You Cannot Be Serious!

Boosey & Hawkes "serious" repertoire for wind ensemble

Symphony Orchestras In The Van

Imagine if you will a work for wind and brass by one of the world's great composers, which in three years is given some forty performances, not by university and college groups, but by, among others, the Berlin Philharmonic, City of Birmingham SO, Copenhagen Philharmonic, Adelaide Symphony, Netherlands Radio, Latvian National Symphony, Radio France, Tokyo Metropolitan, NDR Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Cleveland Orchestra and St Paul's Chamber Orchestra.

When Magnus Lindberg's Gran Duo was premiered in 2000 I contacted a number of colleagues, arranged for some to be sent a score and tape, and it might be expected that some, though possibly not many, in WASBE and CBDNA would have played it. There have been two performances in three years by professional wind bands, the US Marines under Tim Foley and the Stockholm Wind Symphony, and four by College groups, New England Conservatory, University of Kentucky, the Leeds University and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

A recent professional performance drew the following comment in The Guardian:
Lindberg's Gran Duo, composed for the CBSO's wind and brass sections in 2000, stages a multilayered musical conflict between the various instrumental groups. The woodwinds' pungent prickly music contrasts with the brass's softer heavier limbs, but both are quickly made part of a drama that encompasses vast climaxes and weaves of tension. Oramo's performance created the sense of a mysterious slow-moving background that was occasionally revealed between the cracks on the music's volatile surface.

How Hard Is Gran Duo?

This is serious stuff, serious enough to be programmed at the Salzburg Festival in 2003, but too serious and/or too difficult to engage our attention. A recent residency at the University of Kentucky gave me the chance to try out six scores which had been premiered or platformed at WASBE in the past ten years. Samurai by Nigel Clarke, Diaghilev Dances by Kenneth Hesketh, Danse Funambulesque by Jules Strens, L'Homme Armé by Christopher Marshall, Reflections on a 16th Century tune by Richard Rodney Bennett and Christian Lindberg's Concerto for Wind Orchestra. We were short of rehearsal time for my final concert, so I gave them the option of playing an easier programme; they voted 100% against that, though when we tried bits of Lindberg, there were a few waverers, but on a democratic vote, they decided to try it.

It is scored for 3343:4331, with very independent parts for each player, demanding a great deal of concentration and virtuosity. Thanks to the training of my predecessor, Richard Clary, Kentucky was up for the challenge, and we gave a performance not without flaws and I would like to think that other wind ensembles will now try it out. The sound world is that of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, with similar shifting metrical organisation, 2:1, 3:2, but here with two differing speeds. I confess that I have always found the Stravinsky a hard nut to crack, and I much prefer the musical challenges of the Lindberg.

Sowetan Spring

Two Performances A Year On Average

Gran Duo is published by Boosey and Hawkes, publishers of a number of other major works so far largely ignored by the wind band world. In 1990, the late John Paynter conducted the winds of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the premiere of Sowetan Spring, by James Macmillan. In thirteen years, the work has received only 25 performances, one more by the RSNO together with a professional recording, one each in Norway, France, and Ireland, nineteen by British student groups, one in the United States by the Juilliard School Wind Ensemble under Mark Gould and recently one by Jerry Junkin in Austin.

Perhaps even more neglected is Entrance; Carousing; Embarcation by Robin Holloway which in its unedited state Jerry bravely workshopped at the WASBE 1991 Conference; I premiered it for BBC radio in 1992, and have conducted five performances since, but of the consortium which commissioned it, in 11 years, only James Croft and Frank Battisti have conducted it, and it has received two student performances in UK, 11 performances in all. It is hard, it is long and rambling, a Maherlian piece of considerable substance, but again it is not impossible, and with its Viking programme it is a powerful addition to the repertoire. Another neglected seascape on a similarly vast scale is Michael Tippett's Triumph (Schotts).

Instant Music

I never cease to be amazed that in these days of fast foods and instant entertainment more conductors have not persuaded their flute professors to try Kust Schwertzig's Instant Music which some may remember from a fine performance by the Central Band of the RAF at WASBE in 1981 with Kenneth Bell as soloist. It is a charming full scale concerto, scored with a light touch and jazzy overtones by a composer who walked out of Stockhausen's composition class at Damstadt and went back to Vienna to write tunes. He and H K Gruber are in the avant garde of that movement towards neo-romantic/neo-classic neo anything that sounds fun and is agreeable, and this concerto is an excellent example.

Boosey & Hawkes Commitment

Boosey and Hawkes have shown their commitment to the wind band by their new WinDedpendence series, selected works at all levels under the editorship of Craig Kirchhoff. One of their newest premieres was at WASBE in 2003, David del Tredici's In Wartime, a powerfully evocative work written in the shadow of the Gulf War.

David Del Tredici is one of America's leading composers, a Pullitzer prizewinner, known internationally for his series of orchestral works created around stories from Alice in Wonderland but there is nothing remotely jokey about this music. The composer writes:

In Wartime

In Wartime, my first (his first.. let's commission another) piece for wind symphony, was begun on November 16, 2002, and completed on March 16th (my birthday), 2003 - as momentous a four month period in history as I have experienced. In Wartime consists of two connected movements - Hymn and Battle March. The first has the character of a chorale prelude, with fragments of Abide with Me embedded beneath a welter of contrasting and contrapuntal musical material.

Heralded by a long, ominous roll on the snare drum and a steady, measured beat, Battlemarch announces the start of war... Like the incoming tide, the "waves" encroach inexorably on new harmonic ground; like a gathering storm, the waveforms grow in enormity and frenzy, until their fateful confrontation with Salmati, shah! (the national song of Persia), laced as well with quotes from the opening of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. With East battling West in musical terms, this trio section of the march builds to the movement's climax. As the over whelming wash of sound subsides, the opening march returns, now battle-weary but growing nevertheless to a full-throttled recapitulation and finale - marked inevitably by a wail of pain.

Some colleagues find the material repetitive and trite; I found the work to be utterly compulsive - del Tredici's demonstrates masterly handling of so many disparate styles in music, including what seems to be somewhat trite opening material in the "chorale prelude", the rather sentimental hymn tune of the first section, and an almost "pop" tune to start the second. As in a masterwork of the 18th or 19th century, what might be unpromising motifs in less experienced hands, are transformed here into a symphonic structure of the greatest tension. After the big confrontation the passage in which the popular tune is accompanied by wisps of scales, sinking into a familiar Tristan und Isolde quotation, the music slips back to the popular tune, eventually subsumed in a final coup de theâtre which leaves the audience stunned.

Can We Be Serious For A Moment?

Are we going to play it, can we envisage forty or fifty performances in the coming three years, will we revisit the MacMillan, Holloway, Schwertzig and Tippett, is it worth "serious" composers writing for us? The jury is out, the umpire is licking his wounds, we need more John McEnroes in our wind movement!