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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson wrote Rocky Point Holiday in 1969 on a commission from the University of Minnesota Band for its Russian tour.  Its title comes from the place of its composition: Rocky Point, Rhode Island, where the composer was on vacation.  It was his first major wind band piece, and the first of his series of “holiday” themed compositions for band, all of which are popular and dramatic showpieces.  Rocky Point Holiday is notable for its transparent and colorful scoring.  This imaginative orchestration is a hallmark of Nelson’s style.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

Review of Rocky Point Holiday on banddirector.com.

Information on Rocky Point Holiday at the Wind Repertory Project.

A rousing performance or Rocky Point Holiday by the West Texas A&M University Wind Ensemble:

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Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

The Broadway musical West Side Story first came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between Bernstein (as composer), choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthuer Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.  Its story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side, it tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love.  The musical became a film in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Bernstein’s music was often a character itself, giving the film psychological direction in many long dance sequences.  Originaly written in English, West Side Story is currently being revived on Broadway in a bilingual version, with the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing mostly in Spanish while the white Jets retain their English.

Four Dances from West Side Story features some of the highlights of these dance sequences transcribed for band.  The “Scherzo” is a light-hearted, care-free movement that aptly opens the suite.  The “Mambo” comes from the gym scene where the Jets and the Sharks meet and dance while trying to suppress their hostility towards each other.  The “Mambo” fades into the “Cha-Cha” as Tony and Maria notice each other for the first time and dance together, transfixed.  The anxiety-ridden “Fugue” is based on material from the song “Cool”, in which the Jets are convincing each other to bottle up their overwhelming emotions.  The fugue’s subject is a 12-tone row, lending a worrisome and tense feeling to the movement.  Each new statement of the theme adds more layers until the texture explodes into a percussion-heavy statement of the main theme from “Cool”.

There is much material about both Bernstein and West Side Story on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

West Side Story main website.  Includes information on performances all over the world, lyrics to the songs, and other information.

West Side Story the musical on Wikipedia.

West Side Story new Broadway production website.

Preview of West Side Story book (for the musical) on Google Books.

Website of Ian Polster, arranger.

And now, some YouTube action:

Aside from the fact that they don’t shout “MAMBO!” and some mistaken rhythms at the beginning of “Cool”, this is a really nice performance of the Four Dances:

The movie version of “Cool”, featuring the bits we play from about 1:30-4:00.

Gym scene, featuring bits of our “Mambo” and “Cha-Cha” (starting around 2:54):

This piece was a Senior Choice for clarinetist Angelica Ortega ’05.

Patrick Burns (b. 1969) is an American composer and music educator.  He has written extensively for wind bands at all levels.  He founded the Bloomfield Youth Band in New Jersey when he was 17, and continues to direct that group today.  He is much in demand as guest conductor around the country.

Burns wrote Enchanted Night in 2004 for the Hanover Wind Symphony, a community band in New Jersey, to help celebrate their 19th anniversary.  The piece is based on a novella of the same title by Pulitzer Prize-Winning author Steven Millhauser.

Patrick Burns main website. – includes a full biography and information on all of his music.  Check out especially the “music” page, where you can download a free recording of Enchanted Night in the grade 5 section.

Patrick Burns on myspace. Also features a recording of Enchanted Night in addition to several other of his works.

Information on the Millhauser novella that inspired Burns’s music at Amazon.com.

An excerpt of the novella on the New York Times.

A preview of the novella on google books.

Enchanted Night on YouTube, part of Patrick Burns’s YouTube channel:

The composer conducted the CUWE in this piece at the Columbia Festival of Winds on 3/1/2009.

Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) was a 20th century British composer.  Along with Holst and Vaughan Williams, he is known as an early champion of the wind band and a skilled composer in the medium.  His 1928 An Original Suite is considered standard repertoire.  Its very title shows its significance: when it was first published (by Boosey), the publisher added the “Original” piece to the title, presumably to distinguish it from the many popular music arrangements that dominated the wind band repertoire at the time.

The Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble performed this whole suite very recently and put it on YouTube, which is very convenient for this site.

1st Movement: March

2nd Movement: Intermezzo

3rd Movement: Finale

Gordon Jacob on Wikipedia – note the middle names!

GordonJacob.org – a website run by the Jacob family promoting Gordon’s life and music.

Windband.org program notes for An Original Suite.

Original Suite page at gordonjacob.org – includes links to information about CD recordings, a brief discussion of the piece, and a CD review.

Percy Grainger was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire PosyIrish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Handel in the Strand is one of Grainger’s early light orchestral pieces, written in 1911, before he enlisted in the US Army during World War I.  Grainger had no trouble allowing other musicians to arrange his music to suit their needs, so Handel in the Strand has existed in several different versions.  After its original massed piano and string orchestra setting came versions for full orchesra, piano (solo and 4 hands), organ, trombone choir, and two different settings for band (Goldman and Sousa).  Grainger gives an amusing anecdote on its origin:

My title was originally “Clog Dance”. But my dear friend William Gair Rathbone (to whom the piece is dedicated) suggested the title “Handel in the Strand,” because the music seemed to reflect both Handel and English musical comedy [the “Strand” — a street in London — is the home of London musical comedy] — as if jovial old Handel were careering down the Strand to the strains of modern English popular music.

Handel in the Strand on YouTube, performed by the North Texas Wind Symphony:

Program note on the orchestral version of Handel in the Strand from the Kennedy Center.

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

One more look at Grainger on YouTube, this time performing on the piano:

Mr. Boerma provides the following program note on Cityscape in its score, published by Boosey & Hawkes:

Cityscape, a fanfare for wind and percussion, was written for and dedicated to James F. Keene and the University of Illinois Wind Symphony.  This symphonic fanfare was designed to make a bold opening statement for the ensemble’s 2006 performance in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.  Intense, clashing harmonies and tight, vertical rhythms combine with moments of calm, yet unsettled release to depict the atmosphere within the endless canyons of metal and cement in the heart of the city.

A quick side note: the CUWE took a crew of 19 members to the concert where this was premiered.  It was an amazing show, and Cityscape fit the program very nicely.

Now for some links:

Madison Music Works – Scott Boerma’s publishing company for his marching band arrangements and concert band compositions.  Features information and recordings of several of his pieces.  This is his main professional web outlet, and thus it includes an extensive biography.

In case you missed it at Madison Music, a recording of Cityscape by its dedicatees: the University of Illinois Wind Symphony, conducted by James Keene.  Here is that same recording on YouTube:

Mr. Boerma’s main institutional homes: Madison Scouts and University of Michigan Band.

From the CUWE program archive:

In 1910, Igor Stravinsky (b.1882 in Russia, d.1971 in New York) premiered The Firebird ballet with the Ballet Russe, and it became an international success.  Although he was not well known before this, Stravinsky became one of the most famous modern Russian composers.  He is also acclaimed for his ballets Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).  Stravinsky received little early musical training, and it was not until he studied under the great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov that his musical talents became ignited.  Stravinsky arranged three suites that highlighted excerpts from The Firebird ballet.  This afternoon, we will be playing the “Berceuse and Finale” from the suite.  Based on a Russian folktale, The Firebird tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with “a fabulous bird with plumage of fire.”  The bird gives Ivan a magic feather that he may use in the face of danger.  Afraid of being turned to stone by an evil King, Ivan uses the magic feather and the Firebird appears to help him.  In the “Berceuse and Finale”, the Firebird frees all who have been turned to stone, and Ivan wins the hand of a lovely princess.

author unknown (not me), from the Spring 2004 “Russian” concert program.

That pretty much says it all.  Below are some links.  Bear in mind that this piece is performed so often that most links are advertisements for performances or recordings of the work!  I will do my best to omit those below.

Score excerpts from the ballet on Google Books.

The ballet and concert suites on Wikipedia.

The folk tale upon which the ballet is based, also on Wikipedia.

Program notes from Pomona College.

Extensive program notes on the ballet from the Kennedy Center.

Igor Stravinsky on Wikipedia.

Igor Stravinsky in the Time 100, remembering the greatest figures of the 20th century, by composer Philip Glass.

The “Lullabye and Final Hymn” (“Berceuse and Finale” as we know them) conducted by the man himself, Maestro Stravinsky at age 82!!  Things I love about this performance: Stravinsky’s minimal and nearly affect-less conducting; the endless tempo in the Lullabye section; Stravinsky’s only change of facial expression at the very end of the Finale; the comically short quarter notes in the final section (which we will not replicate!); the fact that Stravinsky walks with a cane, but does not need it when conducting.  Enjoy this true gem of a video!

The complete ballet, company and orchestra unknown:

This was a Senior Choice for hornist Justine Ordinario ’09.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is a figure of monumental importance in wind band circles.  His First and Second Suites for Military Band are two of the foundational pieces of the wind band genre.  But they did not make him famous in the wider world.  That distinction belongs to his massive orchestral suite, The Planets.  Written between 1914 and 1916 (during World War I), the suite depicts the astrological character of each planet.  It leaves out both Earth, which is not in our sky and thus has no astrological significance, and Pluto, which had not been discovered at the time and has since been relegated to dwarf-planet status.  The movements proceed as follows:

Mars, the Bringer of War
Venus, the Bringer of Peace
Mercury, the Winged Messenger
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
Uranus, the Magician
Neptune, the Mystic

Clearly, these are not in actual planet order.  There are several possible explanations for this, including that the characters of the first four movements made for a better symphony-like form in that order, or that Holst went in order of proximity to Earth, or that he went in order of their astrological significance.

The Planets was such a hit that it took Holst by surprise, and he felt that its overshadowed the rest of his music.  He never again wrote a large-scale piece for orchestra.

The Columbia Wind Ensemble has played “Mars” and “Jupiter”, so the resources here will focus on those movements.

The quantity of web literature on this piece fits its blockbuster status.  Below is just a sampling of what’s available.  It’s all highly informative, so definitely read!

Wikipedia article

Preview of the full orchestral score on Google Books.

Gustavholst.info – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Program notes on The Planets from Gustavholst.info.

Article on The Planets at Suite101.com, on online writers’ community.

A video interpretation of The Planets from Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

An article tracing the musical influences and origins of The Planets.

A blog post that compares The Planets to other pieces, including Star Wars.  Also has audio excerpts of each movement.  Very informative!

Another informative article at BestStuff.com.

Now some videos:

Digital simulation of the Mars Rover’s journey with Holst’s “Mars” as the backdrop (not my favorite recording, for the record):

My favorite recording of Jupiter by Charles Duthoit and the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal, with montage!

Another recording of Jupiter, this one LIVE by the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra.  A thrill to watch – I can’t recommend this highly enough!  Linked, because they don’t allow embedding.

What planet Jupiter REALLY sounds like (or, that is, what it’s electromagnetic waves sound like when converted into sound by NASA’s Voyager):

Now, the bonus stuff: info on the planets Mars and Jupiter themselves.  It sometimes amazes me to think that we live in a solar system so vast that our two next-door neighbors take months and years to reach.  The countless stars we see in the sky, none of which we have any hope of reach in one human lifetime, all belong to our same galaxy.  And we are just one of untold billions of galaxies out there, all so vast but so distant as to be nearly invisible from Earth.  Despite our wretched smallness and insignificance in the universe, music like The Planets exists as a testament to a small measure of our greatness.  And we are lucky enough to be able to experience it from the inside.

These movements were picked as 2009 Senior Choices by hornist and percussionist Jeff Petriello and hornist Margot Schloss.  “Mars” was clarinetist Liz Portnoy’s pick in 2004.

Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966) was an Italian-American composer and teacher.  He wrote operas, songs, symphonies, and a handful of wind band works.  His Symphony no. 3 is one of the staple long-form works in the wind band repertoire.  For most of his career he taught in New York at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.  He also taught at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute and founded the North Carolina School for the Arts.

Fantasia for Band was written in 1963 on a commission from the Northern Westchester and Putnam County Music Teachers Association.  The piece unfolds in Giannini’s typical neoromantic style, with fluid melodic motion amidst sometimes aggressive dissonance.

Vittorio Giannini on Wikipedia

Short bio on Giannini from Voices In the Wilderness by Walter Simmons, a book about neo-romantic American composers.

There is a CD of Giannini’s complete band works available at Naxos and at emusic.  Both sites allow you to play short clips of the tracks, and Naxos MAY even allow folks on college campuses to listen to full tracks by logging in.  For some more information on him, read the reviews of the CD on the Naxos site.

A high school band plays Fantasia for Band:

The music of Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) music borrows from all forms of American popular culture, from Barbie to Liberace.  He is widely acclaimed as a gifted composer with a truly original voice.  He is currently a Professor of composition of the University of Michigan, for whose excellent bands he has produced much original music.

Daugherty wrote Alligator Alley in 2003 on a commission from the American Composers Forum for their educational BandQuest series.  He wrote it as a bassoon feature for his daughter, who was then in middle school.  It has quickly gained popularity as both a bassoon feature and Daugherty’s only work accessible to younger bands.

Program note at BandQuest.org

Michael Daugherty’s website.

Daugherty bio on wikipedia.

There is a good recording (accurate, if not exactly spirited) from Hal Leonard.  Don’t mind the beeps during the piece.  These are Hal Leonard’s effort at copy protection.

Now on YouTube: bad versions of this piece abound, since it purports to be a middle school piece.  But this performance is good.  Don’t mind the trash-talkers in the comments: this band gets it mostly right!

BONUS: an interview with Michael Daugherty about all aspects of music.  This is just part one – if you like it, check out the rest!

This was a Senior Choice picked by bassoonist Eric Hirsch ’09.