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Category Archives: Symphony Concert

Fall 2012 was quite the semester at the Columbia Wind Ensemble.  Aside from some especially intense Lerner Hall nonsense, which forced us to sometimes rehearse at odd hours and in very alternative locations, we lost a rehearsal (thankfully nothing else) due to Hurricane Sandy.  Still, the ensemble stayed positive and tackled some fantastic and challenging music, including an arrangement of my own with a phenomenal soloist, and the world premiere of a new symphony for band.  To recap the repertoire:

 

SCENES

Sunday, October 21 at 2pm

Lauds (Praise High Day) – Ron Nelson

Hymn to a Blue Hour – John Mackey

Scenes from the Louvre – Norman Dello Joio

La Muerte del Angel – Astor Piazzolla, arr. Andrew Pease
Featuring the flute talents of Sarah Frisof

Blue Shades – Frank Ticheli

 

SYMPHONY

Sunday, December 9 at 2pm

Pageant – Vincent Persichetti
Featuring guest conductor Courtney Snyder

Symphony for Band – Edward Green
World Premiere

Shepherd’s Hey – Percy Grainger

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Percy Grainger (1882-1961) 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 Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Grainger made several different settings of Shepherd’s Hey, which is based on a folk tune collected by the British folk song expert Cecil Sharp.  The first setting, for “room-music 12-some” (Grainger’s “blue-eyed English” phrase for chamber ensemble) first appeared in 1909.  The band version came in 1918.  This coincides with the end of Grainger’s stint in the US military, which appears to have been instrumental (no pun intended) in sparking his interest in band music.  The tune itself is a Morris dance, a centuries-old tradition of fluid, group dancing from England.  Still, Grainger insists on his 1913 piano solo score that “This setting is not suitable to dance Morris dances to.”  Ever the contrarian, Grainger also said that “where other composers would have been jolly setting such dance tunes I have been sad or furious. My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.”

Read more about Shepherd’s Hey at the Percy Grainger Society, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the University of Wisconsin Music Department.  Also look at this extensive analysis of the piece at band-chat.net, and check out the solo piano score for free at Project Gutenberg.

The Cleveland Symphonic Winds play Shepherd’s Hey:

Among the many versions of this piece that exist, this pianola one is a highlight:

Here’s an actual Morris dancing troop dancing to the tune of Shepherd’s Hey.  The words: “I can whistle, I can sing, I can do most anything”:

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

Born on April 23, 1891 in Sontsovka, Ukraine of the former Russian Empire, Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev is considered one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. He was also an accomplished pianist and conductor. He attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1904 to 1914, winning the Anton Rubinstein prize for best student pianist when he graduated. Like other great composers he mastered a wide range of musical genres, including symphonies, concerti, film music, operas, ballets, and program pieces [ed: like his most famous work, Peter and the Wolf]. At the time, his works were considered both ultra-modern and innovative. He traveled widely, spending many years in Paris and Ettal in the Bavarian Alps, and toured the United States five times. He gained wide notoriety and his music was both reviled and triumphed by the musical press of the time. He returned to his homeland permanently in 1936. He died on March 5, 1953 in Moscow.

(short biography courtesy www.prokofiev.org)

The website listed above is a essentially a fan site that has collected everything there is to know about Prokofiev and has even gotten surviving family involved in its growth and maintainance.  Look around for anything you’d like to know about him.

Much information is also available at The Serge Prokofiev Foundation.

Prokofiev wrote the March, op. 99 in 1943-44 for a Soviet military band.  It received its premiere in the form of a radio broadcast from Moscow on April 30, 1944.  While the details of the impetus for its composition are unclear, it is possible that it was written for May Day, an important Soviet holiday.  The March made its way to the West in part thanks to Paul Yoder, who arranged it for Western instrumentation shortly after its Russian premiere.  It was first heard in the United States on May 31, 1945 with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Combat Infantry Band.  Prokofiev reused substantial section of the March in the last opera he would complete, Story of a Real Man, in 1947-48.

It’s worth the trouble of listening to 2 different performances of this work.  One follows the printed tempo (quarter=134).  The other goes much faster, making the March into more of a galop.  See what you think:

I owe much of the information on this page to William Berz’s full score critical edition of this piece.  His description of Soviet band instrumentation is worth quoting directly, since it is so succinct and informative:

Prokofiev’s March, op. 99 was originally written for the instrumentation of the Soviet military band of the time.   As was typical for Soviet composers, the scoring for this march was split into three instrument families:

  • orchestral winds (piccolo, flute, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets, two E-flat horns, two B-flat trumpets, three trombones);
  • saxhorn family (two cornets, two E-flat alto horns, three trombones in treble clef, baritone in treble clef, tuba);
  • percussion (tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals)

As you can see, it’s quite different from what we’re used to, hence the need for an arrangement very early in the piece’s existence.

Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11.  A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions.  At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory.  His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30.  His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47.  He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band.  Among these is Pageant, written for the American Bandmasters Association.

To quote the score:

Pageant, commissioned by the American Bandmasters’ Association, was completed in January, 1953, and was [Persichetti’s] third band work.  It opens in slow tempo with a motive in the horn that is used throughout both sections of the piece..  The slow chordal section is succeeded by a lively “parade” section introduced by the snare drum.  In the final portion of the work the principal subjects are developed simultaneously to a lively climax.

The first performance of this work took place on March 7th, 1953, at the American Bandmasters’ Association Convention in Miami, Florida.  It was performed by the University of Miami Band, with the composer conducting.

The New York premiere took place on June 19, 1953, with the Goldman Band playing and the composer conducting.

Pay attention to that last factoid.  Not many pieces print their New York premiere in the program notes!  These days some pieces don’t even get a New York premiere…

Further to what the program note says, Pageant’s two sections use different compositional techniques, which result in remarkably different textures.  The initial slow section uses the opening horn call to germinate long phrases supported by chordal harmonies.  These phrases are then passed around between small choirs of instruments.  The tonal center shifts as often as the instrumentation, finally settling in B-flat on the very last chord.  The subsequent “parade” does indeed begin with the snare drum, which sets up the rhythmic motive for much of the material to come.  This section is a study in polytonality: even the first chord is in both A-flat and B-flat at once, and the final chord has B-flat and E-flat at its core, but with an A-flat in the bass and an A-natural-E-natural perfect fifth at the top.

There is some spotty coverage on Pageant out there: the Wind Repertory Project, WindBand.org, and the OCU Band Program Notes Database all shed light on the piece.  But by far the most in-depth article I’ve seen comes from David Goza, the Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Arkansas.  It’s very technical (to give you an idea, it opens with a quick refresher on the relationship of quartal and pentatonic harmony), but it should be a fun read for anyone interested in music theory.

A listen will certainly help us understand what all that stuff sounds like, so I give you the North Texas University Wind Ensemble with Eugene Corporon conducting:

You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.

Dr. Edward Green is an award-winning composer and music educator, as well as a prolific scholar in the field of music history.  He currently sits on the faculties of both the Manhattan School of Music and the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.  He has received numerous awards for his work.  As a Fulbright Senior Scholar in American Music, he has taught doctoral courses in the summer of 2010 in Buenos Aires, and he plans to do the same in Zagreb in the summer of 2013.  He has been named composer-in-residence at Kean University for 2012-2013.  He was also nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award for his Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra in the “Best Classical Contemporary Composition” category.

The idea for the Symphony for Band came out of discussions between Dr. Green and Mark Scatterday, the conductor of the famed Eastman Wind Ensemble.  It was to use a re-worked version of the Overture in E-flat as its first movement, adding three movements of new music. The result is a 30-minute composition unified, first and foremost, by melodic material.  In various ways–both overt and subtle–the first theme of the Overture forms the basis of the main melody in each subsequent movement.  You can listen to MIDI recordings of each movement below.  Of course, these are computer representations of a very human piece of music.  Tempos, styles, and timbres are thus approximate and not 100% accurate.  But these recordings will at least give you a sense of the piece.

The first movement begins confidently (in E-flat), and mostly stays that way:

Tragedy suddenly appears in the second movement.  It begins with a jarringly sparse and dissonant chord, travels through much Sturm und Drang, and ends as disquietingly as it began:

The third movement is an extended, and at times virtuoso, scherzo.  Says Dr. Green: “It encompasses tempi that are exhileratingly fast, and also tempi that are very thoughtful and moderato.”:

A burst of percussion heralds the fourth movement, which unfolds in sonata form.  Dr. Green adds: “Returning us to the opening key of E-flat, it is predominantly bold and confident in mood–but its second theme is deeply lyrical.  It has an extended and very exciting coda.”:

Dr. Green speaks concisely of his guiding philosophy of composition:

Hearing this symphony, with its wide range of moods and its tight thematic structure, you’ll not be surprised that my work as a composer is inspired by this central idea of Aesthetic Realism, stated by its founder, the great poet and critic Eli Siegel: “All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”

In case you’ve made it this far, you can also hear the full symphony played live at its world premiere by the Columbia University Wind Ensemble:

This Symphony was commissioned by a consortium of thirteen bands, headed by Mark Scatterday of the Eastman Wind Ensemble and Andy Pease (that’s me) of the Columbia University Wind Ensemble.  Below is a list of the bands and their directors.  I’ll also include the premiere dates and cities as I find them out.

Eastman Wind Ensemble – Mark Scatterday

Columbia Wind Ensemble – Andrew Pease – Sunday, December 9, 2pm, New York City

Wake Forest University – C. Kevin Bowen

South Dakota State University – Eric Peterson

Manhattan Wind Ensemble – Christopher Baum – Tuesday, December 4, 8pm, New York City

Dartmouth College – Matthew Marsit – Tuesday, October 23, 7pm, Hanover, NH

Brooklyn Wind Symphony – Jeff W. Ball – Sunday, December 16, 2pm, Brooklyn, NY

Mansfield University – Adam Brennan

Furman University – Leslie Hicken

Kansas State University – Frank Tracz

University of Arizona – Gregg Hanson

Yale University – Thomas Duffy

Auburn University – Rick Good

Dr. Green has an extensive website that includes his full biography.  I recommend exploring the site a good deal.  His scholarly articles are probing and very accessible.  The site also has mp3s of several of his compositions for orchestra and chamber groups.  These are very much worth a listen as window into his style.

Dr. Green’s faculty page at the Manhattan School of Music.

His faculty page at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.