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Monthly Archives: December 2011

There are so many reasons that I’m excited to play Slava!  First, the title actually contains that exclamation point.  Second, it’s by Bernstein, a true American character, and he wrote it about Rostropovich, another great character of the 20th century.  Third, it allows me to put on this blog the most jaw-dropping musical performance I’ve ever seen. (More on that later).  Finally, it’s just so much fun to play!  So, about this piece…

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.

Bernstein wrote Slava! in 1977 on a commission from its namesake, the legendary Soviet-born cellist and conductor, Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich.  Rostropovich at that point had just assumed the post of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.  He asked Bernstein to help him present a concert of the composer’s own work early in his first season.  He got three new pieces out of that request: Three Meditations from “Mass”, Songfest, and an untitled “political overture” that was only barely finished in time for the concert.  The latter work turned out to be Slava!, a fun and irreverent tribute and welcome for Rostropovich, who conducted the premiere performance on October 11 of that year.  “Slava” is a common nickname for Russian men whose names contain “-slav”, and Mstislav Rostropovich was known as “Slava” to his closest friends.  “Slava” also means “glory” in Russian.  The program notes at the Kennedy Center, home of the National Symphony, delve deeper and are worth a read.

There is much material about Bernstein 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.

You’ve been waiting all this time for that jaw-dropping video.  I found this by searching for “best Japanese elementary school band”.  To really make your jaw drop, look what they’ve done with their music stands.  To make it drop even further, listen until the end of Slava! for the famous chant.  Now, without further ado:

Now here’s a look at Slava himself doing what he did best, which was making beautiful music with his cello:

Sarah Quiroz will conduct the 2012 Columbia University Wind Ensemble performance of Slava! at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 4.


John Mackey (b. 1973) once famously compared the band and the orchestra to the kind of girl a composer might meet at a party. The orchestra seems like she ought to be your ideal woman, but she clearly feels superior to you and talks a lot about her exes (like Dvorak and Beethoven). The band, meanwhile, is loud and brash, but loves everything you do and can’t wait to play your stuff, the newer, the better! (I’ve rather poorly paraphrased Mackey – it’s best understood in his original blog post on the subject).

With this attitude and his prodigious talent, John Mackey has become a superstar composer among band directors. He has even eclipsed his former teacher, John Corigliano, by putting out a dozen new band works, including a handful of commissions, in the last 5 years. All are challenging, and all are innovative. Mackey’s works for wind ensemble and orchestra have been performed around the world, and have won numerous composition prizes. His Redline Tango, originally for orchestra and then transcribed by the composer for band, won him the American Bandmasters Assocation/Ostwald Award in 2005, making him, then 32, the youngest composer ever to recieve that prize.  He won again in 2009 with Aurora Awakes.  His compositional style is fresh and original. I once heard him state that he counted the band Tool among his musical influences.

John Mackey publishes his own music through Osti Music.  The website for this company doubles as his personal website and his blog, which is very informative for anyone looking for a composer’s perspective on new music. He is featured on wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.

Mackey wrote Kingfishers Catch Fire in 2006-2007 on commission from a consortium in schools in Japan.  Says Mackey:

A kingfisher is a bird with stunning, brilliantly colored feathers that appear in sunlight as if they are on fire.  Kingfishers are extremely shy birds and are rarely seen, but when they are seen, they are undeniably beautiful.

The first movement, “Following falls and falls of rain,” is suspended in tone, but with hope, depicting the kingfisher slowly emerging from its nest in the early morning stillness, just after a heavy rain storm.  The second movement, “Kingfishers catch fire,” imagines the bird flying out into the sunlight.  The work ends with a reference to (and a bit of a pun on) Stravinsky’s Firebird.

Mackey himself provides even more program notes on this piece, both on his website and in more colorful detail on his blog. You can also look at the score and hear a recording of the piece (first movement, then second movement) there.

Those too lazy to click a link can hear Kingfishers Catch Fire, or at least the 2nd movement, via YouTube here:

In case you were wondering what bit of Firebird Mackey is referencing, you can find out on my post about that piece.  For the link-challenged among you, here’s the video clip.  It’s one of the greatest conducting videos ever made, so it deserves reposting.  Listen to the very end of both pieces and you’ll hear the reference for sure.

And now a bonus image: a Kingfisher!

Kingfisher!

Joseph Wilcox Jenkins was born in the Philadelphia area in 1928.  He started composing at a young age as part of his piano lessons. His future in music was uncertain at first: he studied pre-law at Saint Joseph’s College while also taking composition classes with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music.  But composition was his calling: he went on to 2 further degrees at the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Howard Hanson, Bernard Rogers, and Thomas Canning.  Soon after finishing at Eastman, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he became an arranger for the Army Field Band.  Doctoral work at Catholic University followed, then another stint in the Army, this time as head arranger for for the U.S. Army Chorus.  Jenkins later received a Ford Foundation grant to serve as the composer-in-residence of the high school in Evanston, Illinois.  In 1961, the same year that his Cumberland Gap Overture won an Ostwald award, he joined the music faculty at Duquesne University, where he remained until his retirement in 2000.

American Overture was Jenkins’s first work for band, written in 1953 when he was 25 years old.  It came about during his first military stint.  As an arranger for the U.S. Army Field Band, he composed the piece to match their instrumentation, which was idiosyncratic in many ways.  For instance: he included not just a string bass, but also a cello;  there are three distinct baritone parts;  the flutes divide into 3; the clarinets and trombones each divide in 4.  But the stars of this piece are definitely the horns.  They famously leap an octave in the first measure.  His original edition had the first note slurred to the second (written G4-G5), virtually guaranteeing a strident glissando.  A 2003 revision eliminated this slur, but horn players everywhere still treasure or loathe that famous opening figure.  The rest of American Overture is a high-energy expression of bold optimism that puts every section of the band in the spotlight.

Read more about American Overture at Wikia Program Notes and The Concord Band.

Professor Jenkins has a biography posted here.  There is also a nice story about a 2007 Army tribute to him here.

And now a listen.  This one features nearly professional-quality playing!

Fall 2011 is done.  What fun it was.  I did 2 big programs with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble:

 

LIGHT – Sunday, October 23 at 2pm, Roone Arledge Auditorium, Columbia University

(By the way, look carefully and you’ll see a dramatic arc to this program, from total darkness to blazing, brilliant light.)

Overture from Dancer in the Dark – Björk Guðmundsdóttir, arr. Vince Mendoza(and transcribed by me)

Shadow Rituals – Michael Markowski (senior choice for Jason Mogen)

Angels in the Architecture – Frank Ticheli (conducted by Columbia senior Berkley Todd)

Divertimento – Vincent Persichetti

Lux Aurumque – Eric Whitacre

Beacon Fires – Rob Smith


TRAVELING EAST – Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 2pm, Roone Arledge Auditorium

Orient et Occident – Camille Saint-Saens

Variations on a Korean Folk Song – John Barnes Chance

Come, Drink One More Cup – Chen Qian

Selections from Princess Mononoke – Joe Hisaishi, arr. Kazuhiro Morita

Festal Scenes – Yasuhide Ito

The Sun Will Rise Again – Philip Sparke was supposed to be on this program.  But the music never arrived, despite the fact that we ordered it in September.

 

We also traveled to Brown University on Sunday, November 20, for a joint concert with the Brown Wind Symphony.  We played a little music from each of our big concerts, as follows:

Orient et Occident – Camille Saint-Saens

Variations on a Korean Folk Song – John Barnes Chance

Lux Aurumque – Eric Whitacre

Festal Scenes – Yasuhide Ito

 

In addition, I traveled to Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia for a conducting symposium with Jerry Junkin, Kevin Sedatole, and Jamie Nix on December 3 and 4.  I conducted the following:

Molly on the Shore – Percy Grainger

English Folk Song Suite – Ralph Vaughan Williams (2nd movement)

Divertissement for Winds – Emile Bernard (1st movement)

That was one of the best conducting workshops I’ve been to, ever.  Aspiring conductors: keep this one on your radar!

 

Finally, Columbia Summer Winds played a pet parade the day after the fluke October snowstorm.