Sunday, May 06, 2012

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous with University Singers and Humboldt Chorale

Humboldt State University Singers and the Humboldt Chorale go from the sublime to the ridiculous with a few stops in between, on Sunday evening May 6 at Fulkerson Recital Hall.

The University Singers, directed by Harley Muilenburg, perform the “Ave Maria” of famed 16th century composer Tomas L. de Victoria, and the gospel song, “Lord I Know I Been Changed.” They turn to contemporary tunes including “Requiem for the Masses” by popular music composer Terry Kirkman, and “Song of Songs” by contemporary English composer Patrick Hawes.

   The ridiculous resonates with “Jabberwocky,” a choral interpretation of the Lewis Carroll poem by Sam Pottle, composer of the Muppets theme song. In between the Singers reprise the Chen Yi composition “Capriccio” from the recent New Horizons Festival. “The musical material and imagery was inspired by a folk tune that I heard on a bagpipe from the lawn outside the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City,” Chen Yi said, “ and by the wild singing sounds of Asian folk choral music.”

The Humboldt Chorale, comprised of community singers and directed by Carol Ryder, performs American Mass by Ron Kean that combines traditional American hymns and spirituals with traditional choral liturgy. The Chorale also visits the ridiculous with “Animal Crackers” by Eric Whitacre, based on the whimsical poetry of Ogden Nash.

The Humboldt State University Singers and Humboldt Chorale perform on Sunday May 6 at 8 p.m. in the Fulkerson Recital Hall on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $7/3, free to HSU students from the HSU Box Office (826-3928) or at the door. The Singers are directed by Harley Muilenburg, the Chorale by Carol Ryder. Produced by the HSU Music Department.

Media: Arcata Eye, Humboldt State Now.

University Singers 2012

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Guitar Ensemble Explores Music of Spain

HSU Guitar Ensemble explores music of the Spanish guitar from flamenco and classic sonatas by Scarlatti and Sor to Gypsy jazz of the modern era, on Saturday May 5 in the Fulkerson Recital Hall.

The tour of Spanish guitar through time begins with folk music. Guitar Ensemble director and HSU Music professor Nicholas Lambson plays flamenco guitar, which is “essentially a style formed by Gypsies,” he explained. Then guitarist Michael Randall performs folk melodies with more modern words by Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, sung by HSU student Jo Kuzelka.

The classical era is represented by a Domenico Scarlatti sonata arranged for a trio and a sonata by one of Spain’s most famous composer for guitar, Fernando Sor, performed as a quartet. The program moves into the modern era with such landmark works as “Capricho Arabe” by Francisco Tarrega, “Asturias” and “Granada” by Issac Albeniz, and several pieces by Manuel de Falla.

This history is also assembled into one work: an exploration of the famous traditional Spanish dance called the Bolero, based on the Gypsy jazz version by Django Reinhardt. Students Daniel Fair and Kristofer Lang “spent the semester analyzing Django’s version and essentially reverse engineering it,” Lambson said. 

The piece they created is a progression of styles from the traditional Bolero to a more contemporary Gypsy jazz style. “A lot of music theory and analysis of style went into this composition, with fantastic results,” Lambson said. “They will be performing on Gypsy Jazz-style guitars like Djanjo’s, and will be improvising along the way as well.”

The Guitar Ensemble student players are: Daniel Fair, Jason Hall, Kristofer Lang, Jerry Olofsson, Michael Randall, Samuel Shalhoub, Tyler Vaughn, and Greg Willis. Michael Lewis plays flute on one selection.

HSU Guitar Ensemble performs on Saturday May 5 at 8 p.m. in the Fulkerson Recital Hall on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $7/$3, free to HSU students, from the Box Office (826-3928) or at the door. Directed by Nicholas Lambson, produced by HSU Music Department.

Media: Arcata Eye, Humboldt State Now.

Guitar Ensemble Concert: Director's Notes

The HSU Guitar Program has been working all year towards our upcoming Spanish Guitar concert in one way or another. The concert will mainly feature various ensembles, though there will be a few solo performances as well. The program will feature works from many different time periods and styles.

Since so much of Spanish music is based around its folk heritage, we will be featuring two such performances. I will play some flamenco guitar music which is essentially a style formed by Gypsies. Guitar is a central aspect of that style, though it often includes dance and voice.

 A voice and guitar duet will then take the stage to perform a few selections of songs by Garcia Lorca, a Spanish nationalist poet, playwright, and musician. While the songs were written in the 20th century, the texts and prevailing style are highly representative of Spanish folk music.

  There will be two sonatas on the program, the sonata being the leading form of choice in the Classical era. A trio will perform an arrangement of a Domenico Scarlatti sonata which was done by one of my former teachers, Stuart Green at CSU San Bernardino. This was a piece that I performed in my undergraduate studies, and I am glad my students will also get the opportunity. This is an early example of a sonata that is actually in binary form rather than the typical three part form we think of today.

Then myself and three other students will be performing a substantial sonata in four movements by one of the most famous Spanish guitar composers to have ever lived, Fernando Sor. Sor was a virtuoso guitarist himself, and left us with a wealth of highly sophisticated Classical era works and studies that are a staple of our repertoire today. Sor was a huge fan on Mozart, utilizing themes from the Magic Flute in his works, and this sonata is strongly rooted in Mozart's style, though there are inflections of early Beethoven present as well.

  From here we venture on into the early Romantic era with Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega. Tarrega is often cited as the father of modern guitar technique - a somewhat hyperbolic statement, but not entirely inaccurate. He certainly codified a number of techniques such as tremolo, used famously in his composition Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Capricho is a staple of every classical guitarist's repertoire and is one of our most beloved pieces.

  Moving on in time, we come to some of the most famous Spanish nationalist composers in the late Romantic/Early 20th century: Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados. Albeniz' Asturias (Leyenda) is another widely played and recognized guitar work, though it was originally composed on the piano. However, it is very clear from many accounts that Albeniz was writing guitar music on the piano, so it is more often performed on guitar than not. This is an incredibly exciting solo piece that I am glad to have on our program.

A duet arrangement of his Granada will also be performed. This piece is not as well known outside of guitar circles, but it is a very lyrical and expressive work that will serve as a nice contrast to Asturias, showing a bit of Albeniz' range. Note that these two works are titled after Spanish cities, a link to Albeniz' nationalistic tendencies.

Next up will be a duet arrangement of the Intermedio from Enrique Granados' opera, Goyescas. The title refers to paintings by Francisco Goya, another important nationalistic figure in the artistic community. The Intermedio has become a stand-alone work, frequently performed in various arrangements.

  As a change of pace, we will then feature a short work for flute and guitar by Jacques Ibert, entitled Entr'acte. Ibert is obviously a Frenchman, though the work is very clearly in the Spanish style. The French have a penchant for exoticism, evidenced by their love of Spanish and Russian musical idioms. A few examples include Georges Bizet's Carmen and Claude Debussy's La soirée dans Grenade from Estampes.

  Following that, we will perform three works by Manuel de Falla: The Miller's Dance, Homenaje: pour le tombeau de Debussy, and Will o' the Wisp. The Miller's Dance is from Falla's ballet, The Three Cornered Hat. This will be performed as a duet, though a popular arrangement also exists as a solo guitar piece. This work features many bold strumming passages, or rasgueados, so prevalent in Spanish guitar music. Rasgueados will be heard throughout the program, beginning with the Flamenco guitar work, but they are especially prevalent here.

Homenaje is a short solo guitar work written for the death of Falla's friend, Debussy. It is actually the only true guitar work Falla wrote, and it is a masterpiece. In it, Falla fuses a Habanera rhythm with modern harmonies inspired by Debussy, even including a short quote from La soirée dans Grenade towards the end. It is a landmark piece that is often looked to as the first true guitar work of the 20th century.

Will o' the Wisp will finish out that set, arranged as a solo from another of Falla's ballets, El Amor Brujo. The legend behind the title is of mysterious lights that lead travelers astray by luring them away from the roads, and then flickering out when approached.

Gypsy music did not die out when the Classical tradition took hold in Spain. Flamenco music continued on, though it did wane in popularity some into the 20th century. Being a champion of Spanish culture, Falla actually did much to restore Flamenco music. However, another Gypsy tradition was emerging in Gypsy Jazz. The most famous guitarist in this style is undoubtedly Django Reinhardt. Two of my students who are steeped in this style have been working this semester on a creative assignment based on Django's Bolero. A Bolero is a traditional Spanish dance, but Django had changed it to include a more modern harmonic language. The traditional Bolero is also in three, while Django's is in four.

My students spent the semester analyzing Django's version and essentially reverse-engineered it from there. What you will hear is a progression of styles throughout the work from a very traditional Bolero to Django's, finishing out with a more contemporary version. A lot of music theory and analysis of style went into this composition, with fantastic results. They will be performing on Gypsy Jazz styled guitars like Django's, and will be improvising along the way as well.

Finally, I will be performing a short work by Joaquin Rodrigo entitled En Los Trigales which means "In the Wheatfields." Being nationalistic, he wrote a wealth of music for the guitar, and did so with great skill. Non-guitarists sometimes struggle with writing for the guitar, but Rodrigo demonstrates an intimate understanding of the instrument overall. While many Spanish composers and guitar composers never become known outside of their own circles, Rodrigo was well-respected in the global musical community. This actually helped to popularize the guitar and display its capacities as a substantial member of the Western musical instrument family. His famous Concierto de Aranjuez is still viewed as the benchmark for guitar concertos, and its themes (particularly in the second movement) are immediately recognizable by many listeners. The piece was later redone by Miles Davis in his Sketches of Spain (as was Falla's "Will o' the Wisp.")

  --Nicholas Lambson

Friday, May 04, 2012

Humboldt Symphony Explores Musical Hybrids

From Appalachia to Mexico, Berlin cabaret to the Beijing Opera, the Humboldt Symphony and guests explore musical hybrids on Friday evening, May 4 and Sunday afternoon, May 6 in the Fulkerson Recital Hall at HSU.

Kurt Weil extracted the best tunes from his wildly popular Threepenny Opera to create a suite for the concert stage, Little Threepenny Music.  “It’s a hybrid of German classical music with 1920s jazz, including Charleston rhythms, a tango and an Al Jolson crooner-style piece,” said Symphony conductor Paul Cummings. The suite includes a movement devoted to the familiar tune of “Mack the Knife.”

The Symphony turns to hybrids of traditional tunes crossed with classical orchestration. Soprano Elisabeth Harrington and guest harpist Jessica Schaeffer join the Symphony string orchestra for Five Appalachian Folk Songs by contemporary American composer Jack Jarrett. They include the familiar melodies of “Shenandoah” and “Black is the Color of My True-love’s Hair.”

Huapango by contemporary Mexican composer Juan Pablo Moncayo is “very rich ethnic Mexican music for full orchestra,” Cummings said, “with many vibrant solos, especially for trumpet and trombone.”

The Symphony reprises an orchestra piece from the recent New Horizons Festival by composer Chen Yi. Jing Diao literally means a Beijing Opera tune, but this similarly high-spirited piece honors Seattle Symphony conductor Gerard Schwarz for his support of the music of living composers.  This hybrid of Chinese and Western music was first played just last spring during Schwarz’s farewell season. “It’s an exciting piece, with a real sense of celebration,” Cummings said.

Humboldt Symphony and guests perform on Friday May 4 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Fulkerson Recital Hall on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $7/3, free to HSU students from the HSU Box Office (826-3928) or at the door. Conducted by Paul Cummings, produced by the HSU Music Department.

Media Preview: Arcata Eye, Humboldt State Now.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

AM Jazz Band Plays a Six-Pack of Jazz

The AM Jazz Band plays a six-pack of jazz classics by both the well-known and the under-appreciated on Thursday May 3 in the Fulkerson Recital Hall.

The well-knowns are Dizzy Gillespie (“Manteca), Miles Davis (“So What”) and Billy Strayhorn, famous composer for Duke Ellington (“Take the A Train.”)

Philadelphia’s Bobby Timmons was a sideman for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, but also a composer with a distinctive mix of gospel, soul and jazz. The AM Jazz Band plays one of his much-recorded songs, “Moanin’.” 

Ray Wetzel was a jazz trumpeter’s trumpeter in the 40s and early 50s, who played with everybody from Woody Herman to Maynard Ferguson. The band plays his tune recorded by Stan Kenton, “Intermission Riff.” 

Sid Wyche was a Julliard educated jazz composer who played jazz piano and sang the blues. The band plays his “Alright, Okay, You Win,” which was recorded by Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and others.

  The AM Jazz Band performs on Thursday May 3 at 8 p.m. in the Fulkerson Recital Hall on the HSU campus in Arcata. Tickets are $7/$3 students and seniors, and free to HSU students, from the HSU Box Office (826-3928) or at the door. Directed by Sky Miller, produced by HSU Music Department.

Media Preview: Arcata Eye, Humboldt State Now.