Concert Of The Month

A post-concert hug with the regular conductor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Jessica Kun.

Dancing Across the Pond was the title and theme for a great programme at Wilfrid Laurier University in December.

Prelude, Siciliano and Rondo (1979)        Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006)
Five Folk Songs (1967/2002)         Bernard Gilmore (b. 1937)
Dances from Crete (Set II) (2003)         Adam Gorb (b. 1958)
Shepherd’s Hey (1918)         Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
Danceries (Set II) (2011)         Kenneth Hesketh (b. 1968)
Duende (2010)         Luis Serrano Alarcón (b. 1972)

Programming for me is a matter of variety and balance, and this concert given in Kitchener, Ontario, on December 3rd. combined both elements superbly, with dance music from Australia, England and Spain and songs from USA.

John Paynter’s arrangement of Malcolm Arnoild’s Little Suite, Prelude, Siciliano and Rondo, is effective, but in this programme it sounded strangely old-fashioned, band music with blocks of sonorities pitted one against the other without the subtlety which comes from a wind ensemble approach. It is still a useful curtain-raiser, and presents few challenges to the wind ensemble.

Five Folk Songs I discovered years ago in Frank Battisti’s library; I fell in love with it and swore to try to publish it; it is now with Maecenas Music. It is an elegant suite of five songs, beautifully and sparingly scored, again with great variety. Every soprano who has sung this work for me has immediately added it to her solo repertoire in the piano version.

I. Mrs. McGrath (Irish)
II. All the Pretty Little Horses (American)
III. Yerakina (Greek)
IV. El Burro (Spanish)
V. A Fidler (Yiddish)

The first half ended with one of my commissions in memory of my son William, Adam Gorb’s exciting Dances from Crete. Here the Wilfrid Laurier University Wind Orchestra came into its own under its conductor Dr. Jessica Kun, dealing with metrical challenges with ease, undaunted by Adam’s solo demands on nearly everybody. My only reservation was in the slow movement , Samaria Gorge, with its teasing modal tunes and its apparently simple chamber music writing for solo wind, demanding great maturity and freedom in the timing and phrasing to make its full impact. The off-stage trumpets swaggered in, and never has the plate-smashing been done with such aplomb.

Dances From Crete I. Syrtos

Dances From Crete II. Tik

Dances From Crete III. Samaria Gorge

Dances From Crete IV. Syrtaki

I often think that every concert should include some Grainger, and a performance of Shepherd’s Hey made a great ending to the 50th anniversary of the great man’s death.

Danceries Set 2 is a developed look at four more dances from the 17th Century by Thomas Playford. These are more symphonically constructed than are the first set, and like all of Ken Hesketh’s music they present problems of balance; he just likes a thick wind orchestra sound, and it is up to us to work hard at persuading our players to exaggerate their roles of accompaniment, subsidiary players or solo. Often the second flutes or 3rd clarinets will carry a line which is richly scored, and like most composers from Mozart onwards, he frequently writes one dynamic to fit all, whether flute, trumpet or side drum. Like the first set, they are immediately attractive and excellent workouts for a fine ensemble.

I. Jennie’s Bawbee
II. Tom Tinker’s Toye
III. Heart’s Ease
IV. Peascod’s Galliarda

Duende is a masterpiece, and a major technical challenge for the wind orchestra with its very subtle scoring, brilliant solo writing, complex rhythms and above all its Spanishness. If you ever lament the fact that we have no original wind works by Debussy, Ravel or de Falla, try Duende for hints of all three together with Albeniz and any popular Spanish idiom.

Luis writes:

The term “Duende” is used in flamenco to refer to this state of inspiration and supreme perceptiveness, almost magic, which is only reached by the performer in few occasions. It is also used, in extension, to define a person when someone has a special grace, something difficult to define but that makes him different of the rest. The use of the word “Duende” as the title of this collections of symphonic preludes, independently of its poetic significance, is mainly based on the fact that I found my principal inspiration for this composition in the Spanish popular music: listening to the piece, the listener can hear, among other features, the symphonic energy of de Falla’s scores, the intimacy of Iberia by Albeniz, the magic of the guitar played by Tomatito or Paco de Lucía, the festive happiness of Granadian Sacromonte (a popular flamenco neighborhood in Granada), but specially, and I insist in this one, the obvious presence of winks to other music styles, such as jazz or Latin music. With this style fusion, I want to reflect in a symbolic way where our Spanish society stands for nowadays: a society with many traditions, but at the same time a cosmopolitan and modern community, which cannot be different in these modern times we are living.

To see and listen to a fine performance by Musical la Armónica de Buñol, director Frank De Vuyst, click your browser on Duende. This will also give you a wonderful feeling for the amazing level of performance attained by Spanish wind orchestras – this is a huge orchestra, playing with the finesse, clarity and accuracy of a wind ensemble. WASBE goes to Spain in 2013 to Valencia; what a chance to experience Spanish music making and hospitality.

I am extremely grateful to Jessica and her splendid wind orchestra for giving me the chance to conduct Duende for the first time. It is a work which I will certainly keep in the front of my repertoire suggestions for fine ensembles in the future.