CBDNA 2009 Conference
Austin March 2009
The Answer, My Friends, Is Blowing In The Wind
Housed in the superb facilities of University of Texas at Austin, this CBDNA Conference was special, not only for the breadth of the sessions, but also for the huge swathe of repertoire, ranging from Berg to Bolcom, Grainger to Grantham, Gillingham and Gorb, Hindemith to Hesketh, Strauss, Schoenberg, and Stockhausen to Schwantner and Salfelder, or if you prefer from Adams to Zaninelli, via a wonderful new work by John Corigliano. Once again I have to take issue with the noisiness of some of the bands. A 700 seater concert hall is not a 70,000 seater football stadium, and the decibel level of some of the performances became seriously unpleasant, and very tiring. A rampant percussion section or a testosterone-fuelled brass department can blot out the colours of the woodwind and harp, and I often emerged shell-shocked, wondering why the bassoons bothered to turn up. And once again I wonder how some of the programmes are constructed; ninety minutes without an interval may be all right for a symphony by Mahler or a one-act opera, but for a noise-fest it is too much.
I once wrote in my website conducting notes that it would be an excellent thing is someone in each band, possibly an extra flute player or alto clarinettist, sewed a sampler for the conductor outlining a couple of Richard Strauss's Ten Golden Rules:
4 Never look encouragingly at the brass, except with a short glance to give an important cue.
6 If you think that the brass is not blowing hard enough, tone it down another shade or two.
Now the wind repertoire does exploit the brass, and percussion, superbly, but there were instruments which I hardly ever heard over the CBDNA Conference. The wonderful colours of harp, lower woodwind, double bass and lighter percussion were especially inaudible. This was certainly a "Band Conference" not a "Wind Ensemble Conference", which I guess is right for the College Band Directors. Although much of the music in the band repertoire exploits a bright, brash, attacking sound-world, it is essential that we take care of the balance of what is in essence a huge chamber ensemble made up of trios and quartets of instruments of widely differing colour and timbre, and that we give the audience a break every so often.
Max Rudolf puts it very clearly:
In most halls, the sound level of trumpets and trombones is just right if the conductor barely hears them. The same is true for horns in piano passages, while they often must be encouraged to bring out a forte marcato. Woodwind soloists should hit the conductor's ears quite strongly to make sure that their sound carries into the auditorium. This, of course, must not be accomplished by forcing the tone, which would hurt the instrument's sound quality and intonation. The solution lies in having the accompanying instruments play more softly...
I have a huge problem with these conferences - I usually come away profoundly dissatisfied because some works which intrigue me I just cannot remember, because they are often overshadowed in the programme by bigger and perhaps more substantial works; and usually I can never hear them again because they rarely turn up again in other conferences. However, with the exception of the works by Chen Yi and Zhou Long, and some of Steve Bryant's wonderfully inventive Ecstatic Waters, there were few pieces that I really want to study and learn. The major works by William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Frank Ticheli and Donald Grantham were of course wonderful gifts to the wind band, and should and will be played again and again, but on the whole they said nothing new. Two English composers write, I think perceptively, of today's dilemma for composers.
Robin Holloway writes: I am trying to write music which, though conversant with most of the revolutionary technical innovation of the last 80 years or so, and by no means turning its back on them, nonetheless keeps a continuity of language and expressive intention with the classics and romantics of the past.
Diana Burrell advises: 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, for the 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
Below are my favorite works, though there are many others I would like to programme.
|Bolcomb, William||First Symphony for Band||Composer||Michigan State||19.21|
|Bourgeois, Derek||Symphony for William||HaFaBra||University of North Texas||20.00|
|Bryant, Steven||Ecstatic Waters||Gorilla Salad||University of Texas at Austin||21.00|
|Corigliano, John arr Mösenbichler||Mr Tambourine Man Seven poems of Bob Dylan||Schirmer||35.00|
|Dzubay, David||Shadow Dance||Pro Nova||UNC Greensboro||9.00|
|Goh Toh Chai, Zeckaraiah||Concerto for Marimba & Wind Ensemble||Zeckaraiah Music||University of Georgia||13.00|
|Grantham, Donald||Symphony for Winds and Percussion||Piquant Press||West Texas A&M||20.00|
|Long, Zhou||The Future of Fire||Oxford||UMKC Conservatory||6.00|
|McAllister, Scott||Popcopy||Composer||Baylor University||13.00|
|Mobberley, Jim||The Word of Love||Composer||UMKC Conservatory||8.00|
|Puckett, Joel||It perched for Vespers Nine||Composer||UNC Greensboro WE||10.00|
|Puckett, Joel||Southern Comforts||Composer||Baylor University||15.00|
|Salfelder, Kathryn||Cathedrals||Boosey||Oklahoma State||10.00|
|Ticheli, Frank||Angels in the Architecture||Manhattan Beach||University of North Texas||15.00|
|Yi, Chen||UMKC Fanfare||Composer||UMKC Conservatory||3.30|
|Zaninelli, Luigi||Three Dances||C. Alan||Small College||10.32|
I have been asked in the past by the President of one august wind organisation not to pen my criticisms of conference repertoire. However, there is a huge problem in establishing the wind ensemble as the important musical vehicle that I believe it to be. Our concerts are generally ignored by the press, so there is often no paper trail for significant works and great performances. And for the many members who cannot attend, how do they find out about works, so I am unrepentant; you do not need to read any of this stuff.
Suffice it to say that the level of playing and conducting throughout this conference was generally exemplary, organization was terrific; programme building was for me occasionally an issue and artistry was sometimes sacrificed for noise and excitement, but for me it remains one of the best conferences I have attended, and my thoughts below help me to relive the great moments. I have reviewed each concert that I could attend and made some notes on Saturday's repertoire; full programmes can be found on my Home Page for November 2008.
Oklahom State University Wind Ensemble
Conductor, Joseph Missal; Guest Conductor, G Bradley Snow
The group giving the opening concert on Wednesday evening was billed as a wind ensemble, but I think this is a misnomer; this was a band, loud, brash, sometimes exciting but ultimately the sound world palled, especially after the first hour and a half... well, the concert ended soon after 90 minutes. It was hard to recall what was outstanding and effective, balance problems, with brass and percussion often drowning the woodwind, made it hard to assess the eight works in this concert. I remember enjoying Donald Grantham's nine minute piece of Americana, Starry Crown (Piquant Press); there may be others lost in the welter of sound, I think that I likedAnahita by Roshanne Eezady but by then my ears and concentration were really tired. For me the most memorable work was the brilliant Cathedrals (Boosey and Hawkes) by Kathryn Salfelder, still a student at NEC. This was selected as the 2008 ASCAP/CBDNA Frederick Fennell Prize Winner for young composers of concert band music, and also the Walter Beeler memorial Prize, awarded by Ithaca College.
The composer wrote:
"Cathedrals is a fantasy on Gabrieli's Canzon Primi Toni.... and is a synthesis of the old and the new, evoking the mystery and allure of Gbrieli's spatial music, intertwined with the rich colour palette, modal harmonies , and textures of woodwind and percussion".
West Texas A&M University Symphonic Band
Conductor, Donald J Lefevre; Guest Conductor, Gary Garner
I enjoyed this programme as much as any, for its well-planned symmetry and for the great choice of repertoire. Percy Grainger's Power of Rome and the Christian Heart has long been one of my favorites, and the magnificent organ in the Bates Hall gave us a rare chance to hear this haunting and evocative work, a performance perhaps lacking a little in freedom, without that ebb and flo which developed into the composer's free music. And no harp! The last time I conducted it in Texas was at Baylor, and we had five harps - I thought I was in Paradise.
By no means the biggest group we heard, this was however a fair-sized symphonic band, but cut down twice for Hindemith and Stravinsky, brilliant programming to give us a change of tone colour, with the leaner clarity of the wind ensemble. Between these two classics came the premiere of a flute concerto Apollo's Fire 23.30 which I found disappointing, but if you are looking for a 15 minute flute concerto couched in a traditional harmonic and melodic language, this would be worth exploring. An opening pastorale theme built on fourths and seconds was reminiscent of dozens of other band works, harmonically there was little to raise a blush on a maiden aunt's cheek, and while the flute writing was gorgeously written, the orchestra always well balanced, attractively scored with solos throughout the sections, grateful to play and to listen to, I wondered whether this was Mr. Cortese's normal style of composition, or whether perhaps he was writing in a popular band idiom which he knew would not, as Simon Rattle puts it, "frighten the horses". It occurred to me that he probably has not listened to the Grainger, written between 1918 and 1943, nor those important band works by Schwantner and Stockhausen of the seventies and eighties.
The other premiere was a Symphony by Donald Grantham, a composer whose music includes a wide range of works for orchestra, chamber groups and voices, but who has also contributed hugely to the wind repertoire. Stylistically I find his music developing work by work; a citation award from the American Academy mentions his elegance, sensitivity, lucidity of thought, clarity of expression and fine lyricism. To these I would add qualities that I find in Adam Gorb's music, a sure feeling for architecture, an instinct for the necessary tensions in a composition, and above all for a real sense of fun. This Symphony came after the Stravinsky, again brilliant programming, because the first two movements both use minimalist techniques in a way reminiscent of those middle period Stravinsky works, motor rhythms which constantly change and are interrupted with shifts of orchestration and metre, and then the finale moves into jazz in a way I am sure Stravinsky would have approved. The programme note draws attention to this gradual shifting of style, first movements is marked Bright, then dark, and starts with glittering ostinati entirely on white-notes, gradually introducing more chromaticism and moving towards the dark side. The slow movement, marked Melancholy develops this tension between bright and dark, introduces jazz elements until breaking out into a movement which isaggressive, swaggering and in swing rhythm throughout.
University Of Georgia Wind Ensemble
Conductor, John P. Lynch; Guest Conductor, Gregg Gausline
This was another really ingenious programme, a classic from 1977 paired with a fine transcription of a Debussy piano prelude, framed by four excellent contemporary works all by composers born in the early seventies, all four works written in the last four years. The programme note spoke of the struggle between man and nature to coexist, and this balance, painted in the programme with an impressionistic brush , presenting vivid portrayals of cities interwoven with rainforests and rocky outcroppings, cathedrals stretching to the depths of the sea, and bright white towers ascending towards the the sky.
My favorite piece from this programme was the Concerto for Marimba and Wind Ensemble with Kevin Bobo as the quite outstanding soloist. I always enjoy Goh Toh Chai's music, quirky, wryly ironic, with an extraordinarily attractive mix of Western and Eastern idioms; more of that anon. What I loved about this work was the variety of scoring, small groups pitted against the virtuoso marimba playing of Kevin Bobo, and while the first movement is a little static and introspective, the second bounds along with a joyous freedom. I am biased, since Zeck is a good friend and colleague, but I think he has a very distinctive voice.
This is what Adam Gorb wrote about his Sang Nila in 2005:
"Nothing could have been a greater contrast than what followed: Sang Nila by Singaporean composer Zechariah Goh Toh Chai. For me this work was the highlight of the conference. This was a haunting and magical work for chorus and band, featuring chanting and beguiling bell sounds. Here the influence of Gamelan music was triumphantly integrated into the musical language; the static harmonic field in this context was totally appropriate. The composer, who conducted this premiere has clearly absorbed many musical directions of the last fifty years, and the final choral passage with vowel sounds paying homage to Stockhausen's Stimmung was most memorable. Here is a composer whose original voice deserves to be heard worldwide."
There were two pieces of Americana in this programme which American bands are sure to enjoy. I enjoyed Lost Gulch lookout which opened the programme. Jake Wallace writes about the piece:"Boulder's Lost Gulch Lookout is an outcropping of rock on the razor edge of civilization - set atop precipices overlooking Boulder to the East, and beneath the great expanse of the Rocky Mountains from the West. The visceral, gritty energy of the very canyons themselves are, perhaps, nature's response to the incessant imposition of humanity into our few remaining unspoiled areas of nature." His description is apt and if you are looking for a miniature tone-poem with a huge range of colour and movement, this is a piece well worth considering for next season.
Carter Pann writes about The Wrangler: "There are no outlaw figures in The Wrangler... instead, the hero is a good man, a free man. Very confident and competent with his stallion and his lasso. After a serene/chorale-like introduction he is set in motion to a constant gallop across the landscape. On his journey he encounters gorgeous and treacherous terrain, stumbling upon a saloon where the patrons are engaged in a drunken dance. He manages to evade locals looking for a fight while catching the eye of many a beautiful woman. Our man is the proto-typical cowboy moving his way across the mountainous, sun-drenched West - a man who knows the land as the coyotes know the moon." This is another miniature Americana tone-poem which won't frighten the horses, seven and a half minutes long, action packed with some very virtuosic writing, again probably worth playing if you have the horses to play it.
University Of North Texas Wind Ensemble
Conductor, Eugene Miraglio Corporon; Guest Conductor, Dennis Fisher,
We shall be ever in debt to Eugene Miraglio Corporon and his players at Cincinnati and North Texas for laying down on disc the milestones of our repertoire. With that experience, the superb players in the group can tackle anything with ease, and I find a growing refinement in their balance and maturity in the soundworld. I look forward to the release of this concert on disc later in the year.
Their programme ranged over some of the leading band composers of the day, Gorb, Gillingham, Ticheli, Bourgeois and Grantham, all worth playing if you have good enough players. They started with an energetic performance of Gorb's Adrenaline City (Studio), son of Awayday, a sonata form movement of great energy, but this time in a teasing 10/8 - with syncopation - another great programme-opener. Players love the challenge of this, and I am sure they would too of Donald Grantham's Lone star Twister (Piquant Press) which closed the concert; if you were basing a themed programme on the weather (Bourgeois' Symphony of Winds), the Grantham would be terrific opener or closer, a five minute fast, violent movement of which the composer writes that it "aims to depict a twister's characteristics... Frankly, I'm a big fan of frank Zappa's G-Spot Tornado and this piece is cast in a similar vein."
More weather in the concerto for the evening, Gillingham's Summer of 2008: Euphonium Concerto,(composer) the first movement inspired by the tornados of that year. The second movement, Starry Night, was inspired by cool summer nights spent with the family round the fire, contemplating the peacefulness and awe of the stars and universe, while the third has tremendous energy, subtitled Festival. Like Derek Bourgeois, the composer draws on traditional thinking in his approach to melody, rhythm and phrase structure; as a virtusoso vehicle for the flawless Brian Bowman it fits the bill, twenty minutes of easy and sometimes exciting listening, but like Derek Bourgeois' Symphony for William, sometimes for me too sentimental.
Frank Ticheli, like Adam Gorb, writes at every level, education music which students love to play, and works which challenge the best groups, like his Symphony and this Angels in the Architecture. The opening is arresting, a major chord on twirlers accompanies a single voice singing a diatonic Shaker song Angel of Light". This mood of innocence and peace is interrupted by discordant sinister snatches in low wind and brass, and as Ticheli says "In opposition, turbulent , fast-paced music appears as a symbol of darkness, death and spiritual doubt. Twice during the musical drama, these shadows sneak in almost unnoticeably, slowly obscuring , and eventually obliterating the light altogether". Contrast is provided by two other religious themes, the ancient Hebrew song of peace, "Hevenu Shalom Aleichem" and the "Old Hundredth". "The alternation of these opposing forces creates, in effect, a kind of five-part rondo form (light-darkness-light-darkness-light)", for the work ends as it began with the re-appearance of the angel and her comforting song.
After the interval, we heard an attractive piece of minimalism. Moving Parts is an eight minute opener by a former student of Husa, Dutilleux and Corigliano, David Sampson, a composer with an impressive list of orchestral and chamber music credits to his name. The restless energy of the opening section is interrupted twice, each time with differing orchestral colouring, finally combining with the lyrical contrasting music. He says that writing for wind ensemble is a new departure, and I hope that people will follow up with more commissions.
Symphony For William
I am too close to this work to comment on it objectively. A few years ago, my wife and I stayed with Derek at his lovely home on Majorca and helped for a week to nurse his wife Jean who was dying of motor neurone or Lou Gehrig's disease. On our last night I asked Derek to write a work in memory of our third son William, and this Symphony appeared in instalments daily, completed within a week, and I premiered it at Tennessee Tech a few months later. The first movement is an elegant scherzo Will-o'-the wisp, an elegance which breaks into an angry, repetitive and strong coda. The second movement, Dianthus barbatus, a flower known in England as Sweet William, starts with one of the longest horn solos, even longer than the opening of the slow movement of Tchaikovsky Fifth, and covering a bigger range. Accompanied by brass it has always seemed to me to be too sentimental, but when it returns on woodwind it is beautiful and when it finally acts as a coda to the angry finale, Will Power, I am reduced to tears. I am close to tears too at the end of the slow movement, with crushing chords juxtaposed and a beautiful euphonium solo.
The final opens with Derek at his best (in my view), quirky, energetic, with unexpected harmonic and rhythmic twists, a real workout for the band reminiscent of his Symphony for Winds that he wrote for me for the first International Conference back in 1981. When his old student, Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, wrote about his Symphonies on February 9th he had only written 45. He is now well into his 46th Symphony, and to find out more about his music, browse on BOURGEOIS/GUARDIAN or visit the composers pages on my website. Revisiting this Symphonyon the recording published by HaFaBra, I am impressed by the journey it takes through sadness, resignation, high spirits, anger, and a dozen more emotions, and in a performance like that of North Texas under Eugene Corporon, I am totally convinced by it.
University Of Missouri - Kansas City Conservatory Of Music And Dance Wind Symphony
Conductor, Steven Davies
Few music colleges in the world can boast such a roster of composers as UMKC; Chen Yi, Zhou Long, Jim Mobberley and Paul Rudy are all on the strength and were represented in this extraordinary concert, accompanied by Alban Berg, extraordinary because of the repertoire and also the level of performance and commitment on the part of conductor and players.
This programme was an elegant five-parter, starting with a work called UMKC Fanfare by Chen Yi, three and a half minutes of breathless activity that blew one away with its energy and plethora of ideas. I don't suppose many of us will play a work with that specific title; I would hope that perhaps she will rename it, maybe even write a contrasting movement or two and develop it so that it reaches the huge audience that it deserves. At present it is just a terrific opener, and it heralded in one of the big surprises of the Conference, a performance of the BergKammerkonzert which was quite spectacular. Perfectly balanced, beautifully paced by Steve Davis and his excellent chamber group, this was a performance to relish, and we can only hope that it is put on a CD.
Chen Yi's Fanfare was a premiere, as was the version for wind ensemble of The Future of Fireby her husband, Zhou Long. Originally scored for childrens' choir and orchestra, this new version was given by a mixed chamber of under twenty singers. Researching Zhou Long's music in preparation for this article, I came across his statement:
Thinking about what we could do to share different cultures in our new society, I have been composing music seriously to achieve my goal of improving the understanding between peoples from various backgrounds. My conceptions have often come from ancient Chinese poetry. There are musical traits directly reminiscent of ancient China: sensitive melodies, expressive glissandi in various statements, and, in particular, a peculiarly Chinese undercurrent of tranquility and meditation. The cross-fertilization of color, material, and technique, and on a deeper level, cultural heritage, makes for challenging work. But there is more than this... more than reminiscence." Zhou Long.
There is no doubt in my mind that both Chen Yi and her husband Zhou Long are creating an extraordinary synthesis of Western and Eastern musical cultures. And their two works in this programme should lead us all to follow up their music. The Future of Fire was sensational by any standards, a whirlwind of ideas, some clearly traditionally pentatonic, some avant garde; there seemed to be Chinese percussion underlying both sides of the equation. This is a work I would love to hear again and again, together with Goh Toh Chai's Sang Nila which was premiered in Singapore. This marriage of Occident and Orient provides a wonderfully rich vein of compositional processes. The next WASBE Conference is in Taiwan, and if I had any influence on the groups going, I would immediately commission as much music from these two as I could afford.
Another surprise followed, a beautifully constructed eight minute song for soprano and wind,Words of Love by James Mobberley, simple and affecting, absolutely beautiful and a rare few minutes of controlled lyricism. The last work, Finally, was disappointing, a vehicle for the incredible virtuosity of Bobby Watson on alto saxophone by Bobby and faculty member Paul Rudy, it ruined the atmosphere of the Mobberley by miking up the soloist and building up the decibel level of the backing group to rival the heaviness of any big Symphonic Band in the country. The audience went crazy of course, but for me the carefully and sensitively constructed sound-world of the rest of the programme, albeit with real sonic excitement in the Chen Yi, Zhou Long and Alban Berg, was dispelled in a barrage of noise. Sometimes I am glad that I am getting quite deaf in my old age, but what a concert.
University Of North Carolina At Greensboro Wind Ensemble
Conductor, John Locke; Guest Conductor,Kevin Geraldi
This concert had some exciting performances but with a mix of six works from which Stravinsky and Schoenberg emerged as the most memorable. Mark Rogers transcription of Stravinsky's 1908Fireworks got the programme off to a sparkling start; Joel Puckett's intriguingly titled It perched for Vespers nine was a strong contrast, a slow movement of about ten minutes, tone clusters building quietly interrupted by outbursts in the percussion and sometimes brass with a strong climax which dies away to a coda of great beauty.
A strong performance of the Schoenberg Theme and Variations followed, for me a little un-balanced with the brass on occasion too powerful; Richard Strauss's admonition quoted above came to mind. Shadow Dance by David Dzubay was an exercise in contemporary reconstruction of a mediaeval dance form, (I have lost my programme, were they monks having a knees-up?) harmonically static for the most part but rhythmically growing in complexity and very good fun, ending its nine minutes with a coup de theâtre, as the dancers disappeared into the distance to be replaced by the monks singing vespers - a strong piece which I would like to hear again.
Four Factories was as it name implies, a four movement work with interesting ideas and sonorities but which left no really strong impression until the very end, a rabble rousing jazzy movement which became more and more confused and then just fizzled out, a wry ironic ending to a fifteen minute piece which must be great fun to play. I think I must be turning into an old curmudgeon, because I really did not want to hear a fantasy on Funiculi Funicula even in such a brilliant arrangement, so superbly played and deftly conducted. I felt it would be better placed in a pops concert, instead of after all of this contemporary music, or was it meant to send us home happy. Not me, the archetypical English curmudgeon.
University Of Texas Wind Ensemble
Conductor, Jerry Junkin
What I try to do in building a programme is to take players and audience on an emotional voyage. I want this amazing world of great wind, brass and percussion players to share in the emotional experience that they would have in orchestral concerts, and I then want the world of "real" music, orchestra, opera, chamber and vocal music, to receive the best repertoire and to realize that wind music can carry an emotional message as well as the next genre. Friday night's concert fulfilled all these expectations, a programme of great variety, challenging, superbly played, building towards a final performance by a truly great soloist, with a great wind ensemble and conductor.
They opened with Richard Strauss' masterly Feierlicher Enzung der Ritter des Johanniter-Ordensa thoroughly professional and committed performance, an ideal preparation for the languid sound world of Steven Bryant's Ecstatic Waters. Interestingly it was billed as a CBDNA premiere performance. I think that there should be a second CBDNA performance in two years time of this, and any other significant works which the Officers might select, and I would love to hear this also at the 2011 WASBE Conference.
Steve Bryant sets his stall out in an opening paragraph:
"Ecstatic Waters is music of dialectial ension - a juxtaposition of contradictory or opposing musical and extra-musical elemens and an attempt to resolve them. The five connected movements hint at a narrative that touches upon naiveté, divination, fanaticism, post-human possibilities, anarchy, order and the Jungian collective unconscious. Or W.B.Yeats meets Ray Kurzweil in The Matrix."
I have no idea who Ray Kurzweil is, and I have no knowledge of Jungian collective unconsciousness, but I was ravished by the sound world, a hybrid of electronics and live players, beautifully controlled, with a range of expression and technical work far beyond most works in this conference. The programme, derivd in part from the poetry of Yeats, does make sense, but is not a necessary adjunct to enjoying this superb work.
Grand Pianola Music
I am not a great fan of minimalist music, though I have conducted some Adams chamber music and of course Short Ride and I hugely enjoyed his Dr. Atomic in Chicago a couple of years back. I have listened to my recording of this work from time to time and swiftly grown impatient, but this was another great performance, with a clarity and carefully judged architecture which made me realise that no recording can do the work justice.
Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems Of Bob Dylan
Soprano solo Hila Plitmann
Blowing In The Wind
And so to the finale of this wonderful concert, a Corigliano premiere. Another prejudice - I am not a devotee of arrangements and transcriptions, but this transcription by Verena Mösenbichler was quite simply superb (that word again, sorry), and the soloist Hila Plitmann brought an international dimension to one of the great wind band concerts. Her wide experience in opera, film and musical is allied to a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and there is a remarkable physical intensity about her characterization which is truly virtuosic. This song cycle, on poems by Bob Dylan, is thirty-five minutes in length, not a moment too long in a performance as brilliant as this. Again, I hope it is recorded, together with the Bryant, there is nothing I can say except to pile fulsome praise on soloist, conductor and wind ensemble.
I had to return to Ithaca for a rehearsal, but there were several pieces from the Saturday programmes I would like to hear. Under Virginia Allen, the Small College Intercollegiate Band ended their programme with Three Dances of Enchantment by Luigi Zaninelli, a composer whose scoring I have always enjoyed. Later in the afternoon Eric Wilson brought the Baylor University Wind Ensemble in an intriguing programme which ran from the Bach/Holst Fugue a la Giguethrough Hammersmith to works by Kilstofte, Puckett and Scott McAllister.
I have included Scott's Popcopy in works I want to hear again, on the strength of his superb work for solo clarinet and band, Black Dog, but I worried a little about the jokey titles. However, I tracked a streamed performance from Baylor down on the web, you can find it by browsing on the following link or by entering popcopy Mcallister on your browser. Its great fun. The first movement, More Cowbell, is full of energy, based on a Saturday Night Live skit: "Guess what?! I've a fever and the only prescription is ...more cowbell!".... ending up with four of the darn things... "the cowbells also help in keeping the band together in the complex rhythmic sections."
The second movement, One time at band Camp, is a mazy summer idyll inspired by a catchphrase from American Pie and a flautist who tells annoying experiences about her experiences there - reminiscences of summer love lost and found. The third, Serenity Now, is inspired by a final episode in Seinfeld with a story line much too complex to relate here, but which gives McAllister an Ivesian freedom to make multiple band quotes and shrouded tributes to Holst, Hindemith and Sousa, with a chaotic ending...terrific fun.
Baylor also played a remarkable violin concerto by Joel Puckett. Again the slightly jokey titleSouthern Comforts did not prepare me for a major 15 minute work of great originality, and I am most grateful to Michael Haithcock for sending me links to listen to it. The composer commented, "In 'Southern Comforts' I am sharing some of the things that were important to me growing up in Atlanta or have become important in trying to remember home. Each movement is my representation of a memory or item from my childhood in the South." The movements are entitled "Faulkner," "Ritual: Football and the Lord," "Lamentation," and "Mint Julep." The string soloist was Associate Professor of Violin Eka Gogichashvili.
The final concert was by Michigan State under Kevin Sedatole and John Madden, and they ended the Conference with William Bolcom's First Symphony for Band. Like the Corigliano, this was a major statement by a major composer, and I would add to this pair the Symphony by Donald Grantham and Frank Ticheli's Angels in the Architecture as large-scale works to be studied and played. Bolcom paid tribute to the Corigliano's Circus Maximus as a kind of watershed, inspiring many composers to write for band who hitherto had fought shy of the medium, and his programme note gives a great overview of the work.
William Bolcom Symphony No 1
Commissioned by the Big 10 Band Directors Association, and premiered by our own Symphony Band under Michael Haithcock, my First Symphony for Band (2008) was originally planned to be my Ninth Symphony; I had decided to follow my friend John Corigliano's example of calling his magnificent Circus Maximus for Band, Symphony no. 3. On reflection I realized that, since Beethoven and Mahler, ninth symphonies have been thought of as a composer's last will and testament - a third symphony doesn't have that stigma - and I'm not really ready for that final word yet.
Thus this is a First Symphony for Band, and band is different from orchestra in more than just the absence of strings and the greater number of winds. There is a "culture of the orchestra" that goes back several centuries, one that shapes new pieces for it in subtle ways even a composer may not be fully aware of. The band culture is younger and historically more oriented to outdoors events and occasions. Band players seem now to be mostly of college age; there are very few professional non-university bands today, nothing analogous to the Sousa and Goldman outfits of my youth. The resonance of a long history like that of the orchestra is largely lacking. Against this - and I think this is why more and more composers of art music are turning to the band - is the fact that band people work hard and long on a new piece. They will spend weeks in rehearsal perfecting and internalizing it. And there is something infectious about the youthful enthusiasm a good college band will put into a performance.
The First Symphony is by far the most ambitious piece in my very small catalogue for band. In form it relates most closely to my Fifth and Sixth Symphonies for orchestra; as with them, it begins with a tight sonata movement followed by a scherzo, a slow movement, and a sort of rondo-finale. O tempora o mores, a tragic and forceful protest, laments our dark time. Scherzo tenebrosois a cousin to the scherzi in my Third, Fifth, and Sixth Symphonies especially in the sardonic use of popular material in their trios; in this trio, as we hear the cornet playing a waltz, I envision a clown dancing. Andantino pastorale belies a seemingly simple tunefulness with its dark undercurrent. The image of a New Orleans funeral procession, followed by a joyous dancelike march back from the graveyard, gives the form of Marches funéraires et dansantes, and leaves us at long last with an atmosphere of exuberance and of hope.
There was a rich vein of clinics and classes; William Bolcom discussed his new symphony with Michael Haithcock, Robert Spradling introduced his new methods of developing listening skills for conductors, Toru Miura from the Tokyo Kosei showed film of Frederick Fennell and reminisced endearingly about his work in Japan. A huge audience greeted Robert Ponto's quite brilliant exposé of the gestation and birth of Stockhausen's Lucifer's Dance and listened mesmerized by the recollections of H. Robert Reynolds, Jerry Junkin, Larry Rachleff and Frank Ticheli about rehearsals, performances and the tour to Milan. There were dozens of others I would have liked to attend.
Wind World Disconnect
As always in the wind world, there are various disconnects highlighted here which puzzle me. There is no news on the CBDNA website about the forthcoming WASBE Conference, there was no news on the WASBE website about the CBDNA Conference until at the last moment an announcement that all the concerts would be webcast, no news on the NBA website about either conference. Perhaps understandably the CBDNA is considered by NBA to be a rival association, but I distinctly remember, or at least I think I remembered, that NBA were to be involved in the WASBE Conference and heck!... don't we all have much the same mission to develop wind music? Ignoring each other is not a great way to do this.
Maybe I am almost alone in wanting everyone to hear our best commission and to experience our best conductors and groups. If we are to even partially achieve this, CBDNA, NBA, ABA, WASBE and the dozens of other organizations need at least to exchange information on new works, on premieres, on tours. Our websites should carry up to the minute news, with podcasts of non-commercial scores which our leadership feel of importance. We need a data base of programme notes and orchestrations, but above all we need to exchange ideas, and to commission the best possible composers, regardless of whether they work within the band business or not. Hearing the Elliot Carter Wind Quintet played at the Midwest two years ago by West Point made me realize what a great work he would have written for us. My Home Notes for April draw attention to exciting new works by Aaron Jay Kernis and Jennifer Higdon, so we are on our way.
The answer, my friends, as Bob Dylan and John Corigliano tell us, is blowing in the wind.