and to say that I wish he had spent more time explaining WHY he saw quality in them. Sadly for the past but happily for the future, he mentioned two decades-old wind band symphonies that were unknown to me, despite my ongoing wind band symphony research! The pieces mentioned include:
Waltz from “The Priest and His Servant Balda” by Dmitri Shostakovich
4’33” by John Cage (yes, I have a post about this – it was last year’s April Fools joke!)
Sonatas: Six Pieces of Music by Paul Ruders
Aus einem Tagebuch by Heiner Goebbels
Symfonie für Bläser und Schlagzeug by Hilding Rosenberg
Vind by Ketil Hovslef
Gran Duo by Magnus Lindberg
Hours of the Soul: Poem for Large Wind Orchestra and Mezzo Soprano by Sofia Gubaidulina
Music for Winds by Stanislav Skrowaczewsky
Konzert für Klavier und Bläser by Karl Amadeus Hartman
Modlys (backlight) by Per Nørgaard
Eclosions by Jean Marie Simonis
Symphony no. 4 “Syrinx” by Jean Louel
Concerto for Symphonic Band by Franz Constant
I hope to have entries up for more of these someday, especially if they are, indeed, high quality pieces.
After a wonderful lunch with some BkWS members and friends, I made it back to the theater just in time for the Israel National Youth Wind Orchestra directed by Motti Miron. I was immediately struck by an electricity that seemed to flow between these very young players. They moved and breathed together throughout the entire performance. I was particularly mesmerized by the clarinet section that seemed to emote as one, and the pair of bassoonists who would often exchange knowing glances before or after launching into action. On top of that, they sounded great, especially as more of them joined in. Their sound was remarkably mature, and only really showed its youth in the occasional solo passage or in minor intonation or overblowing lapses. Their repertoire was as follows:
Fanfare to Israel by Paul Ben-Haim
From the Village of East-Europe by Andre Hajdu
Winds of Yemen – Picture for Symphonic Band by Boris Pigovat
Trrrra-pa-tam by Benjamin Yusupov
Hillulah by Haim Permont
Dedicated to Marc Chagall “Havah Nagila” – Jewish Rhapsody for Wind Orchestra by Boris Pigovat
The fanfare (Ben-Haim) was a good start to the program, and given its vintage (1950), I’m sure it has a lot of meaning to the young members of this ensemble. The Hajdu was a mostly very playful dance suite that took a somber turn near the end before racing to a very exciting finish. The first Pigovat (Winds of Yemen) sounded to me, again, like a string of clichés, this time with a lot of dissonance and very loud playing. The opening of the Yusupov actually caused me to laugh out loud, beginning as it did with a very short lyrical solo punctuated by the loudest possible full ensemble chord. I found myself unable to take the rest of it seriously. The Permont was the highlight of the program for me, particularly the wonderful odd-meter contrapuntal dance that dominated the piece. The second Pigovat (Hava Nagila) somehow avoided cliché despite treating an extremely familiar tune. After some overly long solos in the beginning, it turned into an exciting romp to end a very impressive concert.
One (more) curmudgeonly note: I am not sure why these concerts require a 30 minute intermission, as both Israel and Brooklyn (and I think LBO as well) have had. It seemed interminable from the audience end. I can’t imagine what it must be like for the players! Please, WASBE, let’s shorten these!
A trip to Jeff Girard’s Midwest Music booth almost cost me my life savings in score purchases. Thankfully, I still made it in time to continent-strider Jason Caslor’s presentation on Georgian composer Giya Kancheli’s Magnum Ignotum, a very unique piece for 9 winds, string bass, and tape. I stuck around also for Karen Fannin’s talk about interdisciplinary work, particularly research into conductors by people outside of music and her personal application of it in business circles. She showed a number of demonstrations of conductor/ensemble interaction that she has used to demonstrate leadership concepts to businesspeople. In those, she (wisely, I think) used two staples of the wind chamber music repertoire: the Mozart C-minor Serenade and the Gounod Petite Symphonie (about which I can’t believe I still have no post!)
The day ended with the Landesblasorchester Baden-Württemberg under the excellent direction of Björn Bus. From the first note, I could tell this band was something special. They had a GREAT overall brass sound, dominated by the horns. They also had 8 million clarinets (I counted–there was time) which made for a very rich and full ensemble sound but somehow still allowed for plenty of transparency. Even more so than the Israelis before them, they moved and breathed as a unit, lending expression and direction to every phrase and musical idea. Maestro Bus’s conducting had everything to do with this, lending shape and direction to every moment of the music. Their repertoire was:
Ouverture Solennelle, op. 72 by Reinhold Glière (arr. Robert Grechesky)
Cap Kennedy by Serge Lancen
Bachseits by Johannes Stert
The Fools Journey (complete 3 parts) by Hans van der Heide
ENCORE (well deserved) something beautiful that I couldn’t identify (not “Es Verdankt” as someone around me suggested)
The Glière was an ideal opening showpiece for band, highlighting the strengths of every section and the ensemble as a whole. The piece constantly had forward momentum, thanks to Herr Bus’s inspired leadership. The Lancen was a meaty tone poem about a space shuttle launch. There was plenty of variety, and it was quite exciting at times. The same can be said for the Stert, which is based on a solo violin work by J.S. Bach (and which featured uniquely amazing solos from e-flat clarinet and piccolo trumpet). In the case of both pieces, I feel strongly that they owe their success to the rock-solid and inspired musicianship of this band and especially Herr Bus, whose musical intentions were compelling, clear, and organic. (You might say I’m a fan.) Otherwise, they might have fallen flat as so much unknown, under-musicked repertoire does in less capable hands. To put it another way, one of my mentors at Arizona State, Wayne Bailey, often said that there were certain pieces (in fact, most in existence) that could be “defeated” by a bad band. I think these pieces are among them, however this ensemble and their conductor lifted them to soaring, unequivocal victory.
The excellent musicianship continued into The Fool’s Journey. At nearly an hour in length, it would have been easy for this to devolve into misdirected mush. But the piece itself was extremely well organized and expertly paced: only once did I feel like it was starting get overlong or repetitive, and AT THAT VERY MOMENT the piece ended. There were some moments where it veered towards recycled ideas. For instance, I’m sure we’ve all heard plenty of flute and harp love music in our time. Also, as evidenced by the fact that “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” is the least effective number in The Book of Mormon the musical, the fire and brimstone Devil treatment seemed overmuch. Doesn’t the Devil also indulge in more sneaky evils like making you evade your taxes or forget your grandmother’s birthday? For me, the highlight came at the end of the part I going into part II – I just wanted to hear that sound forever. And so I was glad when the encore came up. LBO folks, I’d love to know what that gorgeous piece was. And Björn Bus, I’d love to buy you a beer if you’re at the hotel bar tonight!
What a fine day it has been. Thank you, WASBE!
Finally, a promised (coerced) shout-out to yesterday’s lunch and dinner buddies Shiree Williams, Travis Cross, Rickey Badua, amazing contintent-crosser Jason Caslor, and the ever-inquisitive and inspiring Brian Diller. You guys continue to help make this conference great!