BASBWE 2001 Conference
School & Community Band
|Time's Harvest||Edwin Roxburgh||Maecenas|
|Holy Roller||Libby Larsen||Saxophone||OUP|
|Downtown Diversions||Adam Gorb||Trombone||Maecenas|
|Little Red Riding Hood||Paul Patterson||Narrator||Weinberger/Studio|
The BASBWE twentieth Conference might have been a damp squib, since many delegates came specifically to watch and hear Frederick Fennell working on and talking about well-loved repertoire, Richard Strauss, Grainger, Milhaud, Stravinsky; unfortunately Dr Fennell was unable to be present due to a slight operation from which he has recovered splendidly (he hopes to be in Manchester next Spring). The Conference was one of the best, partially because of some superb soloists, Kenneth Radnowsky, Paul Cohen and Rob Buckland on saxophone, James Gourlay, tuba, Linda Merrick, clarinet and Katey Price, trombone, and partially because of a number of significant new works at all levels. Joining established composers such as Guy Woolfenden, Adam Gorb and Martin Ellerby, were a number of exciting composers relatively new to the wind band medium; among these were Roxanna Panufnik, Edwin Roxburgh, Stephen McNeff, Kenneth Hesketh, Peter Smalley, Kit Turnbull, Sam Becker and Chris Marshall.
Back in 1999, one of our leading British composers, Diana Burrell, spoke of her perception of the job of a composer today:
Try and find a language which doesn't disregard everything which has happened in the twentieth century, that does acknowledge Stravinsky and Schoenberg and Boulez, while being simple enough to work for the concert hall, or church, or for young people - the wider community in some way, but which acknowledges that this is where we are - we can't go back. We can't unpick the twentieth century.
Many of the new works at Conference displayed this creed; there was a welcome lack of cliché and clear efforts to take players and audiences along paths which introduced them to contemporary techniques without "frightening the horses". An outstanding example of this is Time's Harvest by Edwin Roxburgh (Maecenas), a tough uncompromising work commissioned by Sefton Youth Wind Orchestra and premiered by them under Geoffrey Reed last year. The first section describes the aftermath of conflicts of the twentieth century, the second is an affirmation of faith in the younger generation, who have the opportunity to "foster the creative, rather than the destructive aspect of life in the bright new age which space exploration promises." The result is a work which might have been written for the London Sinfonietta, so closely argued and challenging is its language.
There were other works which avoided the usual band cliché Wasteland Music Two and Ghosts by Stephen McNeff (Maecenas) took a theatrical approach to the problem, indeed Ghosts could turn out to be a successful replacement for band transcriptions of "Pictures at an Exhibition", a 19 minute 9 movement work which can split up into suites as required. The composer would prefer conductors to play the first and last movements, but then leaves it to you to choose the other movements.
Crown of Thorns by Julie Giroux led to heated discussion, I found it moving and convincing. I enjoyed the post-minimalist Images from a City by Norbert Zehm and the more conservative Alan Fernie's Portrait of a City (ms). Peter Smalley's The Legend of the Ninth (ms) also made a considerable impact following his space-age odyssey of previous years. There is a serious intent about the music of Samuel Becker (Lamentations on Achilles/ms), and of Eseld Pierce (A Name Perpetual/Ariel), and both of these pieces provide contemplative programmatic moments. All of the pieces in manuscript deserve publication.
Chethams School Wind Ensemble made a tremendous impact on the conference, beginning with a thirty minute piece for narrator and band, Little Red Riding Hood by Paul Patterson (published Weinbergers/Studio), a setting of Roald Dahl's nursery story. This would be a terrific piece for a family concert. Movement and design would add to this drama, the original orchestral version was acted out at the Barbican. Their Gala concert began and ended with works by Kenneth Hesketh, Danceries and Masque (Faber) both excellent additions to the repertoire, superbly if a little thickly scored, with refreshing twists of metre and harmony. Any band or audience which enjoys the music of Arnold or Walton will enjoy these two works, Hesketh is clearly a major new talent to reckon with.
The world premiere at School/Youth Band level, probably nearer Grade 4 than 3, was Aue by the New Zealand composer Christopher Marshall (Maecenas). This is a seven minute miniature tone poem, rather Ivesian, gently undulating clashing diatonic chords under snatches of melody culled from folk song and hymn book, interrupted by wailing cries on conch shells (aka saxophones). It certainly is a very individual sound-world, and I cannot write of it entirely objectively because I have been so closely involved in its inception. Mark Heron wrote:
I think the initial reaction for many after the first performance on Saturday evening was one of mild disappointment, but it was performed again on Sunday morning by the same band as part of the National Concert Band Festival and having heard it for a second time I am much more positive about it. I think the language is fresh and inventive and with careful direction in terms of pacing and overall structure, I think it could be a successful work.
The other evening Gala concert was by the RNCM Wind Orchestra, and this began with Fascinating Ribbons by Joan Tower (AMP), a CBDNA commission, thoroughly accessible and professional, with a Stravinsky-like rhythmic drive and energy. The other novelty was the wind version of Ray Premru's Concerto for Tuba (published T.U.B.A.), written in memory of John Fletcher and given a very moving performance by James Gourlay. Many felt that the first two movements in particular were a little dry and academic, possibly the work means more to those who knew John.
Yorkshire Wind Orchestra gave the final gala at 1215 on Sunday, with four guest conductors. For me, the outstanding work was John Boyd's transcription of Libby Larsen's Holy Roller (OUP), given an electrifying account by Rob Buckland. Martin Ellerby's Clarinet Concerto (Studio), with Linda Merrick as the persuasive soloist, although in the composer's lighter mode, is a useful addition to the scanty repertoire for this instrument as soloist. Ellerby also contributed The Big Easy Suite (Studio) at Grade 2/3, a fun New Orleans-based four movement work which is bound to be popular, and Edinburgh Schools reminded us of his fine Dona Nobis Pacem (Maecenas)
All Good Things Come In Threes
The saying is that "All Good Things come in Threes", and with concertos at professional level, that is definitely the case this year. In Denton at the CBDNA I heard three excellent works for Trombone and Wind, by William Goldstein, Richard Peaslee and Adam Gorb; in Manchester, Gorb's Downtown Diversion received a brilliant second performance from the young virtuoso, Katey Pryce, with her ertswhile colleagues of Chethams Wind Orchestra. This is a fun piece, opening with post-Bernstein "Awayday" finger-snapping, a bluesy ballad reminiscent of the Bennett Trumpet Concerto and a finale which is a tour de force.
Three good Trombone Concerti in Texas followed by three good works for Saxophone in Manchester makes this an "annus mirabilis" for concertos. Paul Cohen played the original version of the Dahl Concerto with Chethams, and made a convincing case for this version being revisited, and Rob Buckland made us wonder how Libby Larsen's Holy Roller works in the original piano version. John Boyd's transcription is thoroughly convincing and his orchestration adds to the excitement and intensity. The world premiere of Dream Dancer by Michael Colgrass was persuasively played by Kenneth Radnowsky. In this, the saxophone explores and reconciles conflicting cultures of Mideastern, Asian and American music, "a rich palette of authentic folk music from round the world".
James Froseth and John O'Reilly introduced their methods, Johan de Meij discussed his works for band and conducted a revised version of The Red Tower, John Boyd considered the problems of transcribing and arranging and conducted a brilliant account of Holy Roller, Jonathan Good walked off the transatlantic plane into the theatre to conduct Ticheli's An American Elegy, and later led a panel on British repertoire of the past two decades, Guy Woolfenden rehearsed Galimaufry, Nick Daniel rehearsed the Mozart C minor Serenade (or part of the first movement), and Adam Gorb led a number of discussions between composers and conductors.
There were outstanding contributions from Wootton Upper School (very pleasant pieces by Philip Sparke and Michael Brand), Richmond School Wind Orchestra (intriguing pieces by Bryant, Panufnik and Julie Giroux), Edinburgh Schools Wind Ensemble and Yorkshire Wind Orchestra. The oldest band present, Cork Barrack Street Silver and Reed Band founded in 1837, brought Celtic charm and energy to the Conference, while the newest band, Detroit High School for the performing Arts, founded ten years ago, introduced a superbly disciplined performance of American music by Stamp, Maslanka, Giroux and Sousa. I have written elsewhere of Crown of Thorns and I particularly liked their moving account of Spiritual by William Grant Still, and the high spirits of Thomas Duffy's Michigan Motors.
Another work by Duffy which is good fun and introduces contemporary ideas is Max the King(Ludwig) and this was nicely contrasted in the opening repertoire session with the gentle simplicity of a work at about Grade 2.5 by Adam Gorb, Candelight Procession (G&M Brand).
This Conference presented a lot of very good music from both sides of the Atlantic; it would be good to hear more from Europe and Japan in the 21st birthday conference 22/23/24 March 2002.