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Tag Archives: Latin

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this non-musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band.  Elixir (2012) starts with a sparse texture and explodes into something of a Latin feel.  Markowski describes its genesis thusly:

So many of us spend our entire lives working tirelessly at what we love to do, striving to become experts in our field, passionately in search of something to be remembered for, something we can change the world with, something that gives us purpose.

It’s a bold idea—the thought that a small part of us might, in some way, live forever—but it seems that the bold idea, itself, has had an inexhaustible life of its own. Across the span of history, folklore has given mankind a way to find this meaning, be it through a quest for the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, or even the legendary sword Excalibur. The mythology behind Elixir is a brother to these legends, probably most associated withElixir Vitae, or as it’s better known, the Elixir of Life—a special potion with magical properties said to extend a person’s life indefinitely, allowing him or her to become immortal, to be forever young. By drinking the potion, man is enabled to overcome his inherent limitations and achieve the greatness that he has always longed for.

Elixir is dedicated to Scott Coulson, a man who has passionately devoted his life to others through music. Above all, the piece is a musical “toast”—a “cheers” to a continued journey and to a long, healthy life not only to Mr. Coulson, but also to the students at Poteet High School, whose amazing journeys are just beginning.

Michael Markowski
May 13, 2012

Everything you’ll ever need to know about Elixir is on Markowski’s comprehensive website for the piece, which includes a recording, an interactive sample score (here’s the pdf version), a YouTube video, an analysis by Dr. Marc R. Dickey, the program note I quoted above, a link to all of his blog postings on the subject, and more.

Now, in case you didn’t already find it among the links above, here is Elixir on video:

Massachusetts native Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956) taught himself to improvise on the guitar starting at age 8.  As his skills grew through his teens, he found himself drawn towards composition, which he later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music (both BM and MM degrees) in Boston.  He has subsequently received many fellowships (Yale, Tanglewood) and awards.  His music has been played by ensembles all over the US and Britain, and has been recorded on the Deutsche Grammophon and CRI labels.  He has been on the faculty of Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, and the Tanglewood Music Center.  Vientos y Tangos (2002) was his first piece for wind band.  He says:

Vientos y Tangos (Winds and Tangos) was commissioned by The Frank L. Battisti 70thBirthday Commission Project and is dedicated to Frank Battisti in recognition of his immense contributions to the advancement of concert wind literature. It was Mr. Battisti’s specific request that I write a tango for wind ensemble. In preparation for this piece, I devoted several months to the study and transcription of tangos from the early style of Juan D’arienzo and the ‘Tango Nuevo’ style of Astor Piazzolla to the current trend of ‘Disco/Techno Tango,’ among others. After immersing myself in this listening experience, I simply allowed the most salient features of these various tangos to inform the direction of my work. The dynamic contour and the various instrumental combinations that I employ in the piece are all inspired by the traditional sounds of the bandoneon, violin, piano and contrabass.

I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Battisti for his inspirational leadership as director of the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble for over thirty years. I first heard Mr. Battisti’s work when I was a student at the New England Conservatory in the late 1970’s. I was instantly moved by his high artistic standards, his ability to motivate young musicians, and the respect for composers, past and present, that he always eloquently expressed to his students. I would also like to thank Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr. for his professionalism, collegiality and adept work in organizing the commission project.

I’ll get to those various tango styles he mentioned in a minute.  First, let’s hear the piece itself as performed by the UCLA Wind Ensemble:

Now some authentic tango, Gandolfi’s source material.  Here’s something from Juan D’Arienzo, a tango called “De Puro Curda”, recorded in Uruguay in 1964, very late in D’Arienzo’s career:

Astor Piazzolla changed everything in the tango world.  For more on him, see my blog post on the subject.  For now, listen to one of his livelier tangos, “Escualo”, which apparently is supposed to portray a shark fishing expedition.  This was recorded at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, also very late in Piazzolla’s career:

Finally, I have to admit that I’m no devotee of post-Piazzolla tango trends.  So I’ve tried to find something (anything!) that sounds more modern and that might have inspired Gandolfi.  Here’s an attempt: a song that seems to have techno beats and bandoneon.  Those must be all of the ingredients for Techno Tango, right?

Learn more about Michael Gandolfi on Wikipedia and his own website.

Read up on the tango, Argentina’s main musical export, on Wikipedia.

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.

These Ticheli posts are getting a little formulaic.  But he’s written so much music, and we need all the facts.  So here we go again!

Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

As usual, Ticheli provides his own program note for 2011’s San Antonio Dances that neatly sums up its meaning for him and its musical inspiration:

San Antonio Dances was composed as a tribute to a special city, whose captivating blend of Texan and Hispanic cultural influences enriched my life during my three years as a young music professor at Trinity University.  It has been 20 years since I lived in San Antonio, but the city still tugs at my heartstrings and lives in this music.

The first movement depicts the seductively serene Alamo Gardens and its beautiful live oak trees that provide welcome shade from the hot Texas sun.  A tango mood and lazily winding lines give way to a brief but powerful climax depicting the Alamo itself.

The second movement’s lighthearted and joyous music celebrates San Antonio’s famous Riverwalk.  Inspired by the streets and canals of Venice, Italy, architect Robert Hugman proposed his idea of converting the San Antonio riverfront into a beautiful urban park back in the 1920s.  It took decades to complete, but the Riverwalk eventually became a reality–a 2 1/2 mile stretch of stunningly landscaped waterfront lined with hotels, restaurants, night clubs and shops.

Picture a group of friends seated at an outdoor patio of one of the Riverwalk’s many Tex-Mex restaurants, enjoying the scenery, the food, the company.  In time, the evening settles in, the air cools, the mood brightens, the crowd picks up, and music is heard from every direction.  Before you know it, the whole place is one giant fiesta that could go on forever.

Viva San Antonio!

Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

A Texas honor band plays San Antonio Dances:

Now take a look at some pictures: here are the Alamo Gardens, then the Riverwalk.