The morning repertoire session kicked off with Alberto Roque from Portugal and special guest Denis Salvini from Italy. They looked at repertoire from southern Europe, including the following:

Nuclear Warrior – Federico Agnello (Italy) – Foreboding turns catastrophic. Look for more from this very young (b. 1991) composer.

Segnali – Claudio José Boncompagni (Italy) – sparse, with special attention to harmony and color. Turns martial.

Díptico para um oceano – Fábio Cachão (Portugal) – Another very young (b. 1992) composer. The piece begins with atmospheric (oceanic, perhaps?) percussion and piano and gradually builds toward sustained pitched sounds that turn elemental.

Decateto – António Victorino D’Almeida (Portugal) – Dissonant and energetic, with obvious humor. Sounds about impossible to play well.

Danze Macedoni – Luciano Feliciani (Italy) – Lives up to its name, sounding a lot like Eastern European folk dances, with some nice chamber writing in spots.

Sinfonietta no. 1 – Carlos Garcia (Portugal) – For band with optional jazz saxophone solo. The whole piece has a modern harmonic flavor colored by pop and especially jazz. The second movement has strong echoes of Vince Guaraldi’s slower stuff. Third movement was an intricate 6/8 dance.

Porto de Saudades, op. 20 – Nelson De Jesus (Portugal) – A very sad folk flavor to start, slightly reminiscent of the little band in The Nightmare Before Christmas, with its bass and woodwind soloists.

Sopro do côncavo – Pedro Lima Soares (Portugal) – Again, a youngster (b. 1994). Colorful textural play gives way to a minimally conceived tutti duet of sorts.

Canticum Lunaris – Jose Suñer Oriola (Spain) – Piano feature. Each bar on the first page of the score is in a different meter.

Tertium Quid – Jesus Santandreu (Spain) – Opens mysteriously, refusing to resolve.

Felix Hauswirth then walked us through some repertoire from Asia and Australia. He said he was looking for quality, sophisticated repertoire that was not necessarily known. He tried to cover as much of Asia as possible, especially that which retained an Asian flavor. These criteria resulted in the following list:

Prelude to the Quick Collage Sketches of Rain – Phoebus Lee (Hong Kong) – Builds in layers with barely contained energy.

Drunken Xuanwu – Ka-Wai So (Hong Kong) – Gestural, a bit disjunct

The Silence of Whisper – Stephen Yip (Hong Kong) – Opens with atmospheric percussion, expands into gestural effects in whole band

Beautiful Evening of Prairie – Hesheng Wang (China) – Accessible piece that requires harp. Sounds like a landscape from the first note. Very pretty.

Jasmin – Xiao ou (Jordan) Yan (China) – Described as a perfect encore piece for an Asian program. Very full scoring.

Autumn in Heian-Kyo – Tetsunosuke Kushida (Japan) – The opening reminded me of a combination of the first notes of the Star Trek theme and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Over Great Waves and Far Away – Yo Goto (Japan) – Echoes of Copland’s Fanfare to the Common Man give way to a gorgeous flute solo and, eventually, tutti. A very nice sort of contemporary pop/romantic piece.

Krakatoa – Kah Chun Wong (Singapore) – Menacing and pirate-y. Sounds like LOTS of fun to play, especially for horns.

Into the Sun – Jodie Blackshaw (Australia) – Opens with a didgeridoo effect underlining a long solo trombone line. Moves into some counterpoint.

That I May Love – Ralph Hultgren (Australia) – A simple song with some immediate harmonic surprises.

 

This afternoon we had a single concert, featuring the Banda Municipal de Barcelona, conducted by Salvador Brotons:

Scherzo sobre un tema popular català – Joan Lamote de Grignon

Empúries, Sardana lliure – Eduard Toldrà (trans. Lamote de Grignon)

Puigsoliu, Symphonic Poem – Joaquim Serra I Corominas (trans. Alfonso)

Montmagastre, A Little Symphonic Scene – Manuel Oltra (trans. León)

L’aplec. Peasant Celebration – Agustí Borgunyó (trans. Lluís Moraleda)

Music for a Sunday – Xavier Montsalvatge

Symphony no. 6 Concise, op. 122 – Salvador Brotons

This concert began with a demonstration of three unusual instruments: the flabiol (tiny one-hand recorder), as well as the tible and tenora. The latter two were like the oboe and English Horn on steroids: piercing and RIDICULOUSLY loud. I took to referring to them as “saxophoboes” for the rest of the concert. They changed the sound of the entire band whenever they appeared, drawing bright lines on whatever melody they appeared. While they were very well integrated into the instrumentation of the full band, their constant presence at times obscured the rest of the band, so my ears were a little relieved once they took their final bow.

As for the program itself, every piece in the first half basically sounded the same. They were all some variant of a Romantic song or dance, usually with some drama in the middle and a big ending. That’s not to say that anything sounded bad – the overall ensemble sound was top notch, and they played with expression and clarity. But I was again relieved when they came back from intermission and played the Montsalvatge, which was a decidedly modern suite in three movements. And it was written for modern instrumentation, so the saxophoboes, flugelhorns, and even alto clarinet were gone. The first movement highlighted some interesting harmonies and featured a percussion soli in the middle. The second was a pretty dance with modern touches and plenty of color. The third was a sophisticated comedic polka. The Brotons Symphony, in five movements, began aggressively before moving to longer lines with a bit of a “Hollywood!” undertone at times. The second was a melodically-driven slow procession over a steady short-long ostinato in 3/4 that shifted tonalities freely. The third was a scherzo with constantly shifting meter – this would be a good time to mention that the incredible maestro Brotons (both composer and conductor) never used a score throughout the concert, even for others’ work. This was particularly impressive in this movement, in which the meters were in no way predictably patterned. The fourth was a beautifully paced passacaglia, my favorite movement of the concert. This segued directly to the fifth, a big technical showpiece and hymn, which led to a HUGE, Romantic climax. Congratulations to maestro Brotons and the Banda on their stunning achievement!

 

Again from Iberia, the evening featured the Banda Sinfónica Portuguesa, led by Francisco Ferreira:

Out of Earth – Oliver Waespi

Chiaroscuro, Três Esquissos para Band Sinfónica – Luís Carvalho

Transmutes – Chiel Meijering

Porto de Saudades – Nelson De Jesus

A last minute programming change (and a mysteriously absent printed program) made it a mystery that indeed, the Waespi was going first. I understand why they might have changed it – perhaps they wanted to have fresh chops for this, their biggest work. But, at 40 dark and gloomy minutes, opening with this piece was rather like having a double bacon cheeseburger, deep fried and smothered in spicy sauce, with a side of fritjes thrown in to stay culturally appropriate, for breakfast. In short, it was a lot to digest. But it was certainly a finely crafted piece, and the band played extraordinarily well, filling the room with glorious, harmonious sounds. The first movement was icy and dark. The second was slow and menacing, with some optimism peeking through later. The third and final movement was rhythmic, then jazzy, with some amazing solos. After a break, they began with the Carvalho, again in three movements. The first began with bells, then turned frantic and VERY LOUD, ending with an absolutely spot on perfect crescendo. The second was sort of a rondo, beginning with and constantly returning to a dark and mysterious percussion soli. My favorite moment was an open trombone/muted trombone duet. The third was an incredibly noisy dance. The Meijering was a bari sax solo, featuring Henk van Twillert. He was billed as “Baritone Saxophone and Electronic,” but I never saw or heard anything electronic at any point in the piece. I unfortunately rarely heard van Twillert at all – while his cadenza moments showed a great deal of artistry, a combination of thick scoring in the ensemble and balance issues in the hall essentially buried him whenever the band was playing. So it was with some relief that the final cadenza came. The De Jesus (the same one we heard at the reading session this morning) capped the program: that initial sighing song turned out to be something like the main theme of the piece. The form was sectional, and the sections did not seem to relate to each other. I’m sure program notes would have helped, and I am also sure that, while De Jesus has obvious talent at making a wind band sound great, his future compositions will benefit from closer attention to form and transitions. I look forward to watching his future career. The band ended with a fine, dramatic encore that again showed them at their best.

 

Tomorrow: the last day…!