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Category Archives: 2011-2012

2012 was the year of the wind conducting workshop for me.  I went to 5 of them all over the country.  Each was unique in some way, but every one of them introduced me to some wonderful professionals and made me a stronger conductor.  Every one was worth the time, effort, and money required to attend, not to mention the raw emotion and true soul-searching that often come with the experience.  These things are never easy: no matter how much of a glittering past you have, conducting a group you’ve never worked with while big names in your field pick you apart sounds like the stuff of nightmares.  But the payoff outweighs the pain tenfold.  Bottom line, if you have the opportunity to go to any conducting symposium anywhere, do not hesitate: Go!

1. BALL STATE

My first stop was Ball State University, where the band program is run by Thomas Caneva and Shaun Vondran.  They had Craig Kirchhoff from the University of Minnesota in as the clinician, who worked with every conductor twice.  Immediately after your own session, you watched your video with Dr. Vondran, who provided more comments and insights.  This one was over a weekend in February, with the Ball State bands in residence.  A key part of the weekend was a rehearsal and performance of those bands, featuring Dr. Kirchhoff as guest conductor.  A great bonus was the presence that weekend of the composer Steven Bryant, who is currently making big waves with his music for band and electronics.  Repertoire-wise, participants could choose from:

Holst – Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo
Turina/Reed – La Procession du Rocio
Strauss – Serenade in E flat, Op. 7
Whitacre – October
Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre”
Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles
Schuman – Chester
Bernstein – Overture to “Candide”
Grainger – Ye Banks & Braes o’ Bonnie Doon
Schuman – George Washington Bridge

2. COLORADO

Things really ramped up in the summer, when I resumed my adventures at the CBDNA symposium at the University of Colorado Boulder.  This was a 5-day symposium at which everyone got to conduct members of the CU bands 4 times.  Allan McMurray was the host, along with the rest of his conducting staff, and Gary Hill from Arizona State University came in as the guest clinician.  One of the great features of this workshop was McMurray’s insistence that we study and conduct Copland’s Appalachian Spring in its original 14-instrument form, which includes a double string quartet and bass.  We divided it up so each conductor that day got one part of the piece (I got the prayer at the very end, after the famous variations) allowing both conductors and players to experience the whole thing.  Also wonderful about this was the participation of Gary Lewis, CU Boulder’s orchestra director.  He tagged in for everyone’s conducting session that day, adding to what the other clinicians had to say.  Like at Ball State, there was an opportunity after each session to watch your video and get additional feedback, this time from CU Assistant Director Matthew Roeder.  Beyond the musical experience, the environment was stunning: the Rocky Mountains were omnipresent, and the city of Boulder was an excellent and fun place to spend our (limited) free time.  It was all capped by a trip up into the mountains in which we had time to reflect, bond, and receive further wisdom from the clinicians.  As for the repertoire:

FULL ENSEMBLE (2 or 3 Pieces)
Bernstein – Overture to Candide
Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy or Irish Tune from County Derry
Holst – First Suite or Second Suite
Milhaud: Suite Francaise
Ticheli: Rest or Cajun Folk Songs II
Whitacre: Noisy Wheels of Joy

CHAMBER ENSEMBLE (1 or 2 Pieces)

Beethoven: Octet
Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite
Gounod: Petite Symphonie
Mozart: Serenade in C minor, K 388

3. NORTHWESTERN

My next stop was Northwestern, where Mallory Thompson led a 6-day symposium with her excellent staff, band, and graduate students.  The guest clinician was the legendary H. Robert Reynolds.  He and Dr. Thompson had a wonderful rapport that helped to set an overwhelmingly positive, constructive tone for the otherwise very challenging week.  The band was filled out with the conductors and auditors (this was by far the biggest symposium I went to), so when I was not conducting, I was part of an amazing, 15-person trumpet section.  Somehow, it all balanced out.  There was also a day of chamber music, featuring the Northwestern players exclusively.  One of the unique activities at this symposium was the small group conducting sessions in the morning.  Both conductors and auditors got to conduct our peers in groups of about 15 using reduced versions of standard rep.  The clinicians (Thompson and Reynolds plus Northwestern’s Dr. Tim Robblee) rotated every day to a different group.  This essentially doubled the contact time with each clinician.  The graduate students organized outings to one of Evanston’s many fine establishments every night, so it was possible (though not necessarily advisable) to both work hard and play hard while there.  An unforgettable experience.  Lots of rep here:

FULL ENSEMBLE
Arnold/Paynter – Four Scottish Dances
Bernstein/Grundman – Candide Suite (all movements)
Copland/Patterson – Down A Country Lane
Daehn – As Summer Was Just Beginning
Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy (mvts. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)
Grantham – Spangled Heavens
Holst/ed. Matthews – First Suite in E-flat
Shostakovich/Hunsberger – Festive Overture
Strauss/arr. Davis – Allerseelen
Stuart – II.“Ayre for Eventide” from Three Ayres from Gloucester
Ticheli – Nitro
Vinson – Echoes of the Hollow Square (all movements)
Whitacre – Lux Aurumque

CHAMBER
Gounod – Petite symphonie
Jacob – Old Wine in New Bottles
Mozart – Serenade No. 11 in E-flat, K.375
Strauss – Serenade in Eb, Op.7
Stravinsky – Octet, Mvt. 1

4. TEMPLE

Immediately on the heels of the long-established Northwestern symposium, I attended the first-ever wind conducting symposium at Temple University, hosted by Dr. Emily Threinen with Michael Haithcock visiting from the University of Michigan.  This was another playing-in-the-band symposium, with a handful of Temple students helping out.  Over 4 days, each conductor got to conduct every day.  There was also a chamber music track, in which 4 conductors (I was not so lucky, unfortunately) spent their mornings rehearsing a chamber group in preparation for a concert at week’s end and getting additional feedback from the clinicians.  During that time, the rest of us had some very valuable morning sessions on topics ranging from free movement to conducting recitative.  This was a nicely varied week that will certainly show up bigger on the radar every year. The repertoire:

Arnold/Paynter – Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo
Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Dello Joio – Scenes from “The Louvre”
Erickson – Air for Band
Grainger – Irish Tune from County Derry and Lincolnshire Posy
Holst – First Suite in E-flat
Ives – Variations on “America”
Milhaud – Suite Francaise
Persichetti – Psalm for Band
Schuman – Chester
Stuart – Three Ayres from Gloucester
Ticheli – Sun Dance
Whitacre – Sleep
Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite

5. COLUMBUS STATE

After a break at the beginning of the school year, I flew down to Georgia for the Columbus State symposium over a weekend in November.  I also went in 2011, and liked it enough to go back again.  In addition to Columbus’s own Jamie Nix, I also got to work with Steve Davis from UMKC and to have another session with Mallory Thompson.  Like Ball State, this symposium involved a concert of the home band featuring the clinicians as guest conductors.  There was also an open rehearsal beforehand.  In a hall where there is seating above and behind the stage, both of these were extremely valuable for a conductor.  Then, in less than 24 hours, each conductor had 3 sessions, including two with large bands and one with a chamber group.  It was a lot of activity packed into a very short period, and well worth the trip.  And it had some fantastic repertoire to choose from:

WIND ORCHESTRA
Chance – Variations on a Korean Folk Song
Del Tredici – Acrostic Song from “Final Alice”
Milhaud – Suite Francaise (Mvts. I, III, IV, or V)
CHAMBER WINDS
Hahn – Le Bal du Beatrice d’Este (Mvts. I, II, IV, VI, VII)
Weill – Little Threepenny Music
WIND ENSEMBLE
Bernstein – Profanation
Holst – First Suite in E-flat
Whitacre – Sleep

Reflecting back on all of this, I honestly can’t wait to go to another symposium.  At each one, I became intimate with new repertoire that I may otherwise never have conducted.  I met amazing people, not just the 16 conductors I got to work with, but the MANY people whom I now count as friends among my fellow participants (and who I hope are reading this!).  Seriously, I must have met nearly 100 new people this year just through these things.  And I was constantly inspired by their musicianship.  I am much more in touch with my own musicianship and my conducting now.  This year’s experiences will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.

Spring 2012 will go down as truly legendary in the memory of the Columbia Wind Ensemble.  With only 9 rehearsals total, we put on a giant festival, our usual senior concert, and 2 run-outs.  The main event was the Columbia Festival of Winds, the Columbia Wind Ensemble’s band festival and fundraiser, which happened on Sunday, March 4.  Our final big concert of the year, on Saturday, April 14, was called PERSPECTIVES.  We also were invited to play at St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia campus on Tuesday, April 17.  To cap the semester, we played outdoors at Riverside Park on April 29 (although it felt more like March thanks to a chilly wind in the air).

 

COLUMBIA FESTIVAL OF WINDS – Sunday, March 4, 2012, 2pm-6pm

The Columbia Festival Band played Clifton Williams’s Symphonic Dance no. 3, Fiesta, under the direction of Dr. Christian Wilhjelm.

The Columbia University Wind Ensemble played:

American Overture for Band – Joseph Wilcox Jenkins (senior choice for Hannah Waldrip)

Cuban Overture – George Gershwin, arranged by Mark Rogers (senior choice for Andrea Gillis)

Slava! – Leonard Bernstein, arranged by Clare Grundman (conducted by Sarah Quiroz)

Kingfishers Catch Fire – John Mackey

At the end of the concert, all participating ensembles joined together in one massed band to play Sousa’s King Cotton.

 

PERSPECTIVES – Saturday April 14, 2012 at 12 noon

Huapango – Jose Pablo Moncayo, transcribed by Leroy Osmon (senior choice for Raul Ruiz)

William Byrd Suite – Gordon Jacob (senior choice for Toni Ma)

Gnomus from Pictures at and Exhibition – Modest Mussorgsky, arr. Mark Hindsley (senior choice for Jenn Altman-Lupu)

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst (senior choice for Sean Healey)

Alas, we had to cut Bacchanale from Samson et Delila – Camille Saint-Saens, arr. Philip Egner from the program due to the aforementioned lack of rehearsal time.  Seriously, we put that concert together in 3 rehearsals, but we did it well!

 

ST PAUL’S CHAPEL – Tuesday, April 17 at 6pm.  We shared the concert with Columbia Classical Performers.

William Byrd Suite – Gordon Jacob

Comedians’ Galop – Dmitri Kabalevsky, arranged by Erik Leidzen (senior choice for Andrei Popescu)

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst

 

RIVERSIDE PARK – Sunday, April 29 at 2pm

Flourish for Wind Band – Ralph Vaughan Williams

William Byrd Suite – Gordon Jacob

Comedians’ Galop – Dmitri Kabalevsky, arranged by Erik Leidzen

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst

King Cotton – John Philip Sousa

 

In addition, I co-chaired the Rockland County Music Educators Association Intermediate All-County Band, which met on Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3.  That brought together the best 5th and 6th grade band students in Rockland County for a weekend of great music-making.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an influential British composer and folk-song collector.  His powerful and expressive orchestral music is notable for its very “English” sound.  His early adventures collecting folk songs in the English countryside profoundly influenced his later compositions.  Along with Gustav Holst, his works for wind band form a foundation for the serious literature in that medium.

Vaughan Williams wrote Flourish for Wind Band in 1939 as the opening to the pageant Music and the People in the Royal Albert Hall in London.  It was subsequently lost, only to be rediscovered and finally published in 1971.  Arranger Roy Douglas created versions of the piece for brass band and for symphony orchestra, but it has become part of the basic literature of the wind band for which it was created.  It opens with a simple brass fanfare.  This gives way to a lyrical melody before the fanfare returns to end the piece.   At just under 2 minutes long, Flourish for Wind Band is a concise gem of Vaughan Williams’s output.  I like to pair it with his Toccata Marziale, with which it shares the key of B-flat and some motivic material, in a prelude and fugue sort of arrangement.

Flourish for Wind Band at the Wind Repertory Project, Answers.com, and (not for the faint of heart) a detailed music analysis of the piece in the form of a master’s thesis.

A chapter on British wind band music from an online History of the Wind Band by Dr. Stephen L. Rhodes. Vaughan Williams features prominently.

Flourish played by the University of North Texas.  I prefer it a tiny bit slower, but they’re REALLY good!

The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society – the source for anything you might ever possibly want to know about the composer.

Vaughan Williams on Wikipedia.

Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987) was a Russian composer who managed a successful artistic career during Soviet times.  His music won many awards in his homeland during his lifetime.  He was also a force in music education: he set up a music education curriculum in 25 schools and even briefly taught a class of 7-year-olds.  He wrote “Comedians’ Galop” in 1938 as part of a broader suite of pieces, The Comedians, op. 26.  Originally conceived as incidental music for a play, he later chose 10 numbers for the suite, which became his most famous work.

Here’s the straight-up orchestra version of “Galop”:

And here it is in a bottle band arrangement:

If you do one thing while looking at this post, you MUST watch the first video posted below!  It really puts the whole piece in perspective.

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was the French composer of such famous works as Carnival of the Animals, the opera Samson et Delila, Danse Macabre, and the Organ Symphony.  He was a child prodigy who became France’s most renowned composer.  Late in life, he traveled to all corners of the world.

Bacchanale comes from his 1877 opera Samson et Delila, which is based on the Biblical story of those 2 characters.  In both the opera and the Bible, Samson is a leader of the Israelites, who are in the midst of a revolt against their malevolent rulers, the Philistines.  The Philistines want to bring him down, so they send one of their own, a woman named Delila, to seduce him and discover the source of his extreme physical strength. It turns out that secret is his long hair, which binds him in a vow to God. But Samson does not let that secret slip easily: he misleads Delila several times before finally revealing the true secret.  Yet when that is done, Delila shaves his hair while he sleeps, allowing the Philistines to capture and blind him.  After years of forced labor at their hands, Samson winds up in the temple of Dagon, one of the Philistine deities, in Gaza.  There, he prays to God to restore his strength, and he pulls down the central columns of the temple, killing himself and all of the Philistines inside.  Each version of the story has its nuances (e.g., the Bible says Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass!) so it’s worth your time to investigate both.  The Bacchanale occurs in Act III of the opera, just before Samson is led into the temple of Dagon.  It is a depraved dance performed by the priests of Dagon.  Saint-Saens loved “exotic” sounds, so he used an exceptionally exotic sounding scale for a good chunk of the piece: it contains two one-and-a-half step gaps (from the 2nd to 3rd steps and the 6th to 7th steps).  While that does heighten the exoticness of the piece, it is not authentic to any world musical tradition.

Here it is in the actual opera.  They’re almost naked!

For something a little different, Gustavo Dudamel leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Bacchanale.  He plays a little fast and loose with tempo, but it’s really a thrilling version!

Here’s the band version done by a Japanese middle school.  As I’ve come to expect from young Japanese bands, they knock it out of the park: this is the only band version on YouTube that’s any good at all, and I looked at a couple dozen!

Saint-Saens bio at the Classical Archives.

Saint-Saens on Wikipedia.

Another Saint-Saens bio on thinkquest.

Some extra program notes on Bacchanale from the Immaculata Symphony

Did you know that the Bible is fully online?  Here’s the Samson and Delilah story in full, from the Book of Judges.

The William Byrd Suite is remarkable for showcasing the talents of 2 composers: the titular William Byrd (1540-1623), an English Renaissance composer and a founder of the English Madrigal School; and Gordon Jacob (1895-1984), a 20th century British composer who, along with Holst and Vaughan Williams, is known as an early champion of the wind band and a skilled composer in the medium.  Jacob assembled the suite in 1923, most likely as part of the festivities for the tercentenary of Byrd’s death.  He “freely transcribed” it from six pieces of Byrd’s keyboard work that appeared in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a contemporary collection of almost 300 pieces written between about 1562 and 1612.  This collection contained keyboard works of more than a dozen composers.  While the collection had the virginal – a keyboard instrument that is essentially a portable harpsichord – in mind as its medium, the compositions inside could have been played on any contemporary keyboard instrument.

The virginal lacked any means of dynamic or timbral contrast: every note sounded the same and was just as loud as any other.  So composers for the instrument had to find other ways to make their music interesting.  Thus, the pieces in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book are full of melodic variation and rhythmic invention.  While Mr. Jacob preserved all of this in his suite, he also artfully added the dynamic shadings and instrumental color that the wind band is known for.

The William Byrd Suite has 6 movements.  At 18 minutes, it’s a rather large undertaking to play all 6 movements.  So, as is common practice, we will play a selection of the movements: the first 2 and the last 2.  I present here videos of every movement, not necessarily in order.  Enjoy!

First, a very accomplished high school band plays “No. 1: The Earle of Oxford’s Marche”, “No. 3: Jhon come kisse me now” (at 3:10), and “No. 6: The Bells” (at 5:20).  I have 2 beefs with this performance: the end of the 1st movement needs much more drama, and I think the percussion got lost at the end of the 6th – you should hear crazy ringing bells all the way to the end!

Now, another high school age group tackles a different set of movements.  “No. 1: The Earle of Oxford’s Marche”, “No. 2: Pavana” (at 3:20), “No. 3: Jhon come kisse me now” (at 6:10), and “No. 5: Wolsey’s Wilde” (at 8:04).

The UCLA wind ensemble in 1983 doing “No. 4: The Mayden’s Song”.

Finally, here’s what “The Bells” sounds like in its original form: played on a virginal (ok, it’s actually a harpsichord, but that’s still in the ballpark) from Byrd’s manuscript.

Now some links:

Gordon Jacob on Wikipedia – note the middle names!

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

Fantastic program note and resource (particularly the errata) on the William Byrd Suite at windrep.org.

William Byrd on Wikipedia and Naxos classical.

Huapango is the unofficial second national anthem of Mexico.  It was written in 1941 by then 29-year-old Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), a composer and conductor from Guadalajara.  Moncayo found his source material for the piece on a folk-song collecting trip to the villages Veracruz, where he encountered a dance called huapango.  The name for this dance comes from a corruption of the Nahuatl word huapanco, which means “on top of the wooden plank”, or, more poetically, “on the dance floor”.  Folk huapangos can be played in many forms, from a small chamber group to a large mariachi band, but all of them share a rhythmic playfulness with much of Mexican folk music.  Moncayo uses this rhythmic flexibilty to great effect in his Huapango.  He probes the boundaries of 6/8 time, often reveling in the space between duple and triple meter.  His setting was based on three huapangos that he heard on his trip: “El Siquisiri”, “El Balajú” and “El Gavilancito”.  His student, José Antonio Alcaraz, provides us with a quote from Moncayo about the piece:

Blas Galindo and I went to Alvarado, one of the places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms and instrumentations during several days. The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros (musicians) never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back to Mexico, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar; Huízar gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: “Expose the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own thought.” And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me

Huapango is Moncayo’s most lasting legacy in classical music.  He wrote several other pieces for orchestra.  He also was the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico from 1949 to 1954.  Along with other composers like Carlos Chavez and Silvester Rivueltas, Moncayo is closely associated with the Mexican Nationalism of the period.  His untimely death in 1958 is often considered the end of that era.

Huapango has been growing in popularity outside of Mexico.  Gustavo Dudamel recently took his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra from Venezuela to the BBC Proms in London to play it:

And here’s an American military band doing it, arranged by Leroy Osmon.  This is the version that we’ll be playing:

The folks songs that Moncayo used are on YouTube now.  Here’s “El Siquisiri”:

“El Balaju” by a mariachi band.  Watch the rhythmic interplay:

“El Gavilancito” for guitars and voices:

These are all indeed quite different from Moncayo’s realizations of them.  Like he said, he never heard them the same way twice!

Moncayo on Wikipedia, DSO Kids, peermusic, and, interestingly, on Conservapedia.

More on the huapango dance, including some nice listening examples, from Wikipedia.

More on Huapango the piece from Colorado Public Radio.

This is a senior choice for trombonist and taste-maker Raul Ruiz ’12.

Clifton Williams (1923-1976) was born in Arkansas and attended high school in Little Rock, where he became an accomplished french horn player. He studied composition at Lousiana State University and the Eastman School of Music. He taught composition for 17 years at the University of Texas at Austin before becoming chair of the composition and theory department at the University of Miami in 1966.  He held this post until his untimely death.  His first compositions were written for orchestra.  His career as a wind band composer took off in 1956 when Fanfare and Allegro, his first composition for band, won the inaugural Ostwald Award given by the American Bandmasters’ Association.  His Symphonic Suite won him the award again the following year.  He went on to write over 3 dozen works for band, many of which are considered essential repertoire.

No one describes Symphonic Dance no. 3: Fiesta better or more succinctly than the Foothill Symphonic Winds:

Fiesta was originally one of Clifton Williams’ five Symphonic Dances, commissioned by the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 1964. In the original suite, each of the five dances represented the spirit of a different time and place relative to the background of San Antonio, Texas. Fiesta is an evocation of the excitement and color of the city’s numerous Mexican celebrations. The modal characteristics, rhythms, and finely woven melodies depict what Williams called “the pageantry of Latin-American celebration – street bands, bull fights, bright costumes, the colorful legacy of a proud people.” The introduction features a brass fanfare that generates a dark, yet majestic atmosphere that is filled with the tension of the upcoming events. The soft tolling of bells herald an approaching festival with syncopated dance rhythms. Solo trumpet phrases and light flirtatious woodwind parts provide a side interest as the festival grows in force as it approaches the arena. The brass herald the arrival of the matador to the bullring and the ultimate, solemn moment of truth. The finale provides a joyous climax to the festivities.

Fiesta will be the sole piece played by the Columbia Festival Band , which will open the 4th annual Columbia Festival of Winds on 3/4/2012.  Dr. Christian Wilhjelm of the Ridgewood Concert Band will conduct this band, which will be made up of members from each of the bands participating in the Festival.  We also played it in Columbia Wind Ensemble in 2003.

Since I won’t be conducting it this time around and don’t know exactly how Dr. Wilhjelm will like it, here are several version of Fiesta for your listening (and hopefully practicing!) pleasure:

First, a studio recording by an anonymous band:

A live performance by a Japanese high school band:

Finally, here’s a slightly different live interpretation by a Texas honor band:

Clifton Williams bio at Wikipedia.

Clifton Williams on the Ostwald Award site.

Clifton Williams at the Wind Repertory Project.

Brooklyn’s Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were among the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1920s and 30s, with countless popular songs and six Broadway musicals to their name.  But George (1898-1937), who wrote all of the music to Ira’s lyrics, longed for a place in the classical music pantheon.  In 1924, his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and band (later orchestra) established his credentials as a serious composer.  Its use of jazz elements within classical structures became a hallmark of Gershwin’s style.  His Piano Concerto in F and An American in Paris continued in this direction, culminating in his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.  Despite his success in the classical arena, Gershwin’s requests for lessons with other major composers were repeatedly denied.  Arnold Schoenberg, for example, told him “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Gershwin wrote Cuban Overture in 1932 after a vacation in Havana in February of that year.  He returned from that trip with Cuban rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.  The overture was premiered on August 16, 1932 under the title Rumba.  It was retitled Cuban Overture by the time of its second performance at the Metropolitan Opera on November 1, 1932.  For that occasion, Gershwin provided his own program notes:

In my composition I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material.  The result is a symphonic overture, which embodies the essence of the Cuban dance.

It has three main parts.  The first part is preceded by an introduction featuring some of the thematic material.  Then comes a three-part contrapuntal episode leading to a second theme.  The first part finishes with a recurrence of the first theme combined with fragments of the second.

A solo clarinet cadenza leads to a middle part, which is in a plaintive mood.  It is a gradual developing canon in a polytonal manner.  This part concludes witha climax based on an ostinato of the theme in the canon, after which a sudden change in tempo brings us back to the rumba dance rhythms.

The finale is a development of the preceding material in a stretto-like manner.  This leads us back once again to the main theme.

The conclusion of the work is a coda featuring the Cuban instruments of the percussion.

Cuban Overture marks a great leap forward in Gershwin’s symphonic music, both in its harmonic sophistication and its orchestration.  His program notes, with their emphasis on the form of the work, may have been an attempt to quiet his critics who faulted him with awkwardly-constructed music.  But Cuban Overture, with its roots firmly in Gershwin’s famous sound and clearly tempered by his Cuban experience, met with critical praise from its first performance.  This was among his last large-scale instrumental concert works, written when Gershwin was 33.  Had he lived beyond the age of 38, Cuban Overture might have pointed the way towards another era of sophisticated Gershwin compositions.

Further program notes and information on Cuban Overture can be found at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Redwood Symphony, and on the blog of Gershwin biographer Walter Rimler.

Before listening, I highly recommend that you watch this 1930s tourist film about Cuba.  It puts the piece wonderfully in context, and it shows what a truly different place Cuba has become now.

Here is the US Coast Guard Band playing Cuban Overture. It’s techinically all there, but a bit lacking in the groove:

Now the orchestra version, recorded with a nice professional polish, but too fast in the middle.  Also, it’s a whole step higher than the band one (although it did come first, so I guess the band version is therefore a whole step lower) so don’t let that throw your ears off:

Gershwin often wrote a short score for 2 pianists of his symphonic pieces before orchestrating them.  Cuban Overture is no exception:

Finally, a bit of a curiosity: in 1938, the year after Gershwin’s death, pianist Rose Linda got together with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra to record a jazzy version of the Overture:

About the composer:

Gershwin.com – the official Gershwin family website.

Gershwin’s death announcement and obituary from the New York Times.

George Gershwin bio at balletmet.org.

Another Gershwin bio, with portraits, at naxos.com.

The 2012 performance of this is a senior choice for CUWE treasurer and oboist Andrea Gillis.

The Rockland County Music Educators Association Intermediate All-County Festival takes place on Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, 2012.  The band will be conducted by Bruce E. Schmottlach, a retired band teacher from Connecticut whose work in education earned him an the award of Connecticut Music Teacher of the Year in 1989.  The band is playing four pieces:

Invincible by Robert W. Smith: click to listen.

Barbarossa by William Himes: listen below.

 

March of the Patriots by John Edmondson: click to listen.

Distant Thunder of the Sacred Forest by Michael Sweeney: listen below.

 

All the information that IAC band players need is here, courtesy of RCMEA.