It’s the last day! Since I’m not at the conference, I can only imagine how it went, but the repertoire certainly looks exciting! We begin with the final reading session, this time featuring the Amador Valley High School band conducted by Jonathan Grantham. They played:
Fanfarria by Javier Perez Garrido
On This Bright Morning by David Maslanka
Persian Dances 2 & 3 by Amir Molookpour
Champ de Mars Par Jour de Lumere by Eric Champagne
Arcana by Kevin Houben
Fanfarria might as well be called “Fanfare for the Common Sophomore.” The first half sounds like a watered down version of Copland’s more famous fanfare, complete with unison brass phrases punctuated by bass drum and gong hits. The second half adds the whole band, but retains a bit of Copland’s flavor. If you’ve always wanted to play Fanfare for the Common Man but either don’t have the trumpets or can’t stand to leave out your woodwinds, this might be for you. The Maslanka begins and ends with a repeated piano arpeggio that sounds equal parts Beethoven and Philip Glass, most often paired with simple melodic accompaniment. I know that David Maslanka is a serious, thinking composer, but this trend in his music (see below) is not his best. This piece shines the brightest (no pun intended) in its center section. The 2 Persian Dances ought to be on every list of quality grade 3 literature. #2 started a bit slowly for my taste, so I preferred #3. Both have a lot to offer students. I could not find a recording for the Champagne, but it appears to have won at least one prize recently. The Houben’s opening sounds like every grade 1 minor key band piece: simple, modal, and unsophisticated. Unfortunately, it is a grade 4, and the rest of the piece does not do anything to dispel those first impressions. So end the reading sessions. There were plenty of interesting pieces among these. Make sure to sign up for the Midwest Music newsletter so you can hear them all again.
The final day of concerts began with the Showa Wind Symphony. I am VERY sad to miss this one. Every time I have seen a band from Japan, I have been absolutely blown away. This began with this video, showing “Japan’s Best Elementary School Band” playing Bernstein’s Slava!, a grade 6 piece, from memory. I thought this must just be smoke and mirrors, but at Midwest 2013, I saw the Kagoshima Joho High School Wind Ensemble. Every note was polished and musical (except for an inexplicably incoherent rendition of the final movement of Symphonie Fantastique), and they had a dynamic range that I have never heard again in any band ever. At Midwest 2014, I attended a clinic with the Saitama Sakae Wind Orchestra, in which the players were disciplined and had an extremely mature sound, despite having only played for one year in many cases. (Takeaway quote from the Japanese clinician: “In Japan, you choose one club, and you do it well. Is it different in America?” followed by uncomfortable laughter from the mostly American audience.) I have still never seen a Japanese adult band, but if their children are any indication, the Showa Wind Symphony, directed by Shintaro Fukumoto, ought to be absolutely impossibly good. Sadly, I know almost none of their music:
Downey Overture by Oscar Navarro
Toccata and Fugue in D minor by J. S. Bach (arr. Yo Goto)
Kokyou by Masamicz Amano
Cane River Murals by Martin Ellerby (guest conducted by Eugene Migliaro Corporon)
“The Earth” from The Planets by Trouvere by Jun Nagao
Afferoce by Chang Su Koh
A Wild Rose Above by Yo Goto
Mont Fuji – la musique inspire de l’estampe de Hokusai by Toshio Mashima
The Navarro I had heard previously on recordings, and another listen tells me that it is an impressive and unique concert opener. I could not find specifically the Yo Goto arrangement of the Bach, but I have heard it in other versions, and it is a wonderful technical and musical showpiece for band. Nor could I find a recording of the Amano, but a look at the perusal score shows a lot of black notes, and thus (probably) technical difficulty. The Ellerby grabs the attention immediately with clear phrasing and soulful melodies in the first movement. The second movement is joyous romp of a swing scherzo. The later movements similarly use jazzy styles, often a little bit on the nose for my taste (I am always wary of any wind band piece that has a drum set part), but mostly to good effect.
I was only able to find the Nagao in saxophone orchestra version, and that has some interesting sounds in it. I would love to hear what I hope would be the more colorful wind band version. I could not find the Koh at all. The Goto sparkles at times and goes into full on aggressive band dissonance mode at others. It ends atmospherically. I also struck out looking for anything on the Mashima, but I trust it was a stellar concert closer.
Finally, the WASBE concerts officially end with the WASBE Youth Wind Orchestra led by José Rafael Pascual-Vilaplana, and featuring players from several countries around the world. Their program has a decidedly Latin tilt to it, with some American influence thrown in as well.
Pulsar Mimesis by José M. Fayos-Jordán
Rapsodia Hernandiana by Santiago Quinto Serna
Utopias from 200. Tercera Suite Para Band by Victoriano Valencia Rincón
Requiem by David Maslanka
Symphony no. 2 “La Commedia” by Brett Abigaña (world premiere, commissioned by World Projects for 2015 WASBE San Jose)
The one piece that I do know on this program is the Maslanka Requiem. In one of my last acts as music director at the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, I signed us up to be on the consortium for this piece. When I eventually saw the score, it was not my favorite: like On This Bright Morning above, I thought it relied too heavily on piano figuration paired with single melodies in its outer sections, which make up most of the piece. Clearly I am in the minority feeling this way, because I have heard of at least a dozen performances of this piece. That said, I do like a lot of Dr. Maslanka’s music, and I am overdue to feature one of them in this space. I am thinking Give Us This Day or Morning Star or Mother Earth might get my attention very soon.
Regarding the rest of the program, I could find no sign of the Fayos-Jordan. The Quinto Serna starts off rather loud and active. A highlight comes towards the middle with some great and delicate (but at times still very loud) lyrical music, which continues in some fashion to the end. The Valencia Rincón starts out as genuine party music, complete with grooving percussion. It becomes more gentle and lyrical in the following section, before taking a stately turn. Finally, the party atmosphere returns. The big piece of the night is of course the Abigaña which, being a world premiere, you had to be there to hear. I very much look forward to hearing it!
So, with WASBE 2015 now officially over, I find myself reflecting on the positives and negatives. Really and truly, my positives list is enormous, and my negative only consists of one big thing. That one thing is the cost of registration. At $350 for the week, this is far more expensive than a great many larger conferences. The Midwest Clinic in 2015, for instance, is $150 for four days, with a cheaper early-bird rate available. This high price of admission I’m sure deterred many locals (especially non-members, who had to pay an even higher price) from coming, let alone those who already had to pay for air travel and lodging. That said, it ended up being worth the price of admission for me. San Jose is a beautiful city and a perfect (yes, PERFECT) place to host a conference of this size. The venues and hotel were close together and were surrounded by great food options. The hotel discounts appear to have been deep indeed! The California Theater was a wonderful venue for bands that we managed to fill on several occasions. The bands were well chosen and represented different types of ensembles and approaches to our art from around the world. The repertoire sessions allowed for more featured performers (as well as double duty from all of the Canadian bands) and showcased a variety of repertoire, again from around the world. I think every band director, player, composer, publisher, and wind band aficionado owes it to him or herself to get to a WASBE conference. It was good times with great music and great people in a phenomenal location. So, WASBE, keep doing what you did so well at this conference. I’ll see you in Utrecht in 2017.