It’s my last day at WASBE in person! Of course I’m very sad to leave, especially as I saw many newly-arrived faces this morning. I had the great fortune to be able to attend this morning’s repertoire session before flying home. This one featured the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble from Vancouver and their director David Branter. They were a very capable group and certainly have a voracious appetite for repertoire, given that they not only played the session but are schedule to play a concert tomorrow as well! They were also extraordinarily loud, particularly the percussion section! The repertoire was as follows:
Symphony no. 6 by Andrew Boysen
Song and Legend by Eiji Suzuki
Spirit of the Dance by Rob Wiffin
Luminescence by David Biedenbender
Rhythms of the Spirit by James Stephenson
Excerpts of the Boysen came first. This was quite hyped by the session organizers, and most of it seemed to deserve the acclaim. It is in four movements connected by three intermezzos. Movement I is a busy and bright allegro – I suspect a softer performance than what I heard today would do it proper justice and reveal more nuance. Movement II is a fun and dark scherzo, which comes before III, the transparent and moving slow movement. IV was even more lively and busy, with a couple of moments that had me thinking “play to the box!” In these big moments in both outer movements, I think Mr. Boysen overused high trumpet hits, but otherwise I was impressed with the concept and construction of the piece. The Suzuki (in two movements) started off wonderfully interesting, with a lot of extended harmony going in unexpected directions, but it turned into a series of sus4s once the piece really got going, still with the occasional harmonic surprise. The bit of the second movement that we heard was primal brass power, which then relaxed. The Wiffin suffers from a terrible title: “Spirit of the Dance” suggests to me that there must be costumes and glitter involved. The piece itself is much better than its title. The first movement in particular is really fun, starting with some rhythmic germs (that require ABSOLUTE precision) and expanding into a big, harmonically juicy texture. The second movement is pretty (full stop), and the third uses a 7/4 Latin-ish rhythm with some lyricism thrown in for an effective closer. The Biedenbender started off with some extreme register colors (which someone later pointed out sounded a lot like John Mackey), and continued to a lyrical middle, but it lost my attention in a wash of loud sounds near the end. The Stephenson started slow and stately. As soon as it picked up, there was a very interesting and fun rhythm involved. I again felt myself tuning out during the slow music, which led to a rather unsatisfying ending. On the more positive side, it was clear that all of these pieces were constructed with great care and thought. Thanks again to Jeff and Cynthia and the rest of the repertoire committee for putting together these great sessions.
So ends my in-person WASBE blogging. I will, however, continue to write daily about the repertoire of the day, even if I am less able to comment on it and certainly unable to evaluate performances. This will at least keep this blog up to date on the latest repertoire that world leaders in wind bands are hearing. First, a correction from yesterday: I ran into the legendary Björn Bus this morning on my way out the door, and he filled me in on the LBO encore. It was Zueignung by Richard Strauss, from an early set of songs (1885, op. 10/1), arranged by Oliver Davis. Now I owe Björn 2 beers… Also, an apology to the University of Louisville band, who I inadvertently left off the blog. That is now fixed below!
The first concert I missed was by the Temple University Chamber Winds led by the ever-dynamic Emily Threinen. I’ve worked with her and heard her bands many a time, so I am confident that this concert must have sounded great. Here is what they played, on a program called “Homage to Mozart” (according to the WASBE conference program, which will be my primary reference going forward):
Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” by WA Mozart (arr. Johann N. Wendt)
Hommage à l’ami Papageno by Jean Françaix
Figures in the Garden by Jonathan Dove
Mozart new-look by Jean Françaix
The “Marriage of Figaro” arrangement is contemporary with Mozart, following the common practice of opera overtures and excerpts being arranged for Harmonie for the purpose of being played outdoors and promoting the full stage work. The Dove is a fascinating minimalist sort of piece that is meant to be paired (as it was this afternoon) with the Marriage of Figaro overture. It references several scenes from that opera in a modern, reflective language. The C-minor serenade, as I said yesterday, is a staple of the chamber wind repertoire. Click the link above to read more of my thoughts about it – it was a very unusual work for its time! I knew neither of the Françaix pieces before this writing, but a quick listen on YouTube reveals that the “Homage” is a witty deconstruction and variation on Papageno’s music from “The Magic Flute.” Mozart new-look is subtitled “Petite fantaisie pour contrebasse et instruments à vent sur la sérénade de ‘Don Giovanni,’” which pretty much sums up the 2.5 minutes piece. (For the non-French-readers, that’s “little fantasy for string bass and wind instruments upon the serenade from ‘Don Giovanni.’”) Bravo to Emily and her excellent Temple students (I heard them at CBDNA – they were amazing) on their excellent and thoughtful program. I hope to have more to say about those Françaix numbers and the Dove in dedicated posts to come!
This afternoon’s second concert featured the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Wind Ensemble directed by fellow former Gary Hill student John Climer and guest conductor Mark Norman. Their program, “Sights, Sounds and Songs,” featured the following:
Magneticfireflies by Augusta Read Thomas (featuring visuals by Christopher Burns)
Caricatures by Jere Hutcheson (5 of the 9 listed on Hutcheson’s website: Marcel Marceau, Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Camille Saint-Saëns)
Lament for Wind Orchestra by Chang Su Koh
Five Folksongs for Soprano and Band by Bernard Gilmore (with soprano Tanya Kruse Ruck)
Newsreel in Five Shots by William Schuman (featuring guest conductor Mark Norman and an actual film!)
Country Band March by Charles Ives (arr. James B. Sinclair)
Of these, I only know the last two. Country Band is of course famous for being the original mixed-up march, meant to sound like a poorly-coordinated community band faking their way through a standard march, complete with rhythmic hiccups, missed accidentals, inadvertent tempo fluctuations, and whole sections getting lost. The Schuman was his earliest band work, and was meant to depict the newsreels that would be shown at movie theatres in the days before television. As for the others, quick YouTube listening (again) reveals that the Read Thomas is a rather aggressive and dissonant, loud and fast work. I’m sure that the visuals will add an interesting dimension to it. I could not find a recording of the Hutcheson, but I am very intrigued by the concept. The Koh is also aggressive and dissonant, but in a slow and tortured fashion. It gives the impression of hair-pulling, heart-rending grief, rather than the usual quiet introspection, giving it a unique place in the repertoire. In looking up the Gilmore, I found a YouTube recording of our friends the Israeli National Youth Wind Symphony playing it mere months ago. These five songs are distinct character studies in the great tradition of accompanied solo song. The soprano writing is relatively straightforward, and the wind band accompaniment is at times spare, rarely intrusive, and quite tasteful. I congratulate Dr. Climer on a well-conceived and varied program!
The evening concert starred the University of Louisville Wind Ensemble led by Frederick Speck and guest conductor Amy Acklin. I have not heard them play, and I would love to change that! They played the following:
Al Fresco by Karel Husa
Engelsflügel by Brett Dean
Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble by Frank Ticheli (soloist Adam McCord)
I had the great fortune to hear both of the pieces in the second half while I was a DMA student at Arizona State, both played by the ASU Wind Orchestra led by my mentor Gary Hill. The Ticheli jumps right into technical wizardry for the soloist and demands a great deal of precision and musicality from the ensemble as well, particularly in the third movement. For me, the pensive second movement is the highlight, though I also enjoy the jazz references in the first movement. The Mackey Frozen Cathedral is, in my opinion, one of the best new pieces of the 21st century – follow the link above to see my dedicated post about it. It succeeds partially through absolutely sparkling use of antiphony, partially by sounding absolutely massive (I hope they used the optional organ part in this performance!), and partially by surprise and misdirection: during the final triumphant chorale, for instance, the trombones repeatedly interject with in-your-face non-chord tones, as if reminding us of the inhuman terror of this immense natural edifice.
The pieces on the first half are all new to me, so another trip to YouTube is in order. In the case of the Broughton, the recording actually appears on the composer’s website, and is linked above. My immediate impressions are of a lot of woodwind work. The Husa is well-known. It starts softly (I couldn’t hear the opening over my Phoenix-strength home air conditioning), gets eerie, then launches into a jazzy melody with some aggressive tendencies. The saxophone section seems to play a recurring character role. I can find no recording of the Dean, but the composer describes it as “a short essay in mostly hushed, inward, even flighty textures.” Call me intrigued: I’d love to hear it. The Badings is a full four movement symphony (I’ve linked above to recording on Vimeo). The first movement is dark and shimmery owing to some cluster chords. The second retains the dissonant language and makes it into a sort of duple-meter scherzo. The third is slow again and still dissonant, but this time lyrical and canonic. The final movement shines an optimistic light on the still-dissonant language before getting aggressive. This piece is definitely worth another look!
More to come tomorrow. I hope those still at the conference are enjoying it!