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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was a Czech composer who was helped to prominence in Europe by such luminaries as Johannes Brahms and the critic Eduard Hanslick.  These two men were among the panelists who awarded Dvořák the Austrian State Prize for Composition in 1874 (and again in 1876 and 1877).  Dvořák wrote music in a nationalistic character for much of his career, mostly focused on his native Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).  He is also famous for having traveled to America in the 1890s, where he directed the National Conservatory and wrote his most famous work, Symphony no. 9 “From the New World.”  He now has a detailed biography on Wikipedia, an extensive website dedicated to him in both Czech and English, and an ongoing Society in his name that is dedicated to Czech and Slovak classical music.

The Serenade, op. 44, came about in 1878, emerging in a seemingly spontaneous rush during two weeks that January.  It came immediately before the Slavonic Rhapsodies (op. 45) and the first set of Slavonic Dances (op. 46), and as such it reflects some of their style and the direction Dvořák was to take with his music.  It also came immediately after the tragic loss of his three young children, so it likely represents a new beginning in both his life and career.  Its most unusual feature is its instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (and optional contrabassoon), 3 French horns, cello, and bass.  This very closely resembles the harmonie band that was popular at the end of the 18th century, and may be a nod specifically to Mozart’s most famous serenade, the Gran Partita in B-flat from the early 1780s (a comparison of both pieces’ third movements strengthens this impression).  It was to be the only time that Dvořák used this instrumentation, and only one of two serenades that he would write (the other being for strings).

The instrumentation matches what would have been used in a serenade in the classical era.  Such pieces were intended to be played outdoors, often by musicians on the move, a function to which wind instruments were particularly well-suited.  However, Dvořák uses a more traditional symphonic structure for this work, which ends up in four movements with the middle two flipped from their usual placement.  The first movement is a stately, Baroque-sounding march.  In somewhat of a twist, the second is a triple-meter dance approximating the Czech dance sousedská (despite the title “Minuetto”), with a Furiant thrown in in place of the usual trio.  The third movement is slow, and sounds strongly like Mozart’s “adagio” from the Gran Partita.  The final movement races to its finish, but not before bringing back the entire A section of the first movement in a uniquely 19th-century move.  The whole thing sounds strongly like Dvořák, reflecting both his knack for accessible writing and fervor for his native Czech music.

As much as it pains me to admit this, the best performances of this piece that are on YouTube all come from unconducted ensembles.  Conductors, I challenge you to learn this piece and create compelling performances of it so that we may retain an indispensable role in this piece in the future!  For now, here is a joint British-Russian group delivering quite a performance:

Read more about the Serenade at the Dvořák archive, on this website from 1999, at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra blog, on Musicweb International, at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, at Chicago Chamber Musicians, and on Wikipedia.  Also, full sheet music for two different public domain editions of this piece is available on IMSLP.

Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  He studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works, both choral (often with his Eric Whitacre Singers) and instrumental, and those of others.  He has also organized a series of groundbreaking Virtual Choirs.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy, with presence on Facebook (the ever changing profile picture is particularly entertaining), WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), and his very own website at EricWhitacre.com.

Equus first came into being as a wind band piece, finished in 2000 and premiered that same year by the University of Miami Wind Ensemble under Gary Green.  Its difficulty lies in the overlay of several different rhythms, many of which defy the piece’s metric structure.  Whitacre tells its origin story as follows (from his website and the piece’s score):

At the Midwest Band and Orchestra convention in 1996, Gary Green approached me about a possible commission for his wind ensemble at the University of Miami. I accepted, and the commission formally began July 1st, 1997. Two years later I still couldn’t show him a single note.

That’s not to say I hadn’t written anything. On the contrary, I had about 100 pages of material for three different pieces, but I wanted to give Gary something very special and just couldn’t find that perfect spark.

Around this time my great friend and fellow Juilliard composer Steven Bryant was visiting me in Los Angeles, and as I had just bought a new computer I was throwing out old sequencer files, most of them sketches and improvisational ideas. As I played one section Steve dashed into the room and the following conversation ensued:

Steve: “What the hell was that!?!”
Me: “Just an old idea I’m about to trash.”
Steve: “Mark my words, If you don’t use that I’m stealing it.”

The gauntlet had been thrown.

That was the spark, but it took me a full eight months to write the piece. There are a LOT of notes, and I put every one on paper (with pencil). I wanted to write a moto perpetuo, a piece that starts running and never stops (‘equus’ is the Latin word for horse) and would also be a virtuosic show piece for winds. The final result is something that I call “dynamic minimalism,” which basically means that I love to employ repetitive patterns as long as they don’t get boring. We finally premiered the piece in March 2000, nearly three years after the original commission date, and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble played the bejeezus out of it.

Equus is dedicated to my friend Gary Green, the most passionate and patient conductor I know.

Here it is in its original version:

Whitacre later (2014) added choral parts to go with the band version, in addition to creating an orchestra transcription (2011).  Below is the band and choir version (see his website for more details):

You’ll find everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about Equus in this dissertation from the University of Miami.

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1935) is a New York native and one of the most celebrated composers of musical theatre.  He began his career under the mentorship of Oscar Hammerstein II, one of the great names of 20th century Broadway.  Sondheim got an early career break writing the lyrics for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957.  He has since had a distinguished career that has encompassed almost two dozen musicals, many of which have been made into films, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1986).  He has won more Tony Awards (8) than any other composer.

Into the Woods, with music by Sondheim and book and lyrics by James Lapine, debuted on Broadway in 1987.  It tells the story of a childless Baker and the Baker’s Wife, who are cursed by an evil Witch.  Their adventures intersect several fairy tale stories by the Brothers Grimm, including Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk.  The original production won Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). The musical has been revived several times around the world.  In 2014, it was released as a movie version by the Walt Disney company.

Stephen Bulla’s band arrangement of Selections from Into the Woods covers four of the numbers from the musical, including “Into the Woods,” “No One Is Alone,” “I Know Things Now,” and “Children Will Listen.”  Here it is in live performance:

To give you an idea of the visuals, here is a preview reel from the Public Theater‘s production in 2012.  This also includes a substantial portion of the song “Into the Woods” that opens the medley:

Here is “No One Is Alone” from a 1989 PBS special that filmed the original Broadway production:

Next, “I Know Things Now” from the 2014 Disney movie version:

Finally, “Children Will Listen” sung in concert by Bernadette Peters, one of the great Sondheim interpreters and Into the Woods‘s original Broadway Witch:

Bonus: my personal favorite song from the musical, which did not make the Selections: “Agony!”

Read more about Into the Woods on Wikipedia and IMDB.  Sondheim has tributes everywhere and then some, but a look at his Wikipedia page will give you plenty of insight into the man and the artist.

New York City native Paul Richards (b. 1969) is an award winning composer who presently teaches composition at the University of Florida.  He has received commissions from organizations around the United States.  His works run the gamut from solo and chamber works to large ensemble and theatre works, including a dozen works for wind band to date.

If You Could Only See the Frog was written in 2008 on a commission from the Saint Mary’s University Concert Band, directed by Dr. Janet Heukeshoven, director, with support from the Sam & Helen Kaplan Foundation.  It was the winner of the 2014 Columbia Summer Winds Outdoor Composition Contest.  Richards explains it on his website:

“Si Veriash a la Rana” (“If You Could Only See the Frog”) is the title of a children’s song from Bulgaria sung by exiled Jews in the Spanish-Jewish dialect of Ladino:

If you could only see the little frog sitting on the oven, frying her fritas and sharing with her sisters!
If you could only see the little mouse sitting in the corner, shelling walnuts and sharing with her sisters!
If you could only see the little camel sitting on the dough-board, rolling out filo thinner than hair!

The deceptively simple and playful tune stems from a wide range of cultural influences, combining typically Ladino melodic figurations with a traditional Bulgarian metric construction, punctuated by a curious refrain in Turkish that simply means, “I love you so much”.
This concert band piece is a percussion-driven exploration of this infectious and time-tested melody.

The University of Florida Wind Ensemble gives a rousing performance:

To really get into the sound world that this melody came from, you should listen to the extra videos below.  Here is a folky version of the original tune:

And a more pop version:

And another folk version with a more instrumental emphasis:

Steven Bryant (b. 1972) is an acclaimed, award-winning composer whose works often straddle different media.  He is a three-time recipient of the National Band Association’s William D. Revelli Composition Award (2007, 2008, 2010). His first orchestral work, Loose Id for Orchestra, was “orchestrated like a virtuoso” according to celebrated composer Samuel Adler.  His unique works for wind band and electronics have received more performances than any other pieces of their kind.  His other work includes pieces for wind band (some with added electronics), orchestra, chamber ensembles, and electronic music.  He studied composition at The Juilliard School with John Corigliano, at the University of North Texas with Cindy McTee, and at Ouachita University with W. Francis McBeth.

Ecstatic Fanfare was extracted in 2012 from a larger work, Ecstatic Waters (2008).  The fanfare uses some of the tutti material from the larger work’s opening movement.  In Bryant’s words, “Unlike that work, this one does NOT require electronics, water glasses, a Celesta, or a Mahler Hammer. ;)”

Listen to the original band version of Ecstatic Fanfare as played by the US Army Band:

It also exists in a version for orchestra:

See more about Ecstatic Fanfare, including another recording and a perusal score, on Bryant’s website.

Bryant likes and is comfortable in electronic media.  He has a YouTube account, a Twitter handle, and a Facebook fan page.  He has a fantastic website with a blog attached.  He also numbers the revisions of his music like computer software: for instance, his latest version of Dusk is version 1.4.  In his words, “The old version (1.2) is NOT compatible” with the new.  He also writes dedicated electronic music.  My favorite, which I heard when I sat in at his session at the Ball State University Conducting Workshop in 2012, is called Hummingbrrd.  Click the link to listen, and prepare to be amazed!

Steven Bryant (b. 1972) is an acclaimed, award-winning composer whose works often straddle different media.  He is a three-time recipient of the National Band Association’s William D. Revelli Composition Award (2007, 2008, 2010). His first orchestral work, Loose Id for Orchestra, was “orchestrated like a virtuoso” according to celebrated composer Samuel Adler.  His unique works for wind band and electronics have received more performances than any other pieces of their kind.  His other work includes pieces for wind band (some with added electronics), orchestra, chamber ensembles, and electronic music.  He studied composition at The Juilliard School with John Corigliano, at the University of North Texas with Cindy McTee, and at Ouachita University with W. Francis McBeth.

Bryant wrote Ecstatic Waters, for wind band and electronics, in 2008 for a consortium of 15 college and high school wind ensembles.  It has been a sensation since its premiere in that same year, receiving dozens of performances.  As I write this, it is about to receive its orchestral premiere with the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Bryant’s old school chum, Eric Whitacre.  It has also spawned Ecstatic Fanfare, a short excerpt of the fanfare bits for wind band without electronics.  Bryant’s website really says everything there is to say about the piece, so I will quote him at length here (with some links added):

Ecstatic Waters is music of dialectical tension – a juxtaposition of contradictory or opposing musical and extra-musical elements and an attempt to resolve them. The five connected movements hint at a narrative that touches upon naiveté, divination, fanaticism, post-human possibilities, anarchy, order, and the Jungian collective unconscious. Or, as I have described it more colloquially: W.B. Yeats meets Ray Kurzweil in the Matrix.

The overall title, as well as “Ceremony of Innocence” and “Spiritus Mundi” are taken from poetry of Yeats (“News for the Delphic Oracle,” and “The Second Coming“), and his personal, idiosyncratic mythology and symbolism of spiraling chaos and looming apocalypse figured prominently in the genesis of the work. Yet in a nod to the piece’s structural reality – as a hybrid of electronics and living players – Ecstatic Waters also references the confrontation of unruly humanity with the order of the machine, as well as the potential of a post-human synthesis, in ways inspired by Kurzweil.

The first movement, Ceremony of Innocence, begins as a pure expression of exuberant joy in unapologetic Bb Major in the Celesta and Vibraphone. The movement grows in momentum, becoming perhaps too exuberant – the initial simplicity evolves into a full-throated brashness bordering on dangerous arrogance and naiveté, though it retreats from the brink and ends by returning to the opening innocence.

In Mvt. II, Augurs, the unsustainable nature of the previous Ceremony becomes apparent, as the relentless tonic of Bb in the crystal water glasses slowly diffuses into a microtonal cluster, aided and abetted by the trumpets. Chorale–like fragments appear, foretelling the wrathful self-righteousness of Mvt. III. The movement grows inexorably, spiraling wider and wider, like Yeat’s gyre, until “the center cannot hold,” and it erupts with supreme force into The Generous Wrath of Simple Men.

Mvt. III is deceptive, musically contradicting what one might expect of its title. While it erupts at the outset with overwhelming wrath, it quickly collapses into a relentless rhythm of simmering 16th notes. Lyric lines and pyramids unfold around this, interrupted briefly by the forceful anger of a chorale, almost as if trying to drown out and deny anything but its own existence. A moment of delicate lucidity arrives amidst this back-and-forth struggle, but the chorale ultimately dominates, subsuming everything, spiraling out of control, and exploding.

The Loving Machinery of Justice brings machine-like clarity and judgment. Subtle, internal gyrations between atonality and tonality underpin the dialogue between lyric melody (solo Clarinet and Oboe) and mechanized accompaniment (Bassoons). An emphatic resolution in Ab minor concludes the movement, floating seamlessly into the epilogue, Spiritus Mundi. Reprising music from Mvt. I, this short meditative movement reconciles and releases the earlier excesses.

Here is the US Marine Band in a live performance:

And here is Bryant’s series of “How-to” videos, explaining how the whole thing works with electronics, etc.:

Bryant likes and is comfortable in electronic media.  He has a YouTube account, a Twitter handle, and a Facebook fan page.  He has a fantastic website with a blog attached.  He also numbers the revisions of his music like computer software: for instance, his latest version of Dusk is version 1.4.  In his words, “The old version (1.2) is NOT compatible” with the new.  He also writes dedicated electronic music.  My favorite, which I heard when I sat in at his session at the Ball State University Conducting Workshop in 2012, is called Hummingbrrd.  Click the link to listen, and prepare to be amazed!

Spring 2015 was a milestone.  I finished up my doctoral work at Arizona State University and got my degree in May!  In the process, I conducted some of the ASU ensembles and did an honor band in Rockland County, NY.  I continued to work with my amazing conducting mentors, primarily Gary Hill and Wayne Bailey.  I also finished my DMA thesis: “An Annotated Bibliography of Symphonies for Wind Band.” (click for full text, PDF)

At ASU, the concert season kicked off with the annual Concert of Soloists by the ASU Symphony Orchestra on February 4. The highlight (though I’m hopelessly biased in this regard) was the Percussion Concerto by Joseph Schwantner with Bryan Hummel as percussion soloist and me on the podium.  We made a great team.

The ASU band season got underway the following evening.  We were in the midst of celebrating “ASU Bands at 100!” by playing music from each decade that the bands have existed.  So on February 5, we presented “The Fabulous 50s!”  The Wind Ensemble under Wayne Bailey started it off:

Air for Band – Frank Erickson

Divertimento – Vincent Persichetti

George Washington Bridge – William Schuman (Trae Blanco, Conductor)

The Wind Orchestra under Gary Hill continued:

Festive Overture – Dmitri Shostakovich, arr. Hunsberger

Pageant – Vincent Persichetti (conducted by me)

Symphony for Band – Paul Hindemith

On February 6 and 7 (yes, that was an intense week), I went to Rockland County, NY to conduct their Senior All-County Band.  We played some great rep!

Elixir – Michael Markowski

October – Eric Whitacre

Shepherd’s Hey – Percy Grainger

Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo – Malcolm Arnold

Next up at ASU was “War and Peace – the 40s and the 80s” on March 3.  Starting with Wayne Bailey and the Wind Ensemble, the repertoire included:

The Immovable Do – Percy Grainger (Seph Coates, conductor)

On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss – David Holsinger

Symphony no. 1 “Lord of the Rings” – Johan de Meij

Gary Hill and Wind Orchestra:

Smetana Fanfare – Karel Husa

Ballad for Band – Morton Gould (Trae Blanco, conductor)

Winds of Nagual – Michael Colgrass

The Wind Orchestra took a solo turn in “From the Great Depression to the Digital Age – the 30s and the 90s” on April 8 with some wonderful repertoire:

Outdoor Overture – Aaron Copland (conducted by Seph Coates)

Suite Française – Francis Poulenc

Desi – Michael Daugherty

Funeral Music for Queen Mary – Henry Purcell, arr. Steven Stucky

On April 14, the Wind Ensemble gave Wayne Bailey a semi-retirement sendoff with a concert of his “Favorite Things”, which include:

George Washington Bicentennial March – J. P. Sousa

Valdres – Johannes Hansen

Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral – Richard Wagner

Second Concerto for Clarinet – Carl Maria von Weber

Pineapple Poll – Sir Arthur Sullivan, arr. Sir Charles Mackerras

They were joined by the ASU Concert Band under Trae Blanco and Seph Coats.  Their repertoire for the semester included:

Scenes from the Louvre – Norman Dello Joio

Original Suite – Gordon Jacob

The Hounds of Spring – Alfred Reed

Three Ayres from Gloucester – Hugh Stuart

Firework – Jan Van der Roost

Chimes of Liberty – Edwin Franko Goldman (conducted by me on 4/14)

Dusk – Steven Bryant

Finally, the ASU Chamber Players, including students and faculty, rounded out the season with some large chamber pieces:

Sonatina/Symphony “The Happy Workshop” – Richard Strauss

La Creation du monde – Darius Milhaud