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WASBE 2005 Conference

By Tim Reynish

Selected Works From Wasbe 2005 Conference

Aulio, Maxime Gulliver's Travels
Beurden, Bernard van Concerto (for Fanfare Orchestra)
Chai, Zechariah Goh Toh Sang Nila
Coleman, Christopher A Jazz Funeral
Dan, Chen Five Sketches for Wind Orchestra
Gorb, Adam Dances from Crete
Graham, Peter Harrison's Dream
Hideaki, Miura Salty Music
Hill, Adrian Toccata Singapura
Mackey, John Red Line Tango
Mashima, Toshio Les Trois Notes du Japan
Man, Lo Hau Conversing with the Stars
Mertens, Hardy Prayer
Pütz, Marco Derivations (For Fanfare Orchestra)
Pütz, Marco Improvisations & Fugato
Speck, Frederick Kizuma
Syler, James Minton's Playhouse
Ticheli, Frank Symphony no 2
Whitacre, Eric Cloudburst

Recommended works from Jim Cochran's repertoire sessions are listed below.

Singapore - City Of Promise

We would like to take this opportunity to wish our Hindu and Muslim students a very happy Deepavali and Hari Raya Puasa.

This was the striking notice I found in a Christian College in Singapore last December; near my hotel were Buddhist and Hindu Temples, a Mosque, a Synagogue, a Protestant and a Catholic Cathedrals. Singapore is a city of harmony, between religions and civilisations; this philosophical background together with the hi- tech facilities and generous sponsorship, augured well for the first WASBE Asian conference in ten years.

East Meets West

The theme was articulated by President Dennis Johnson:

A Confluence of the Arts - East meets West... this conference is truly representative of our efforts to promote the wind band as a serious medium of musical expression... Nothing promotes our art more than the gathering of the world's wind band faithful and the sharing of our knowledge.

So what went wrong? During my short- lived Presidency, I managed to get one of the main objectives of WASBE put on every publication:

WASBE - promoting symphonic bands and ensembles as serious and distinctive mediums of musical expression and culture

I was glad that this slogan did not appear in the very handsome WASBE 2005 Conference programme. In fact, in its 80 plus pages, nothing appeared to help us in the sharing of knowledge, no programme notes, no information about music and composers, no ways of contacting the bands or conductors, not even one advertisement about literature. This I think was the major problem; we did not have a conference to promote the wind band as a serious medium of musical expression, we had a series of papers and lectures as a filling in between the 9 am repertoire session and two concerts often of sub- Midwest literature, and a lot of literature about organisation, nothing about music.

Oom Pah Pah

I feared the worst when I saw the first press release in January 2003, which ran:
...Some band lovers here believe the oom- pah- pah meet will add oomph to the arts scene...

The aim seems to have been to get people into concerts and to display Western and Eastern wind music whatever the level. Some delegates were extremely angry and when I voiced my concerns after the Conference, (I had written to members of the Council back in April), a distinguished colleague on the Council emailed me that mine was the only voice of criticism, and he quoted several teachers at high school and at university level who thought it was great. He explained to me that the Artistic Planning Committee was trying to get a balanced programme and avoid the charge of elitism.

Elite

Elite - a chosen or select part: the pick or flower of anything

I am sorry, but when I spend 3,000 American dollars on a trip half way round the world, I want to hear the élite bands of the world playing élite literature. This does not mean top American University bands playing so- called "art" literature, it does not imply "avant- garde", but it does mean the best, the flower of literature, new and old, for high school, amateur, military, university, conservatoire and professional bands. If I want to hear oom- pah- pah I will go to the Edinburgh Tattoo or the Changing of the Guard. OK, so bands dropped out, but that happened to us in 1991 in Manchester and 2003 in Sweden. It is no excuse for compromise.

Repertoire Sessions

I felt very strongly that the best concerts were the sessions selected by Jim Cochran. These were not recorded, but were supported by a program guide, which had a note on the composer, on the work, on the timing, grade and publisher, together with the first page of the score. Several delegates felt the same. However, here was a comment from a colleague at University level:
By far the most worthwhile part of the conference for me was the Repertoire Sessions by Jim Cochran. While I had heard of or already done about 20% of these pieces the others were interesting and new. I looked forward to and felt rewarded for attending each session and wish they would have been recorded. My favourites were:

Composer Work Time Grade Publisher
Atehortua, Blas Music for Winds & Percussion 13 5 Ballerbach
Carroll, Fergal Song of Lir 7 3 Maecenas
Hesheng, Wang Yi Hai 16.30 5/6 whsh@163bj.com
Marshall, Christopher Okaoka 5 4 C Alan
Spittal, Robert Pacem 4 3 Boosey & Hawkes
Tabuchi, Konji Third 5 3 Brain/Bravo
Zhang, Fu Celebration Overture 5.45 3/4 Shattinger

Interestingly, the only 2 pieces I felt I would enjoy programming from the formal concerts were the Putz Improvisation and Fugato and Aulio's Les Voyages de Gulliver. I did not attend concerts or halves of concerts in which I felt the main thrust of the program was cheese (based on my knowledge of the repertoire or the composer). Needless to say, this is not much of an endorsement about the formal concerts.

On some of the literature, I personally found myself writing "boring - academic - pedantic - depressing - commercial" but as well as the list above, there were other works which I would like to hear again and maybe programme. These had "good fun - some energy - imaginative" written by them.

Carlson, Bruce Toledo 5/6 3 Dox Music
McNeff, Stephen Ghosts 20 4/5 Maecenas
Paulus, Stephen Mosaic 3 2/3 Bandquest

McNeff's Ghosts I do especially enjoy, it's a kind of wind band Enigma Variations, with each variation characterising a ghost, and you can leave out any that are too hard. Unfortunately there seemed to be a politically correct agenda of getting in works from every continent, regardless of whether the piece was any good. I believe that if WASBE is to achieve any lasting good in South America and Australasia, it needs to seed a programme of commissioning at every level, similar to that which was started back in 1981 in UK.

Information on these repertoire sessions from Jim Cochran at http://www.shattingermusic.com/

One Man's Meat Is Another Man's Poison

I am ever conscious of criticisms of my critical views and repertoire lists; they are entirely personal, all need to be taken with a pinch of salt, and may well be revised when I get the complete set of compact discs that I have ordered from Mark Custom.

  • Hui RaoRobert Casteels

I would have liked to hear the opening work for 16 horns by the Belgian composer/conductor Robert Casteels. Written for the launch of WASBE Singapore, the work opened the conference, and was organised by Philharmonic Winds, an orchestra of which Robert is the Artistic Director.

Hong Kong Wind Philharmonia

  • Part of Serenade in Bb K 361 Mozart
  • Conversing with the StarsLo Hau Man
  • A Jazz FuneralChristopher Coleman
  • Great Wall Capriccio Liu Wen- Jin arr Carson Yu
  • Symphonic Metamorphosis Hindemith arr Keith Wilson

Under the reliable Jerry Junkin, this was an example of good programming and excellent playing. We had four movements only of the Mozart, and the critic of the Straits Times had something to say about this later in the week. I am racking my brains without success to remember whether orchestras leave out a couple of movements of a long symphony by Mahler, though I do remember playing Rakhmaninov and Tchaikovsky with huge cuts, forty years ago.

The Mozart received a carefully organised performance, but with nuances and rubato over- dictated I felt by Jerry, rather than flowing from the players, but he encouraged some tasteful decorations and achieved some magic movements, rare in this conference.

Conversing with the Stars is a concerto for two solo horns, with some striking sonorities, and A Jazz Funeral caught my attention, as a valid and quite successful attempt at jazz- fusion. I'd like to hear both again.

The Great Wall Capriccio featured a miked- up Erhu, a sweetly voiced instrument that sounded quite nasty here in an un- necessarily banal piece. It is always good to hear Hindemith'sSymphonic Metamorphoses, though we heard a wonderful performance at the last Conference, and the March was programmed again two days later.

University Of Florida Wind Symphony

  • MangulinaPaul Basler.
  • Symphony no 2 Frank Ticheli
  • Dances from Crete movements 1 & 4Adam Gorb
  • Southern Landscape movement 1Eric Ewazen
  • Holy Roller Libby Larsen/John Boyd
  • Red Line TangoJohn Mackey
  • Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral Wagner arr Bourgeois

Why Present Excerpts?

The University of Florida Wind Symphony under David Waybright took the stage on Monday night in what was too varied a programme. Including a truly embarrassing encore, they played eight works in all; two of the composers were present, Adam Gorb and Eric Ewazen, and the critic of the Straits Times asked:

why the band only thought to present excerpts - it was like taking quotes out of context.

The critic also commented on weak intonation in the Ticheli, but it was especially bad in the Wagner; by then they were tired. I have a sneaking suspicion that the third movement of the complete Ticheli Symphony does not add to the stature of the work; I liked it "unfinished". I always enjoy Holy Roller, and it was good to hear Red Line Tango live, the winner of the Walter Beeler Prize, a fun piece with too many mixed metres and cross rhythms for an old conductor like me. Dave Waybright and his students tackled it all with aplomb, but the Wagner and the quite terrible encore left a disappointing taste in the ear.

West Winds

One of Singapore's leading ensembles under the excellently undemonstrative Philip Tng made a further attempt at combining Occident et Orient, with mixed success. The concert opened promisingly with the rhythmic drive of Adrian Hill's Toccata Singapura, but works by Yazeed Djamin (with gamelan ensemble), Prateep Supahnrojn and Kevin Kaska had little to offer except Asian tokenism. After the interval things improved considerably. For many delegates, Sang Nil was the high point of the conference, in its imaginative use of phonetic sounds by the chorus against spare instrumental lines. I had heard similar sounds in a work by Chen Yi, and later found that Zechariah had been considerably influenced by her music when studying in Kansas. I very much enjoyed hearing Whitacre's Cloudburst again.

  • Sang NilaZechariah Goh Toh Chai
  • CloudburstEric Whitacre

North Rhine - Westphalia Youth Band

This youth band was conducted by one of Europe's most experienced conductors, Pierre Kuijpers, in a programme of European music, well crafted and sometimes striking. My favourite work in this programme, Improvisation and Fugato , supports my contention that WASBE should be active regionally, since it was commissioned last year by WASBE Germany. (For the 1987 Boston Conference, BASBWE commissioned Morning Music from Richard Rodney Bennett, and Michael Ball's Omaggio).

  • Gulliver's TravelsMaxime Aulio
  • Improvisation and FugatoMarco Pütz

Stadtharmonie Zürich

It was good to see Carlo Balmelli conducting at WASBE; he was responsible for some great repertoire in Luzern. This was a programme of two halves, the first again wellcrafted works by three very experienced composers:

  • Windspiele OvertureBoris Mersson
  • Cantico; Poem to the SunOliver Waespi
  • Solemnitas Variations and Fugue on a Swiss Folk Song Franco Cesarini

In the second half we were given another performance of Hindemith, a blown- up transcription for full band of the delicious Mendelssohn Overture for eleven instruments, and a Night on a Bare Mountain. One colleague wrote to me recently to say that he welcomes half concerts of transcriptions so that he can go to the bar.

Senzoku Gakuen College Of Music

This very famous college band was replacing the Central Band of the Japan Air Self Defence Force, who regrettably had to withdraw after the Tsunami last December. It is an absolutely excellent band but unfortunately the programme reverted to the pattern of so many from earlier conferences. They showed their mettle in the original and amusing opener, which burst in on us in the middle of the tuning procedure, and they followed with a fine new commission by Frederick Speck, a composer whose music I always find challenging and inventive.

  • Salty MusicMiura Hideki
  • KizunaFrederick Speck

They followed with three marches and three arrangements, and we were back to the traditional Sousa- type programmes from Japanese bands in WASBE, though the second half of this was from all accounts spectacularly bad. In case it is thought that I am being an elitist biased snob, let me quote Adam Gorb:

Straight after this, half way through the first half we were then treated to a jolly march. Why here? The effect was to cloud the memory of two excellent works. I have nothing against marches, but the rest of the concert gave the impression of a long series of encores; eight desserts after an all too brief hors d'oevre and main course. There was one march that had a central section in three quarter time and another that featured large snake- like wooden rattles that looked as if they'd escaped from Singapore zoo.

The second half opened with an arrangement of 'Mars' from the Planets by Holst with some inappropriate electronic sounds and use of the string synthesizer that surely wasn't necessary. There followed a pretty painless piece of Japanoiserie from Alfred Reed, a salty tango by Astor Piazzola with solo accordion and some more electronic noises from Naohiko Terashima, although this piece started promisingly as an attractively wrong- footed bossa nova. The final 'Jupiter Fantasy' by Yasuhide Ito was great fun, but I would have enjoyed it more after a few beers.

There Is Not Really Enough Good Original Music To Fill A Programme!

Adam is as ever generous. Another less generous colleague wrote:
As for the second half - they called it a journey from Mars to Jupiter, I'd be inclined to call it a trip to the planet of no taste.

So on Wednesday in toto we heard arrangements of Hindemith, Mendelssohn, Mussorsky, Holst, Alfred Reed and Piazzolla; I have no quarrel with a good arrangement, but is this really what we came to hear in Singapore, and does it not leave a message for our Asian colleagues that there is not really enough good original music to fill a programme.

Noise Factor & Encores

I am teased about my T shirts which proclaim that forte is a light dynamic, in English and Chinese; anyone attending my conducting clinics or reading my website must get bored with my demands for restraint and balance, variety of repertoire, an architecture of dynamics and care over programming. However, the music critic of the Straits Times obviously felt much the same as I do on noise, programming and on encores:

Meaty staples in the second half... also wore the audience down as both were big works that demanded their undivided attention... balancing woes set in near the finale as the woodwind were drowned by the overbearing brass... Sensing perhaps the fatigue in both his players and his audience, Major Tng ended the concert with the resounding last chords of Daugherty's work, without any encore.

I thought that Hardy Mertens' Prayer was quite moving, but I do not enjoy Harrison 's Dreamwith its brass band virtuosity and sentimentality. It is an impressive piece however, but made the programme for me lacking in enough contrast.

I found this true also of Marc Crompton's Pacific programme, which had two large- scale works sandwiched between two shorter but noisy jazz pieces, and followed with Mike Colgrass' monumental Urban Requiem. The Turrin piece, written for the brass of the New York Philharmonic, makes an excellent start, and I have always loved James Syler 's Minton's Playhouse. (His catalogue Ballerbach should be better known). For me, and the Strait's Times critic, Friday was a heavy- duty day, but having said that these were two programmes of serious intent, just without the fine- tuning and balance needed.

Pacific Symphonic Wind

  • Jazzalogue 1 Joseph Turrin
  • Minton's Playhouse (with solo Saxophone quartet)James Syler
  • Caverns (with solo Tenor Saxophone)Frederick Stride
  • Urban Requiem (with solo Saxophone quartet)Michael Colgrass

Armed Forces Central Band

  • Festive Music for Singapore James Barnes
  • Colonial SongPercy Grainger
  • PrayerHardy Mertens
  • Harrison's Dream Peter Graham
  • Singapore Symphonic Suite movement 5 Tsao Chien arr Philip Tng
  • Bells for StokowskyMichael Daugherty

Chinese Youth Corps Wind Orchestra (Taiwan)

  • Five Sketches for Wind Orchestra Chen Dan

I remember enjoying the Five Sketches for Wind Orchestra by Chen Dan. This concert had a large scale piano concerto by Roger Boutry, Wu Ji, cast in a similar Romantic framework as Piet Swert's Wings, played earlier in the week by the North Rhine Youth Band. I enjoyed Swert'sCyrano in 2003, also unashamedly romantic, but both of these piano concertos were too derivative for me, and I expected to see Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard at any moment.

Frysk- Y Evening

I am very sorry, first about the paragraph title which I stole from the Straits Times, and second for missing the concert through work on my repertoire presentation for Friday. Kok Tse Wei was tremendously enthusiastic about this concert, talking of:

the royal, rich sound so characteristic of Dutch wind bands... jaw-dropping technique, but what impressed most was that the music flowed so naturally this evening.

High praise indeed! Perhaps the Fanfare band orchestration is the way forward! I would have loved to have heard Bernard van Beurden 's Concerto which made a big impression with its flights of chromaticism, and also Derivations by Marco Pütz. I quote again:

What heart- wrenching and glorious song there was in Derivations, which had its composer ... .sitting literally on the edge of his seat. The transparent sound they achieved in Pütz' piece, rare even for the most accomplished ensembles, allowed each musical line to present itself prominently even in the loudest passages.

International Youth Wind Orchestra

  • Al FrescoKarel Husa
  • Concerto for Brass and Wind OrchestraFrigyes Hidas
  • Korean Dances for Wind Orchestra Chang Su Koh
  • Sinfonia SingaporianoYasuhide Ito
  • Get Well, MaestroYasuhide Ito

It was good once again to celebrate Karel Husa with one of his earliest works, but the strength and integrity of this piece, of its melodic and rhythmic invention and its organisation, showed up for me the weaknesses of the other works. While it was a good idea to have the IYWO work with the incomparable Boston Brass, the Hidas is not nearly as inventive a piece as the Rauber work with a brass quintet solo that we heard in Sweden, and the sugary harmonic progressions of the slow movement in particular summed up for me so much of the sentimental music of this conference, using clichés which might have sounded old fashioned in Elgar or Rakhmaninov.

Felix Hauswirth, a stalwart of WASBE since 1981, gave a masterclass in cool and effective directing, and got a fine dramatic reading of the Husa; even he and the Boston Brass could not persuade me that the Hidas is one of the composer's strongest works.

Yasuhide Ito is an extremely variable composer. His Sinfonia Singaporiano gave the players a lot to do, but his second piece, Get Well, Maestro, sparked heated discussions on whether it is possible to write with sentiment while avoiding the sentimental. This was, however, a fine youth orchestra and I think it deserved stronger programming, though two friends in the Youth Orchestra thought it was a terrific experience, worth every penny or cent, and both plan to audition for Ireland.

Virtuosity Versus Musicianship

  • FestivoEdward Gregson
  • HammersmithGustav Holst
  • Court MusicDonald Grantham
  • Lincolnshire PosyPercy Grainger
  • Les Trois Notes du Japan Toshio Mashima
  • Dionysiaques Florent Schmitt

The highlight of the week should have been the concert by the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra. Undoubtedly the finest civilian wind orchestra of the world, they were invited to play so loudly and so fast that even the fine acoustics of the Esplanade were unable to cope. The Straits Times felt that:
the ensemble got Grainger's notes across faultlessly, but whither the distinct character of each of his six movements.

Florent Schmitt's masterpiece Dionysiaques was reduced to such a gabble of noise that a distinguished colleague hearing it for the first time dismissed it as second- rate French froth. Their one Japanese work, Toshio Mashima 's Les Trois Notes du Japon, received a far more magical and persuasive interpretation in Sweden in 2003 from the excellent Kanagawa University Band. However, this was a well constructed programme, celebrating Edward Gregson's 60th birthday with his catchy opener Festivo, following with a sound and safe performance of Holst'sHammersmith which never risked and slow speeds and low dynamics suggested in the score, and a stirring new commission from Donald Grantham

Whither WASBE?

Night after night I would stagger back to my hotel, and listen to some of the compact discs I had brought for my lecture on significant new repertoire, wind music commissioned by Simon Rattle from Heiner Goebbels for the Berlin Philharmonic, my recording of Magnus Lindberg's Gran Duo which Simon commissioned for the City of Birmingham, Bright Sheng's La'I played by Michigan in New York, music by Chen Yi recorded in the Esplanade Hall by the Singapore Symphony.

Chen Yi is a composer who tries to distil from Chinese and Western traditional music the essential character and spirit and to develop materials abstractly in accordance with new concepts... skilfully drawing together the music of East and West. That, and the desire to create "real music" for society and future generations, is her main goal.

What a role model she would have been for the many composers present in Singapore attempting to realise President Dennis Johnson's equally admirable ideal of the theme of the Conference, East meets West - a Confluence of the Arts

Philip Sparke To Eric Coates

The question that kept cropping up in my mind was:
"Did the Council and the Artistic Planning Committee carry out the ideals of WASBE in Singapore?"

Clearly it was great to meet many new and old friends, to visit the Night- time Safari, the Museum of Asian Civilisations, China Town or Little India and the thousands of restaurants serving an incredible range of Asian, European and American food. The facilities were on the whole wonderful; the new Esplanade complex for the concerts and Sun- Tec City for the exhibition were exciting venues, but we had again nowhere to meet the artists or each other, nowhere for informal meetings, nowhere for the library of scores and compact discs that I took out, and we are left with scanty or no information on the repertoire, no listings of delegates, no information on contacting the conductors or bands after conference, it was impossible to contact them during the conference, with tough backstage security.

There were several concerts for which we had no programme, the Conference programme itself was only available from the Wednesday and had absolutely no information whatever about music or performers, but for me the worst aspect was the lack of artistic direction. This was not so much a conference as a series of concerts, beginning with Philip Sparke's Postcards from Singapore and ending with Eric Coates Dambusters March. What was the artistic or educational point of being there, how were we helping Singapore and other Asian band directors, what did we learn about the best Asian music?

What Is WASBE'S Role?

Few countries have as strong a tradition of commissioning as we find in France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Scandinavia, USA or UK, and those that do, like Japan, tend to imitate American models. What WASBE needs to do is to energise regional organisations to commission better indigenous repertoire at all levels, and at least to move into the mainstream of commercial music for contesting, for education and entertainment.

As proposed many times, WASBE needs to encourage regional conferences as platforms for the less experienced bands, conductors and composers. Nobody wishes to spend $3,000 and travel half way round the world to hear poor music and music making. This was a wonderful opportunity for WASBE to present colleagues in the East with role models for commissioning, developing international repertoire, for organisation of festivals and honour bands and for breaking away from the commercialism that afflicts much of what we do in the west, and almost everything that they do in the East.

WASBE GOLF TOURNAMENT IN 2007

Finally, see you all in Killarney in 2007, where the Guinness always flows, the pubs never close, the rain never stops; the programmes will be perfectly balanced with no embarrassing encores, works will be played in their entirety, major works will be introduced in special sessions by the composers, and East will meet West, North will meet South in a perfect confluence of the Arts, in a myriad of meeting rooms and bars, but without any of the commercial schlock that crept in past our Artistic Planning Committee in Singapore. And there will be a WASBE golf tournament! It's a pity I don't play golf, so the music and the beer had better be good!