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WASBE 2011 Conference

Review by Tim Reynish, August 2011

WASBE is the only organisation completely dedicated to enhancing the quality of wind music throughout the world and exposing its members to new worlds of repertoire, musical culture, people and places. A proud boast - did the 15th Conference succeed in achieving this?

I was delighted to read in the WASBE President's welcome that WASBE Conferences endeavour to feature the best wind bands and wind music from round the world and he expresses the hope that what transpires here this week will have an influence on the further development of the wind band/ensemble and its music and that it will advance the WASBE goal of "promoting symphonic bands and ensembles as serious and distinct mediums musical expression and cultural heritage". With that stated aim, he and his Artistic Planning Committee must have had a clear philosophy when selecting programmes. Did it work? How often did we hear great performances of great music by great bands in this conference?.

As so often, the huge success of the Conference was due to the venue, in that our hosts at Chiayi City, Taiwan, could not have been more hospitable, the people of the city could not have been more friendly, and on the whole the organisation could not have been smoother. For many of us, this was a wonderful opportunity to visit Taiwan and experience Chinese culture first hand, and any language difficulties melted in the face of the welcome we received.

Join WASBE and see the world

Not many delegates travelled across the world to the Conference, and there was serious discussion as to whether WASBE Conferences have outlived their usefulness in these days of instant communication through the web or television links. Conferences are an essential part of our past and future growth; those of us who went could meet dozens of colleagues from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan and elsewhere, could experience a score of sessions, master classes and pre-concert chats, and could hear 109 works played in 20 concerts by bands from our host country, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Norway, China, Singapore, USA, Japan, UK, and of course the WASBE Youth Wind Orchestra. What a golden opportunity to get out of our box and compare and learn about different traditions and styles and what an amazing culture awaited us. Join WASBE and come to the next Conference!

Top twenty five

Composer Title Publisher Duration Nationality
Abigana, Brett Sketches on Paintings No. 2 Composer 17.00 USA
Alarcon, Luis Serrano Marco Polo - The Cathay Years Piles 20.00 Spain
Archer, Kimberley March from Symphony No 1 C. Allan Publications 3.30 USA
Bennett, Richard Rodney Trumpet Concerto Novello 19.20 UK
Cesarini, Franco Bulgarian Dances Mitropa music 11.30 Switzerland
Chen, Qian Ambush (Return with Honour) Composer 15.45 China
Chen, Qian Come, Drink One more Cup of Wine J.C.Link 12.40 China
Chen, Yi Wind for Wind Ensemble Theodore Presser 16.00 China/USA
Chen, Yi Dragon Rhyme Theodore Presser 11.00 China/USA
Dubrovay, Laszlo Spring Symphony Editio Musica Budapest 20.15 Hungary
Gilbert, Anthony Dream Carousels Schott 12.,15 UK
Gorb, Adam Farewell Maecenas 19.00 UK
Grange, Philip Cloud Atlas Peters 26.20 UK
Haeflinger, Pius Chicago Pictures Custos Verlag 10.00 Switzerland
Hesketh, Kenneth Danceries Set 11 Faber 15.00 UK
Hoshina, Hiroshi Fu Mon Brain Music 7.30 Japan
Koh, Chang Su Mindscape for Wind Orchestra Brain Music 16.12 South Korea
Koh, Chang Su Lament Brain Music 5.15 South Korea
Nordhagen, Stig Symphony No 1 for Band Composer 22.00 Norway
Pütz, Marco Four Sketches for Band De Haske Publications 8.00 Luxembourg
Ticheli, Frank Rest Manhattan Beach 8.00 USA
Tomasi, Henri Fanfares Liturgiques Leduc 17.42 France
Turrin, Joseph Scarecrow Overture Peters 5,00 USA
Wilson, Dana Dance of the New World Ludwig Masters 10.15 USA
Woolfenden, Guy Bohemian Dances Ariel 9.00 UK

Making a selection of top recommendations is a dodgy business; after one Conference I was asked by a senior member of WASBE not to review concerts, after this conference I was asked by another to be nice, (as if I would be nasty ever) but I do believe that it is important to have honest reviews. We have no paper trace in the wind band world, no press reviews, no radio coverage, unfortunately no critics to tell us when a performance is bad or a work poor.

I shall review each programme in some detail on my website, but perhaps a cursory glance at these works might help conductors who know my tastes and are looking for new repertoire, I must emphasise that this is purely a personal selection of the top twenty two works which I would like to programme, that's about 25% of the conference works which is a pretty good strike rate, with the health warning that I received from a German colleague that One man's meat is another man's poison.

I have omitted acknowledged masterpieces from earlier decades, Milhaud, Messiaen, Mozart, Miaskowski, Giannini, Stravinsky, Kurka, Holst, Jolivet, Strauss, Rodrigo (what a great piece is Per la Flor del Lliri Blau) how good it was to be able to hear so many traditional masterworks alongside new, albeit often in performances sometimes somewhat devoid of subtleties of phrasing and dynamics. I have also omitted several other works which I enjoyed and on another day might make it; out of the repertoire sessions I quite liked Roma by Valerie Coleman and Moonscape Awakening by Joni Greene. So here are notes on my top 25, roughly in alphabetical order.

Brett Abigana is a composer whose music I enjoyed in Cincinnati, and I find his Sketches absolutely charming, real chamber music scoring. Alarcon is another of my current favourite composers, and I have conducted his Concertango in four continents. I find Marco Polo entrancing, a big romantic score in which the orchestra sings if there is no choir, and can play cues if you have no access to dizi, qdl, suona or erhu, a ravishing tone poem with a strong story!

Kimberley Archer has done what few composers achieve which is to write a really amusing march, to be put alongside the great march by Marcel Wengler or those commissioned by the Norwegian Military to celebrate the millennium. I would love to hear the whole Symphony. Franco Cesarini is a wonderful orchestrator, and in Bulgarian Dances he has created a superb set of movements.

I found many of the Chinese pieces disappointing, often with trite pentatonic material poorly developed, weak harmonically, usually in limited four bar phrases with heavy handed rhythmic backing banged out on drums. What a chance this conference was to run a series of mentoring sessions for any less experienced composers. There were six Asian works which I thoroughly enjoyed, two by Qian Chen who works for the People's Liberation Army in Beijing, two by Yi Chen who is a professor in University of Missouri- Kansas City, and two by Chang Su Koh, a South Korean living in Japan. All six would bring new colours and rhythms to your programmes and stimulate new ideas amongst your composers.

Dubrovay was once a student of Stockhausen, and his works for wind band have something of the enfant terrible about them. He writes really funny, original music for wind band, and we should explore his output, it is always interesting and challenging. I want to hear the whole of his Spring Symphony. Another fun piece in a breezy post Bernstein way was Chicago Pictures by Pius Haefliger, the slower middle section held my interest with interesting harmonic progressions, the faster sections are strongly influenced rhythmically by West Side Story, the beginning and end had a raw jazzy feeling and there was an amusing flip ending.

Challenging too in a completely different way were three of the six works from UK which I have selected, all played by the National Youth Wind Ensemble of Great Britain. Anthony Gilbert's Dream Carousels is a wonderfully evocative work but does need several hearings to make its effect. Philip Grange's Cloud Atlas I still do not understand after about five hearings on a CD. it seems to me to be one of those works like Schoenberg's Ertwartung, a stream of subconscious expressionist musical thought, events piling up without any clear direction or development, but here, for the first time, I really enjoyed it. It is music of the avant garde, but if our aims of wind bands being serious and distinct mediums musical expression, then we must develop all types of music to be part of the mainstream musical fabric. I don't understand it yet, but it took me quite a time to cope with Schoenberg, or even Le sacre du Printemps or a Janacek opera. Bennett's Trumpet Concerto I commissioned back in 1993, and I love it to bits, it is a major work for the instrument, and Huw Morgan gave it an extraordinary performance, controlled and subtle. What an undertaking this programme was for the young British players and their brilliant conductor Phillip Scott, a real tour de force.

It is clearly bad form to review the two works which I conducted, but I believe them to be major additions to the repertoire. Kenneth Hesketh has come up this year with Danceries Set 11, a more symphonically evolved treatment of dances from Playford's manual, four movements each richly scored and fun to play and to listen to.

Adam Gorb I have likened elsewhere to Frank Ticheli in that they both write at all sorts of level of difficulty; here in Farewell Adam has written a one movement Mahlerian Andante (mosly slow, but with a hectic passage of Klezmer in the middle) which grows from about a dozen motifs from an orchestra divided into two, motifs which are gradually combined into a huge climax out of which a two part funeral march emerges. This is an important work, more accessible than the Grange but like Grange moving the genre forward. Another composer with serious intent is Stig Nordhagen whose reputation as a composer and arranger seems confined to Norway. I thoroughly enjoyed his Euphonium Concerto in Sweden, and here again with his Symphony is a fine work. It would be good to feature him in future conferences.

I was very disappointed with most of the Japanese offerings, which were on the whole cast in American idioms; nothing inherently wrong with that, and if you are looking for a wonderfully scored Hollywood blockbuster, look no further than the works by Toshio Mashima, a composer who really disappointed me at this conference, but whose music I have often enjoyed in the past. Fu Mon by Hiroshi Hoshina I first heard in WASBE at Sweden, and it still came across very strongly.

Guy Woolfenden was the first composer I commissioned for BASBWE back in 1982, along with Philip Wilby, and happily he has been writing consistently for wind band ever since. His Bohemian Dances are charming, full of tunes and witticisms, well worth exploring alongside Gallimaufry, Illyrian Dances and the other works, and I was delighted to select this for school bands as well as Four Sketches by Marco Pütz, each too short, which is something you cannot often say about wind music.

I have already given a strong recommendation to Lament by Chang Su Koh, a wonderfully crafted slow movement, and I also very much enjoyed Frank Ticheli's Rest. Two very contrasting works, bubbling with motivic energy but avoiding the repetition of so much similar music in minimalist style are Turrin's Scarecrow Overture (It is well worth tracking down a recording of the whole opera) and Dana Wilson's Dance of the New World which sounds to me to be trickier than the grade given in our programme books from Jim Cochran of Shattinger Music.

Finally a work which probably should be in my "Golden Oldie" category, but which to me shame I have never heard. Tomasi's Fanfares Liturgiques is a superb work, if you have the horses to cope with the technical demands. It was great to hear the Jolivet Trumpet Concerto again, but what else is happening in France, they have such a tradition that there must be many works well worth WASBE exhuming alongside Dionysiaques.

All in all, the week was terrific, well worth the journey, if only to experience Taiwan and Chinese hospitality and friendliness - nothing was too much trouble for the vast army of officials and volunteer helpers. Musically, how many slam dunks did we experience?

For me, most if not all of my twenty five choices could be put forward for the next core-repertoire lists, and while I shall of course buy the complete set of CDs from the indefatigable Mark Morette, I shall listen again and again to Farewell, Marco-Polo; the Cathay Years, and Danceries Set 11 (which I have already programmed at my summer course in Sherborne and concerts in Canada and USA).