Friday, December 06, 2013

Director's Notes: Symphonic Band concert December 6

from interviews with HSU Symphonic Band director Paul Cummings

Prelude, Siciliano & Rondo by Malcolm Arnold

Dr. Brian Cardany
"Dr. Brian Cardany from the University of Rhode Island is conducting this piece. We’re very excited to have him here. He’s the newly appointed conductor of a group called The American Band, which has a long history of performing great wind band music in New England. He’ll only be here long enough to prepare one piece, but he will also conduct a master class, talk to our music education majors and do a clinic with our Symphonic Band.

 This prelude is a classic in the wind band repertoire—it’s on many lists of pieces that are considered masterworks. It was written in 1979 by Malcolm Arnold, a British composer known for his lighter style. Donald Mitchell in the London Musical Times wrote that “there’s often a tongue-in-cheek quality to his music,” and that it’s impossible to write about it without using adjectives “like vital, breezy, humorous, witty...” I have to say however that this is one of his more serious pieces.

 “Siciliano” in the title refers to a dance form from the Baroque period. This is a slow tempo piece in 6/8 time—that’s one of the characteristics of Siciliano. Like most British music for band, it’s very tuneful. As an orchestrator, Arnold was a great craftsman. He wrote this piece originally for brass band, and John Paynter—long-time band director at Northwestern University—arranged this for wind band.

 Another characteristic of Arnold’s music is that it’s very economical. So these movements are quite short—only two minutes or so each—yet there is real substance there. They’re almost like miniature symphonic works. It’s really nice for both listeners and performers because you never have the feeling that things are just dragging on, or that there is filler, as one might feel about some composers."

 Sanctuary by Frank Ticheli 

Frank Ticheli
"This is a slow, reflective piece that starts with an extremely difficult French horn solo. I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the longer French horn solos at the beginning of any band piece. There are also solos for flute and clarinet later on.

 Ticheli is professor of composition at the University of Southern California, and one of the most prominent living composers for wind band in America. This is a fairly typical example of his writing: there’s a very strong melodic sense with several very tuneful passages, but these melodies are presented in very contemporary harmonies with extended chord structures and quite a bit of dissonance. So this is not simple music harmonically—it’s very challenging for the musicians.

 Ticheli wrote this for conductor H. Robert Reynolds, “as a symbol of our enduring friendship.” It was commissioned by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association."

 Valdres by Johannes Hanssen 

 Perhaps the most famous Norwegian march. We’re doing European marches this year, and as with all European marches this takes a rather leisurely tempo, and features several trumpet solo passages and some very technically difficult woodwind playing.

 Culloden (third movement) by Julie Giroux 

Julie Giroux (with Emmy)
We’re playing the third of a three-movement work celebrating Scottish folk music and ancient Scottish culture. Julie Giroux is a prominent American composer who gained a lot of acclaim in the area of wind band composition. Her music is played all over the country and the world.

 Julie Giroux did a lot of research before she set pen to paper to write this piece. Her research centered on Scottish and Irish folk music—she really dug through a lot of manuscript sources to uncover some of the early songbooks for British folk music of all kinds. Then she culled from these primary sources just a handful of tunes that she uses in this third movement.

 Much of the piece has a military or warfare context because once you go back hundreds of years, Scotland was basically consumed by military battles—clan disputes over territory and battles with England. So you hear military fanfares, even simulated cannon fire. But interspersed with these calls to battle are some very beautiful lyrical passages, from these folk songs.

 She mentions in the program notes that some of our familiar folk songs have roots in these Scottish song sketches, including “London Bridge” and “Yankee Doodle” and several Stephen Foster tunes, like “Oh! Susannah.”

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