My morning began with a chai chocolate at an outdoor café table at Bagels & Beans, mere steps from my hotel. Utrecht appears to be a late rising city – while there were plenty of people on their way somewhere on bike or on foot, business was not exactly booming at any of the cafes on this beautiful plaza at 8:30am. So I had some good quiet time to enjoy the city and get ahead on today’s post.
The official activities began back at Tivoli Vredenburg with an open rehearsal of the WASBE Honor Band led by Jan Van Der Roost. They spent 90 minutes with his piece Yokohama Festival Overture, with Van Der Roost picking it apart and often turning to the audience and discussing what he was doing.
This was immediately followed by the Wind Orchestra of Dutch Customs, led by the amazing Björn Bus, playing the finalists for the WASBE composition competition. These six finalists fell into two categories: educational and community. At the end of the concert, a winner was named in each category.
Suite de Vale – Renato Goulart
Wolf Tears – Nelson Jesus – WINNER
Folksong of Midu – Ling Chang
Mulan Fantasie – Hung Pin Chang
Pershing – Gregory Fritze – WINNER
African Harmony – Johan de Meij
The Goulart was in four movements. The first used a simple ostinato as its basis. The second was a simple song with some effects resting on a bed of flowing clarinet sound. The third was another song that used some gently jazzy harmonies, and the fourth was an energetic finale with some nice part writing. The Jesus, which won the educational prize, featured an ethereal, spacious opening that got mean before the tempo started to move. It also featured a chorale that turned grandiose before the opening returned. The Chang was essentially a series of variations on one folk song with some very nice writing. Among the community class, the Chang (no relation, I’m guessing) was essentially Chinese cowboy music. The Fritze, which took the community prize, used a lot of multi-meter writing throughout, including fanfare, scherzo, fugato, and lyrical sections that mostly transitioned very well. The Meij was a fairly straightforward symphonic treatment of five African folk melodies with plenty of African percussion thrown in. Overall, a strong slate of finalists – congrats to Nelson Jesus and Gregory Fritze on their wins!
After a fascinating lunch with some American and Polish friends, I caught the tail end of the conductor panel at the Utrecht Conservatorium, where I heard some very strong opinions about the need to play only the finest quality literature with our bands. (As I hope this website demonstrates, I strongly concur). Then I headed up to Andrea Loss’s talk about Italian band music. The highlight of that was a look at the work of Olivio di Domenico (1925-2010), especially his mystical Concerto per Banda (1967). I hope I have the forces to perform this some day.
This afternoon’s marquee concert featured two wonderful European bands. The Brass-Ensemble des Symphonishcen Blasorchesters Schweizer Armeespiel (Swiss Army Brass and Percussion Ensemble), led by Major Phillippe Monnerat, started things off with the following program:
Fanfare, Marches, Hymns, & Finale – Bruce Broughton
WASBE (Wuthering and Solemn Brass Extravaganza) – Marcel Saurer (World Premiere)
Der Heimatvogel – Carl Hess (arr. Trachsel)
Three Swiss Tunes in the Baroque Style – Walter Lang-Van Os
These young players brought talent and passion to all of this music. Each movement of the Broughton lived up to its name: the first was an angular mixed meter fanfare; the second featured percussive rhythms overlaid with lyricism and some very fine precision playing; the third was indeed hymn-like, and demonstrated a superb understanding of brass timbres and tessituras on the composer’s part; and the finale was muscular and snarling. The Saurer was colorful and varied. The Hess sounded exactly like one would expect a symphonic folk song setting to sound. The Lang-Van Os was perhaps the first large ensemble piece I’ve ever heard where I thought the piccolo trumpet added value. It was both tastefully scored and wonderfully executed, a fine addition to this twist on both folk music and Baroque style. Their encore (again, I didn’t catch the composer or title) was a blazing march. Well done, Swiss Army Brass!
The Irish Symphonic Wind Orchestra, whom I heard briefly in front of City Hall yesterday, presented their concert hall rep under conductor Liam Daly this afternoon. They showed great precision for such a large group (about 100 players – I would have loved to hear more bass!). Their rep was as follows:
Mutanza – James Curnow
Celtic Players – Fergus O’Carrol (World Premiere)
Reflections on an Old Japanese Folk Tune – Philip Sparke
A Wexford Rhapsody – Thomas Christopher Kelly
La Mezquita De Cordoba – Julie Giroux
The Curnow was an exceptionally dramatic theme and variations that used extended tonality throughout to great effect. The Kelly was basically a pretty arrangement of three folk tunes. The Sparke was essentially a theme and variations, this time with a more virtuosic emphasis. The O’Carroll (hey Fergus!) began mysteriously with an off-stage instrument. Was it an oboe? A trumpet? Nope, soprano sax. It also featured singing players near the very beginning, befitting its roots as material for a Requiem mass. It featured heartfelt playing from the whole band, even through the surprisingly commercial-sounding Amen at the end. They finished with the Giroux, which opened BIG and mean with some suggestion of regal benevolence and left a general impression of both reverence and sensuality somehow. Special shoutout to those two trumpet soloists – you had me at high C! Bravo to the entire band and maestro Daly!
This evening’s concert featured the impossibly amazing Banda Municipal de Música de Bilbao, led by José R. Pascual-Vilaplana. They played:
Andante y Polonesa – Juan Cantó Francés
Una Aventura De Don Quijote – Jesús Guridi (arr. Franco, adapted Pascual-Vilaplana)
Agüero – José Franco Ribate
Caleidescopio – Amando Blanquer Ponsoda
Ballets – Miguel Asins Arbó
Tribal Elements – José Miguel Fayos Jordán
Did I already say that this band sounded amazing? It bears repeating – every section sounded as one, and maestro Pascual-Vilaplana was extremely musical, especially in his rubatos, which were interpreted with precision and expression by the players. The Cantó Francés was a very traditional concert overture, at least until the polonaise came in, lending a decidedly different flavor to this piece, which ended up being full of surprises. The Guridi was another surprise which, despite its 1916 composition date, carried strong tonal relations to Gershwin, at least to my ear. It was modern, but with obvious romantic roots. Have you ever wondered what a pasodoble is supposed to sound like? We heard a perfect one tonight, by José Franco Ribate, played by this band. It was at once graceful and forceful, precise and achingly expressive. The Blanquer Ponsoda was the first taste of real modernity: dissonance ran throughout, with an ethereal opening turning eventually angry. We had an intermission to collect ourselves before the Ballets of Miguel Asins Arbó. Each movement of these set of four stuck basically with a familiar dance style, which I would classify as such: caricature waltz, sexy tango, exuberant swing, and “Hollywood!”. Each of the first three was a perfect encapsulation of its style (the fourth wasn’t far behind, though it labored a bit with an attempt to include another style, the commercial lullaby), and maestro Pascual-Vilaplana’s superb musicianship was on display in full exuberant, dancing-on-the-podium fashion. He and the players obviously share a connection that transcends simply playing together. The Fayos Jordán was a forceful modern statement, laden with effects in the extreme, all executed with conviction. The encore was another pasodoble: Sospiros d’España by Santiago Quinto Serna. It was played with the same gusto and virtuosity as the other. We begged for more, but even the greatest bands must eventually leave the stage.
With day 2 done, we now look forward to day 3, including one very important presentation!!