Saturday, February 27, 2016

Jazz Orchestra & Symphonic Band Concert Notes

 Jazz Orchestra

On the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band, from the current band’s web site (which also has information on events celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary of performing Monday nights at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, New York City):

"Thad Jones, who was featured in the Count Basie Orchestra, and Los Angeles based drummer Mel Lewis from the Stan Kenton Orchestra, started the band in 1966 with some of the top studio musicians in New York City. The beautiful melodies and unique arrangements of Thad Jones enchanted audiences worldwide.

The mixture of the music from diverse backgrounds created their innovative sound and the band was quickly recognized as a world-class big band. In 1978, Thad Jones moved to Denmark but the band continued as Mel Lewis and The Jazz Orchestra. In addition to the masterpieces by Thad, they actively employed new and original compositions and arrangements by Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely and others. Those new arrangements were complex and avant-garde, but they stayed true to their fundamental band sound and swing. Their excellent artistry sustained and grew their high reputation.

 By changing its name to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the orchestra created its own identity after losing both of its leaders. The ensemble cultivated its rich history while commissioning new music that made them the prototype of innovative big band music. 2016 marks 50 years of continued performances of Monday Night Live at the world’s premiere jazz club, The Village Vanguard."

Symphonic Band

The Poseidon Overture by Michael Kibbe. World Premiere Performance.

"The Poseidon Overture was written one year ago specifically for the HSU Concert Band. It is playable by either a small or a large group. This will be the premiere performance, and I will be joining the group on oboe." --Michael Kibbe

Michael Kibbe, composer, has a total creative output is over 240 concert works, including two string quartets, 13 wind quintets, a large variety of mixed chamber music for winds, strings, brass, harp, keyboardsand percussion. His catalogue includes works for band, orchestra and concertos.  Kibbeʼs compositions have been performed throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe, Israel and China.

 He plays most of the standard woodwind instruments, and has done live performing and recording work for over 40 years, in addition to having been active as a music copyist for film, TV and live performance. For 17 years he was oboist and arranger with the Los Angeles based North Wind Quintet, which did hundreds of school programs and toured Mexico 3 times. He currently resides in far northern California, and plays in the Eureka Symphony, a wind quintet and other groups. MK February 11, 2015.  Michael

The following notes on the rest of the concert are from an interview with Symphonic Band Director Paul Cummings.

The Promise of Living by Aaron Copland

 This is the final movement of a suite extracted from Copland’s opera The Tender Land. When composers write a big piece—an opera or ballet or a Mass—in a genre with epic dimensions, it can be hard to get performances. They would frequently extract a suite from it, as Copland did in 1958. He originally wrote “The Promise of Living” for orchestra, and Kenneth Singleton transcribed it for band.

 This is a very slow and lyrical, with a melody that gets moved around to various instrumental groupings. It has a very simple, sparse opening and gradually gets bigger, so the overall effect is of growing out of nothing. It keeps getting bigger until the climax near the end, but in the last few bars it kind of unwinds again.

Xerxes: A Concert March by John Mackey

 John Mackey is a young composer—in his early 40s—who is known for combining elements of rock with symphonic music. So you can detect a heavy metal type of sound at times, and at other times he’ll write a very tuneful melody, reminiscent of another kind of rock, like the Eagles or Paul McCartney. Other times it will be a fusion, with elements of jazz, rock and classical. This piece very much exemplifies that quality of John Mackey.  The instrumentation favors percussion, so it’s a lot of fun for drummers to play this music in a symphonic band setting.

Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger

 Each movement of this piece is based on a folk song that Grainger gathered in the field in the early 20th century as an ethnomusicologist. I don’t know if he ever accepted that title but he really was a pioneer among composers interested in folk music. Grainger tried to record the most authentic version of these songs, even if the singer he found was more of a storyteller than a singer. He makes a point of trying to preserve that authenticity in his composition, so the music had to conform to the original song’s unusual parameters such as mixed meter, and dramatic changes that are sudden and almost alarming to the modern ear, all in the interest of telling a story.

 This would be in the top five of any list of the greatest music ever written for wind band—this is one of the classics. If listeners are not aware of it, it’s not because it’s not a great piece. It’s because it is very hard to play, and so it is not done very often. We’re doing three movements of this six movement work in this February concert, and we will attempt to do more in our next concert in April.

Chester: Overture for Band by William Schuman 

 This is another classic for wind band—near the top of any list. It evokes the period of the American Revolution by means of a famous patriotic hymn of the period, called “Chester.” Schuman was an American composer who wrote this in the mid 1950s.

 It opens with this very beautiful hymn, which Schuman presents in alternating brass and woodwinds. This very slow, rather solemn setting, but just as we think all is peace and beauty it suddenly erupts with musket fire, by percussion instruments mainly, and we move into a set of variations on the “Chester” hymn but at a much faster tempo. Things really get exciting. Schuman continues to play the woodwinds against the brass—that’s one of his signature traits.

 This music was fairly avant-garde for the 1950s—it uses bitonality and quite a bit of dissonance. For example the opening musket shots after the hymn are a tone cluster—all 12 notes of the chromatic scale sounded at once. So it’s as if you went up and sat on a piano keyboard—that’s the sort of sonority that we get at the beginning of the fast section. It’s a beautifully constructed piece by a master craftsman—it stands right up there with his best works for band.

 It’s also significant as one of the first pieces that a major composer wrote for wind band. At this point in the 1950s, well-respected composers were writing for orchestra or piano or chamber music but not for band. Bands were playing mostly transcriptions of pieces written for orchestra or other ensembles or solo instruments. Most of the original music for bands was limited to marches.

 So some conductors and professors of music began joining a chorus of voices calling for band music by prominent composers. They approached a number of composers, including Schuman, usually with a commission of some sort. When they responded with new compositions, suddenly the repertoire became a lot more diverse, a lot more interesting, a lot more challenging. And while it’s never going to be the equal of the repertoire for orchestra, it got a whole lot better—beginning in the 1950s.

 More on Schuman and this piece.

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