WASBE 2009 Repertoire Sessions

Review by Tim Reynish, July 2009

We were privileged to have five early morning repertoire sessions, superbly organized by Jim Cochran of Shattinger Music, covering wind music from South America, United Kingdom, Europe and Asia, USA and chamber music. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday Jim presented nineteen works for band or wind orchestra, tabulated below, two at Grade 3, two at Grade 4, ten at Grade 5, and five at Grade 6 plus the slow movement of the Bennett Trumpet Concerto which was given a generous 3.5. As I said, it is a serial piece so you can get away with wrong notes, but I think it is probably Grade 4/5 in difficulty for the band.

As often happens at WASBE, some of the best music was to be found in these sessions, and it was often frustrating to hear only excerpts. That said, nearly every piece was worth exploring and some are just terrific

Composer Title Duration Grade Publisher
Gorb, Adam Tranquility 7.00 3 Maecenas
Wilson, Dana Odysseus and the Sirens 2.30 3 Bandquest
Howard, Emily Deep Soul Diving 5.00 4 Maecenas
Bennett, Richard Rodney Elegy for Miles Davis 6.00 4/5 Novello
Bernstein/Sweeney Suite from Mass 14.00 5 Boosey & Hawkes
Chen Yi Suite from China West 13.00 5 Presser
Colonna, Jim "7" 4.00 5 Masters Music
Gryc, Stephen Las Campanas 7.30 5 Subito Music
Koh, Chang Su Pansori'c Rhapsody 8.30 5 Brain/Bravo
Portnoy, Kim Sasha Takes a Train 6.40 5 Presser
Ruoff, Axel Sinfonietta for Symphonic Band 15.00 5 Strube Verlag
Tucker, Christopher Gabriel's Trumpet 6.30 5 TMW Press
Ward, Duncan Kerala Reverie 8.00 5 Peters
Yo Goto Fantasma Lunare 7.00 5 Brain/Bravo
Enescu, George Hymn Jubilar 6.30 6 Tierolff
Hesketh, Kenneth The Gilded Theatre 12.00 6 Faber
Higgins, Gavin Coogee Funk 10.00 6 Faber
McNeff, Stephen Wasteland Wind Music 24.00 6 Maecenas
Waespi, Oliver Berglicht 14.30 6 Beriato

I have one suggestion to make which is that perhaps WASBE reverts to the pattern we introduced in 2003 in Sweden where we devoted the sessions not by region and nationality, but by difficulty, covering easier school material, medium range material for good school bands, community bands and college groups, and finally works for professional or advanced university groups. I wonder too whether the Artistic Planning Committee ever consider works from past repertoire sessions for full performances in future conferences, or whether in fact they think of playing the best of the last twenty eight years. The way to establish a core repertoire is to play the best music again, and perhaps feature the composer in the WASBE publications. Below are my impressions or the repertoire from Tuesday, Thursday and Friday sessions, reviewed in the order above.

We were wonderfully served by the three clinic groups and their conductors, the Royal Northern College of Music, Philharmonic Winds, OSAKAN, Keystone Wind Ensemble. I missed the Cincinnati Conservatory Chamber Players in a clinic of chamber music but was assured by colleagues that every piece was well worth programming.

Gorb's Tranquility I commissioned for this Conference, and it was not in the programme, I snuck it in. the work is an exercise in pianissimo playing, a simple folk like tune starts unison ppp, builds through the group until the climax, or anti-climax, a tutti chord with ppppp marked - this Adam Gorb thinks he is Verdi! The group sings the phrase in canon; a bell tolls, we are reminded of man's inhumanity to man in the holocaust and every other example of oppression in our "civilization". The movement finally dissolves into bird song over repeated muted chords on the brass which die away.

Dana Wilson's Odysseus and the Sirens was written for Boynton Middle School, Ithaca New York; it is the only other Grade 3 work in this repertoire series and you can view and hear it on YouTube. Dana creates an evocative landscape with a funky rhythm underneath slightly ethnic thematic material, building to a short-lived climax of the screams of Odysseus and the death of the Sirens. Unusually, I thought this was too short, I would love to have had more of the lyical section and the very exciting final coda.

Emily Howard is a former student of Adam Gorb at the Royal Northern College of Music. Deep Soul Diving was another of my commissions in memory of my third son, and it is a thoroughly approachable Grade 4 in ternary form, with a one-in-a-bar waltz of high energy (you need to play the fortissimos with care to get the detail through) and a middle section which is a more gentle sentimental waltz.

Bennett's Trumpet Concerto was one of my earlier commissions back in 1993, and I am delighted that Novellos have now issued the slow movement as a stand-alone work. It is a beautifully scored, simple serial ballad, an Elegy to Miles Davis, based on the theme from theMaids of Cadiz with more and more exotic harmonies with each repetition. I am biased of course, but I think it is gorgeous. However, there are a number of misprints in the new edition, and an errata list will be on my website in September.

I remember conducting movements of the Bernstein Mass with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra many years ago, and it was great to see the whole work staged at Cornell University this past semester, and to have a reminder of it in this clinic performance. This a major transcription by Michael Sweeney, scored for solo brass quintet and band. It was conducted by Mark Scatterday, whose recording with Canadian Brass and Eastman Wind Ensemble has recently been released.

So much folk-based music from the Orient is nothing more than simple derivative waffle, given a taste of exotica by the pentatonic scales and a few nipple gongs. What WASBE must do in Taiwan, which did not happen in Singapore, is get the greatest oriental composers involved, and use these as role models for the lesser composers involved in school band music and Gebrauchsmusik. Chen Yi's Suite from China West was a marvelous example of one way of combining "orient et occident". Two movements were played; the first movement was built on little chirruping ostinati with some polytonality against which the folk tunes gently meandered. The second movement again exhibited simple polytonality, two energetic ideas in high wind and low brass set against ostinati in horns and percussion, very exciting. If I had anything to do with the 2011 Conference I would do my best to book Chen Yi and her husband Zhou Long to write a number of pieces at all levels, and to come to Taiwan as mentors and role models to Chinese composers

The Chinese Connection

In my review of the CBDNA 2009 Conference at Austin I wrote:
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.

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 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.

"7" is a great title, reminding me of Dudley Moore's 10, but this is about road cycling and is a celebration of the great Lance Armstrong's seven titles in the Tour de France. Jim Colonna has corresponded with me in the past about his music and I am delighted that he has got onto the WASBE repertoire list; this is a very exciting, virtuosic show-piece for the band, worth exploring if you have got the horses.

Stephen Gryc is Professor of Composition and theory at Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford; I first came across his music at the New York CBDNA Conference when Hart School playd a wonderful trombone concerto called Passagii. His work featured in this conference wasLas Campanas (The Bells), a memorial work for a Professor at University of New Mexico, full of bell sonorities in the brass and percussion, and evocative lines in the woodwind and horns. The inspiration is Spanish, a fusion of that intense sadness and vitality which characterises so much Iberian music, and I enjoyed all of the excerpts played.

Chang Su Koh is Korean, a second generation Japanese who combines traditional Korean ideas in his very original work Pansori'c Rhapsody. Described in the programme noite as a plaintive, dark tribute to the Korean musical genre pansori swhich reveals the passion and intensiuty of these two-person dramas potrayed by voice and drum. I found the work totally compulsive, from its extraordinary opening gesture through the increasingly rhythmic and melodically complex material. I hope that we shall hear more of this composer's work in Taiwan. Again, why not commission him now.

The USAF Band of Mid-America commissioned Kim Portnoy to write Sasha Takes A Train, a work dating from 2007; there are some great scoring and free-wheeling chord progressions but I found the melodic invention a little thin. However, again as a nice introduction of a jazz element into your programme, this is again well worth considering. Another military commission of which I have heard very little is by Dave Brubeck's son, Chris, and is a nine minute jazz inspired tone poem called The Spirit of Freedom. The Portnoy is a little easier, both are worth exploring.

Axel Ruoff's Sinfonietta was written for the WASBE German section and premiered in 2007 in Stuttgart and I wrote about this in my review of the Stuttgart Conference. He is a composer of sensitivity with a good ear for the wind ensemble and a feeling for melodic invention which is quite original. Anyone who is looking for an original, serious voice should investigate his works for wind:

  • Concerto no 1 for piano (1989) manuscript
  • Inferno (1992) published Tirreno Gruppo Editoriale, Milano
  • Concerto for Violoncello and Symphonic Wind Orchestra 1995

Al Sturchio was for many years Executive director of the Texas Bandmasters Association who commissioned Gabrieli's Trumpet from Christopher Tucker as a tribute to him. It is a six minute work which combines jazz with themes from Gabrieli, described by Tucker as Gabrieli in an Italnian villa eating spaghetti and meatballs and taking in some jazz music. It is good fun, and might together with Christopher Coleman's A Jazz Funeral and the two works mentioned above, add a useful jazz element to your programmes.

Duncan Ward, a second year student on the joint course of Manchester University and the RNCM, already has an impressive CV, with commissions from major symphony orchestras and chamber groups. Kerala Reverie is inspired by time spent by the composer in India teaching piano in four schools. The composer writes:

The opening gestures are in reflection of the oppressive wave of lazy heat that hits you on arrival, and the fast , buoyant section recalls the colourful hustle and bustle that is simply everywhere. The constant change of time signatures was partly in response to the bumpy ride you get travelling in a rickshaw over the dirt tracks, and the more subdued sections look back to the calm beauty of Kerala's backwaters.

Yo Goto is one of the leading composers and educators in wind and percussion music of today. Educated at Yamagata University in Japan and the University of North Texas, he is making a real contribution to the developing repertoire. I was disappointing in the rather trite version ofFuniculi, Funicula which was played at CBDNA, and I was prepared to dislike his fantasy on Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, Fantasma Lunare; I am afraid that on the whole the genre of wind music which pins contemporary ideas to Bach chorales or southern hymns does not excite me, it is often a compositional cop-out, but when done with a theatrical purpose or with fastidious taste the results can be, as here, completely convincing and very enjoyable. The Ivesian layering of different elements combine with a rich vein of his own melodic invention, and I found this a strong work.

It is always good when a romantic work from the late 19th century or early twentieth century is discovered. One such piece is the Hymn Jubilar by George Enescu, edited here for the contemporary b and by Evan Feldman. Written in 1906 for a Jubilee celebration in honour of the 40th anniversary of King Carol's accession, it is a superb piece d'occasion, with some wild Rumanian writing near the opening, overshadowed by the pomp and circumstance of most of the ceremonial music. This would be a terrific piece to replace 1812 for a military band concert, for Commencement festivities or for the end of a massed band concert, perhaps adding the chorus for the finale, together with fireworks and the shouts of the crowd.

The Gilded Theatre is the most recent wind work of Kenneth Hesketh who has emerged as one of the most significant composers for the medium of our day. Danceries, Diaghilev Dances,Vranjanka and Masque, are all frequently heard in the concert hall. In Ken's hands, the wind orchestra takes on a new life of kaleidoscopic colours, reminiscent of the glittering scores of Debussy or Ravel. The composer writes of this work:
The Gilded Theatre can be seen as a continuation of dramatic forms as presented in a previous piece, namely Diaghilev Dances. However, in The Gilded Theatre, the music is conceived in one continuous span and stretches of music are also subtitled and refer to stock characters or scenarios redolent of the Commedia dell' arte or 17th Century French theatre.

Gavin Higgins' hard hitting score Coogee Funk, is described as a wild and fast paced exploration of funk, riffs and rhythms, inspired by a trip to Sydney. The work is divided into three core sections, and opens with a blazing brash fanfare that, after a distant call from an offstage saxophone quartet, subsides into a drunken nautical seascape. After a series of solos from Flugel and Saxophone, the work charges headlong into a wild funk fugue which soon rears out of control. A lonely horn solo brings the piece to a melancholic close.

Wasteland Wind Music is a development of material drawn from the opera The Wasteland by Stephen McNeff. The composer writes of "a half-jogged memory here, a snippet of tune there, sometimes a whole song recalled or an emotional nerve jangled". The resultant suite is thus a fragmented mix of ideas, passionate tutti passages contrasting with rhythmic ostinati and motifs which might have been written by Kurt Weill. The mood is ironic but black, the energy is engaging, and McNeff's is clearly a voice of importance. More approachable are Ghosts and the song cycle Image in Stone heard at the 2007 WASBE Conference.

A charming introduction from Peter Bucher told us something of the personality of the very important Swiss composer, Oliver Waespi, whose Berglicht was given a brilliant performance by the Philharmonic Winds OSAKAN. Brilliantly scored ostinati accompany fragments from the chorale Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern. The music calms into a pastorale with a long melody given to the cor anglais. In Killarney, WASBE 2007, I felt that Oliver's Temples was probably the most important new work played to us; Berglicht is a worthy successor.

There were very few turkeys in the Jim Cochran show, and those early breakfast sessions were well worth getting up early for even if my poor old conservative ears could do without some of the noise.

As I suggested earlier, I was sad that there were so few easier works on the roster; Grade 3 and 4 are the difficult levels to write really good music for, and if that is the best on offer from the past couple of years, Stephen Budiansky certainly has a point in his attack on commercialism. However, If I had a band and had to select six works at the differing levels for a clinic elsewhere, I would have no hesitation in picking:

  • Gorb - Tranquility
  • Howard - Deep Soul Diving
  • Bennett - Elegy for Miles Davis from Trumpet Concerto
  • Chen Yi - Suite from China West
  • Yo Goto - Fantasma Lunare
  • Waespi - Berglicht