Brooklyn Wind Symphony Artistic Director Jeff W. Ball interviews Dr. David Maslanka on the music of the late composer John Barnes Chance, “channeling” the composer, and the growing prevalence of commissioning consortiums among wind ensembles.
JWB: When did you first hear a composition by John Barnes Chance?
DM: My first contact was “Incantation and Dance.” It was around 1965. I was a first-year grad student at Michigan State and the band there was playing the piece. I wasn’t in the band, but heard rehearsals and performance. The piece was “hot” that year – everybody was playing it.
JWB: Has your impression of this piece changed over time?
DM: It was, and remains, an attractive piece. I liked its fresh percussive rhythmic nature, and clear instrumental colors. Working with it many years later for the Illinois State University recording was still a positive experience.
JWB: How did that project come about? What was your role?
DM: Dr. Stephen Steele, conductor of the Illinois State University Wind Symphony, was asked by Susan Bush of Albany Records if he would be interested in making a CD of select Chance works. Susan thought this would be a timely CD, one that many people would find interesting. This is a nice recognition of the enduring quality of some of Chance’s music. Steve’s first step was to send me all the scores he had collected of Chance’s wind music – about a dozen. I reviewed them all, and came up with what I termed an “A” list. My recommendations included Incantation and Dance, Variations on a Korean Folk Song, Symphony No.2, and the piano concerto piece. In rehearsals and the recording session I acted as the “presence of the composer.” It was my job to read the score and be the reminder for basic stuff like tempos, dynamics, and qualities of articulation – to insist on these, and to offer thoughts on qualities of style. There is what is printed in scores, and then there is what has accumulated as performance practice over the years. My job was to bring things back to the score. The most interesting piece for me was Symphony No.2, a piece that Chance never heard in his lifetime. I felt like I was “channeling” Chance, allowing him to be present, both to hear his music for the first time, and to offer the suggestions he would have made for performance. This assertion certainly cannot be proven, but it was a very curious experience for me.
JWB: Why do you think that Albany Records recording has been so successful?
DM: Chance’s music is still fresh and likeable, and a large number of people remember it fondly from their younger band days. It has also not left the repertoire. Steele’s recording of this music is simply very good. It is exactingly performed and well recorded.
JWB: Has the music of Chance (and his contemporaries) influenced your growth as a composer?
DM: I would certainly say that Chance’s music, and that of people like Clifton Williams and Vaclav Nelhybel, and my teacher, H. Owen Reed, influenced my early growth as a composer. This was different music than the so-called mainstream of the time, which was serialism and significant branching off with people like Penderecki and Berio. Chance and other band composers were more “down home” outgrowths of school music. It has taken all the years since Chance for wind band music to attain something of mainstream status. The influences on current wind band music are as varied as world music itself, but I would say that the music of the “early modern” wind band composers pointed in a fresh direction that many of us found attractive.
JWB: Chance was a percussionist and this heavily influenced his writing style. What was your primary instrument growing up?
DM: I was a clarinetist, and had both band and orchestra experience as a high school and college student. I had more band than orchestra, and I guess that the band sound was in my ear when I thought about writing for larger ensembles. Playing clarinet has certainly been central to my writing for winds. Being in the center of an ensemble as a performer is a major factor for any composer writing ensemble music. The influence of clarinet on my writing style is certainly there, but the factors influencing writing style are many and varied. Many people are convinced that I am a percussionist, which I am not in the least. Composers have to learn the languages of all the instruments, and then absorb and transform in themselves all the music they come in contact with.
JWB: What do you think Chance’s music would sound like today if he hadn’t tragically passed away at the age of 39?
DM: There is no knowing how Chance would have evolved!
JWB: Chance’s Second Symphony serves as the centerpiece for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony’s annual Modern Wind Symphony Concert. Do you believe it is important to continue writing symphonies for wind bands?
DM: I don’t necessarily think that it is important for composers to continue to write symphonies for wind band. Composers need to write whatever they need to write. I happen to write symphonies (now seven of them for wind band) but that is something I have felt the urge to do since Symphony No.2 in 1985. Wind bands do not need symphonies in order to be “important”, to try to lift themselves to “orchestral” status. They need powerful music, well-crafted for the medium, music which inspires the players and their audiences. This has been happening for quite some time now, and the grass roots wind band movement has become a world phenomenon. Wind bands need to program significant works, regardless of length or form, because players and audiences are intensely hungry for deeply nourishing and affecting musical experience.
JWB: Most wind band commissions occur at the collegiate level. Do you think it is important for community based wind bands and secondary schools to commission new music?
DM: Most wind band commissions occur at the college level because they have figured out how to do consortiums. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. One person takes the lead and enlists a number of other conductors to share the burden of cost. This has resulted in a huge number of new pieces that immediately have more than a single use. Not all of the music is good, but the simple fact is the more pieces that are written the high likelihood that a percentage will be outstanding. Regarding consortiums, there is no difference between a college band and a community band, except possibly the sense of being connected with other bands. The College Band Directors National Association offers college directors immediate connection to hundreds of other conductors. The CBDNA national and regional conferences, and other events like the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, allow for very intense networking among conductors. Community bands can simply join in if they wish. Anyone can join CBDNA. Commissions are now starting from high schools as well. There is the realization that the band world is all one big family, and colleges, community bands, and high schools are willing to help each other out.
JWB: The Brooklyn Wind Symphony is happy to be leading a consortium to commission a new work from you. What do you look for and take into account when requested to write a piece for a specific ensemble?
DM: The energy and seriousness of the conductor involved is a high consideration. I deeply respect people who are trying hard to build or do something, and I am interested to work with them. For me this has included ensembles all the way from small school groups to major recognized names.
Brooklyn Wind Symphony presents an 80th birthday concert in honor of John Barnes Chance on Saturday, March 24, 2:00 PM. Grand Street High School, 850 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. $10 suggested donation.
Recently, a couple of the undergraduate composers in the program at Westminster Choir College asked me for lists of postwar pieces to study. Given the vocal and choral emphasis in our program, I’ve compiled the list below to provide a different vantage point. Hence the emphasis on instrumental music and a preponderance of post-tonal composers that they might not encounter when learning their own recital repertoire. Given a different student population, composers like Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, and Donnacha Dennehy could just as likely appear on a listening list such as this.
And, of course, it is frustrating what one must leave out to keep a list manageable in size. Indeed, I’ve had to leave off a number of sentimental favorites. Note that I am not attempting to give them the “greatest hits” of the past sixty-five years. Instead I strove for a diversity of selections, both watershed masterworks and vibrantly interesting pieces that merit attention, even if they may not be the first ones that come to mind for the given composer. On a different day, we could come up with sixty different pieces: a composer must be prepared for a lifetime of listening, score study, and learning. Even after that, they must also be humbled by the fact that they will only get to a fraction of all the good stuff out there!
Let’s say that an undergraduate composer began working with this list or a similar one at the beginning of their junior year; listening to and, if possible, studying the score for one of these pieces every week. Between their own performance experiences, WCC’s theory and history courses, and this survey of recent works, by the time that they were ready to consider applying to graduate programs in their senior year, they would have a decent grounding in the repertoire.
1- Adams, John C. Nixon in China (1987)
2- Adams, John C. Chamber Symphony (1992)
3- Adams, John Luther. Red Arc/Blue Veil (2002)
4- Andriessen, Louis. La Passione (2002)
5- Babbitt, Milton. Philomel (1964)
6- Babbitt, Milton. Arie da Capo (1974)
7- Berio, Luciano. Circles (1960)
8- Birtwistle, Harrison. Secret Theatre (1984)
9- Boulez, Pierre. Le marteau sans maître (rev. 1957)
10- Boulez, Pierre. Répons (1984)
11- Cage, John. Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1948)
12- Cage, John. Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958)
13- Carter, Elliott. String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
14- Carter, Elliott. String Quartet No. 5 (1995)
15- Chin, Unsuk. Akrostischen-Wortspiel (1993)
16- Crumb, George. Ancient Voices of Children (1970)
17- Czernowin, Chaya. String Quartet (1995)
18- Davies, Peter Maxwell. Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969)
19- Feldman, Morton. Rothko Chapel (1970)
20- Feldman, Morton. For Samuel Beckett (1987)
21- Ferneyhough, Brian. Bone Alphabet (1991)
22- Ferneyhough, Brian. Terrain (1992)
23- Foss, Lukas. Echoi (1963)
24- Glass, Philip. Satyagraha (1980)
25- Grisey, Gérard. Les espaces acoustiques (1985)
26- Haas, Georg Friedrich. In Vain (2002)
27- Harrison, Lou. La Koro Sutro (1973)
28- Kurtág, György. Kafka-Fragmente (1986)
29- Kurtág, György. Stele (1994)
30- Knussen, Oliver. Where the Wild Things Are (1983)
31- Lachenmann, Helmut. Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (1990)
32- Lang, David. Little Matchgirl Passion (2007)
33- Ligeti, Győrgy. Atmosphères (1961)
34- Ligeti, Győrgy. Violin Concerto (1993)
35- Lim, Liza. City of Falling Angels (2007)
36- Marshall, Ingram. September Canons (2003)
37- Messiaen. Olivier. Éclairs sur l’au-delà… (1991)
38- Monk, Meredith. Songs of Ascension (2008)
39- Nancarrow, Conlon. Three Canons for Ursula (1989)
40- Nono, Luigi. …sofferte onde serne… (1976)
41- Pärt, Arvo. Fratres (1976)
42- Penderecki, Krzysztof. Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)
43- Reich, Steve. Music for Eighteen Musicians (1976)
44- Reich, Steve. Different Trains (1988)
45- Riley, Terry. In C (1964)
46- Saariaho, Kaija. L’amour de loin (2000)
47- Scelsi, Giacinto. Prânam 2 (1973)
48- Sciarrino, Salvatore. Vento D’Ombra (2005)
49- Schoenberg, A Survivor from Warsaw (1947)
50- Shapey, Ralph. Millenium Designs (2000)
51- Stravinsky, Igor. Variations (Aldous Huxley in Memoriam) (1964)
52- Stockhausen, Karlheinz, Kontakte (1960)
53- Takemitsu, Tōru. From me flows what you call Time (1990)
54- Turnage, Mark-Anthony. Blood on the Floor (1996)
Our friends (and the performers on the last Sequenza21 concert) ACME appeared at All Tomorrow’s Parties last week. Quite a coup for the indie classical group, which is enjoying increased crossover success. Below check out video footage of them performing Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” live at ATP.
Tonight, Hotel Elefantmakes its debut concert at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music (a venue that’s just celebrated its one-year anniversary). The concert features two works by David T. Little. Sequenza 21′s own James Holt will be on hand to host the event; he’ll conduct an onstage interview with Little.
Below, check out one of several preview videos from the ensemble’s YouTube channel (there’s interview footage with several of the program’s composers): composer Leah Maria Villarreal and violinist Andie Springer discuss preparing a new multimedia work entitled “The Warmth of Other Suns.”
Thursday, March 15, 2012 – 8pm
Season I | Remembrance
Inaugural Concert featuring composer DAVID T. LITTLE
with works by
LEAHA MARIA VILLARREAL
Tickets at the door: $15/$10 students with valid ID
The DiMenna Center for Classical Music
Norman S. Benzaquen Hall
450 W 37th St. New York, NY
Ten bucks gains you entry to the event plus a raffle ticket. There’s music being performed every hour on the hour by artists such as Newspeak, Gutbucket, the Janus Trio, and more. Check out the event’s website for a complete listing of performers, sponsors, and organizations manning the tables.
Dessert, plus music, plus prizes? Sounds like this third installation of the Bake Sale is triply pleasurable!
Congratulations to pianist Peter Poston for winning the David Lang 2011 Competition.
Below is his award-winning entry, a performance of Wed, submitted via YouTube:
Poston will get to perform as part of an all Lang program at le poisson rouge in New York City on May 6, 2012 at 5pm. The concert at LPR includes Andrew Zolinsky performing selections from the CD, a new 4-hand piano work premiered by Zolinsky and Poston, a new 6-hand piano piece for the 3 runners-up – Catarina Domenici, Katherine Dowling, and Denise Fillion – and performances by guitar legend Derek Johnson and other special guests.
This Was Written by Hand
Piano Music by David Lang
Andrew Zolinsky, piano
Cantaloupe Music CD
Wed, the audition piece for the David Lang 2011 Competition, is featured on This Was Written By Hand, David Lang’s latest CD, a recital disc recorded for Cantaloupe by pianist Andrew Zolinksy. It isone of eight “Memory Pieces” included on the disc. This group serves as postminimal “Characterstucke,” an attractive and mercurial group of contrasting miniatures.
Then there is the touching title work. One of Lang’s most organically constructed pieces, it was, indeed, written by hand and intuitively constructed. A meditation on the ephemeral nature of life, it captures a similar poignancy to Lang’s recent vocal work “Little Matchgirl Passion,” but writ smaller, more intimately. To both this and the Memory Pieces, Zolinsky brings a fluid grace and subtlety that abets the spontaneous, almost improvisatory, character of the material.
New York-based C4 Ensemble is a choir that specializes in new music. Most of its members are composers or conductors, or both!
On Thursday March 1 and Saturday March 3, the group is performing a program entitled “A Loss for Words: An Evening of New Choral Music on Alternative Texts” (info and tickets here). Since I’m away this weekend at a conference in Dayton, C4 was kind enough to let me sit in on one of their recent rehearsals.
The group’s dynamic is a lesson in exceeding expectations. The member’s take turns leading warmups and rehearsing pieces, allowing for several conductors to direct works on each concert. I was impressed that, despite the occasional oneupmanship that’s inevitable to find when having that many conductors in a room, they do quite a good job of sharing and passing authority from one person to the next. Indeed I’m so glad that C4 is around: They seem to revel in the challenges that other choirs avoid like the plague. One person to a part in polytonal divisi? No problem. Finding your pitch out of nowhere after clouds of clusters? Sure! Singing in three different meters at once? What else you got?
For music without conventional texts, these pieces have a lot to say. The program features guest soloist Toby Twining, performing with the choir in a beautiful piece of his from the late 80s, “Hee oo oom ha,” a multicultural essay featuring Twining’s flexible countertenor scatting, African polyrhythms, and sepulchral shamanic incantations from bass Hayes Biggs. A new piece by Tim Brown juxtaposes spoken word clips from adverts and news headlines that overwhelm a chorus resembling a Sondheim waltz, seeking desperately to blot out the chatter.
“The Blue of Distance,” by Zibuokle Martinaityle, is a beautiful and intricately woven score with many divisi humming lush polychords, set against keening ostinatos. I was quite taken with Martha Sullivan’swork on the program, which features earthy melismas and folk music references.In addition, C4 will be singing John Cage, Huang Ro, Thomas Stumpf, Jaako Mantyjarvi, David Harris, and Karen Siegel. If you’re in town, this promises to be an exciting and varied concert program.
Thursday, March 1, 2012 @ 8pm Church of St Luke in the Fields 487 Hudson Street (south of Christopher St.)
Saturday, March 3, 2012 @ 8pm Tenri Cultural Institute 43A West 13th Street (bet. 5th & 6th Aves)
Many of us love to see musical works created to accompany choreography performed with dancers involved. But this weekend finds musicians approaching these pieces from another vantage point. Ne(x)tworks, Greenwich Music House’s ensemble-in-residence, presents “Music Without Dance,” a festival of works originally written for dance that are abstracted from movement and performed as absolute music.
What’s revealed about these pieces by listening to them while imagining (or even avoiding thinking about) the dances to which they were originally attached? Curation by subtraction: I like it!
Ne(x)tworks Presents the “Music Without Dance” Festival
Saturday, February 25th: 7:30PM concert
Sunday, February 26th: 6:00PM free panel discussion, 7:30PM concert
FREE panel discussion on the relationship between music and dance.
With choreographers Yoshiko Chuma, Katherine Beyar, Nai-Ni Chen, Erica Essner,
and composers Joan La Barbara, Miguel Frasconi, John King, Annea Lockwood.
Sunday, Feb. 26, 7:30PM
Stuplimity No. 3 (2007) by Christopher McIntyre
Desert Myths (2006) by Joan La Barbara
Jitterbug (2007) by Annea Lockwood
DELTA (dreamdeepdown) (2002) by John King
Ne(x)tworks is: Joan La Barbara (voice), Shelley Burgon (harp & electronics), Yves Dharamraj (cello), Miguel Frasconi (glass instruments & electronics, Director), Ariana Kim (violin), Christopher McIntyre (trombone), and special guest Jenny Lin (piano). Learn more on the Ne(x)tworks website www.nextworksmusic.net.
So Percussion recently released remixes of tracks from Amid the Noise, their recording of music by Jason Treuting. You can grab it for free via their Bandcamp site (embed below).
Treuting recently released sheet music for Amid the Noise, which can be purchased at Good Child Music.
This year, a great number of artists and ensembles are celebrating John Cage’s centenary – even Jessye Norman and Meredith Monk are getting in on the act as part of Michael Tilson Thomas’s revival of the American Mavericks series with the San Francisco Symphony. While it will be fascinating to see that some of these “out of the box” Cage performances will be happening, it’s also nice to hear that groups like So Percussion, who have a long track record performing Cage’s music, are celebrating the centenary in style. On 3/26, they are taking part in the American Mavericks series at Carnegie Hall (details here).
The concert will be the culmination of a tour by the group featuring Cage’s Third Construction as the centerpiece of Cage-themed program entitled We Are All Going in Different Directions.
There’s an equally imaginative recorded component So’s feting of the maestro of indeterminacy. On 3/27, Cantaloupe will release So Percussion’s “John Cage Bootleg Series.” The release includes a blank LP (the better with which to perform 4’33″!), a CD sampler, and a card with download codes that will enable listeners to obtain all of the group’s Cage bootlegs online. And the audio artifact lover in me delights in the handsome homemade feel of its handsome packaging. Top to bottom, Cage’s aesthetic is well manifested in So Percussion’s activities this Spring!
We Are All Going in Different Directions: So Percussion Celebrates Cage
Feb 28: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (Cage’s Third Construction)
March 2: The Royal Conservatory, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
March 6 + 7: The McCullough Theatre, University of Texas, Austin
March 10: Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin (Cage’s Third Construction)
Some of the arts organizations in New York are venerable establishments. Others may be relative newcomers, but take little time to install themselves as intrinsic parts of the music scene. It has only been here since the early aughts, but many of New York’s performers and concertgoers would have a hard time envisioning musical life here without the countless collaborations and imaginative programs brought to fruition at the modest-sized, yet mightily influential, Austrian Cultural Forum.
ACFbegins its tenth season with a celebration: a concert this Friday at Bohemian Hall: a more commodious space. At Bohemian Hall, they have an enlightened take on the acquisition of celebratory libations: according to the press release, ”Concert-goers can buy a glass of wine, liquor or Czech beer to enjoy at the performance. The bar at Bohemian National Hall will be open before, during and after the concert.” Beat that Avery Fisher Hall!
Appropriately enough, the event spotlights three Austrian composers: Clemens Gadenstätter, Bernhard Gander, and Bernhard Lang. The program, which includes two US premieres, will be performed by the Talea Ensemble with guest vocalist Donatienne Michel-Dansac. Both Lang and Gander will be in attendance. They will join Columbia University professor George Lewis for an onstage discussion. And did we mention that this event, as well as the nine subsequent programs on ACF’s season, are free of charge?
For those of you unfamiliar with soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac, she’s a highly regarded performer of European composers from the second moderns school. Check out the video clip below of her performing an excerpt of a work by Georges Aperghis.
February 17, 8:00 pm: Talea Ensemble with soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac
Bohemian National Hall at Czech Center, 321 E 73rd St., New York, NY
Program: Works by Clemens Gadenstätter (US premiere), Bernhard Gander (US premiere) and Bernhard Lang