Essential Repertoire: November 2013

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • November 19, 2013

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Essential Repertoire: From the Top presents select reviews from “Frank Ticheli’s List,” covering core repertoire for concert band chosen by composer Frank Ticheli.

“Amber Terrace Dreams” by Christopher Tucker

C. Alan Publications   •   Grade Level: 2   •   Approximate Duration: 2:30

“Amber Terrace Dreams,” commissioned by the Amber Terrace Intermediate School Band of Desoto, Texas, is intended to celebrate today’s youth as they enter the critical crossroads of life as young teenagers. Tucker has managed to create an engaging musical experience without the traditional melodic and harmonic framework that so many composers resort to for a piece at this level. From an innocent and ethereal beginning, an optimistic sense of joy and exuberance blossoms throughout this piece.

Tucker begins with a simple and sustained rising broken scale pattern that ends with a surprising harmonic structure that includes the third scale degree conflicting with the forth scale degree. This immediately alerts the listener to the fact that this piece is not cast in a traditional harmonic structure. The tonal center shifts as ascending scale passages accelerate the rhythmic flow serving to enhance the anticipation of a strong melodic appearance. When the melody finally appears, Tucker has masterfully crafted the orchestration to initially disguise any sense of a strong melodic pulse. A short recapitulation of the opening sequence accelerates to a buoyant statement of the melody accentuated by a repetitive fanfare figure that is passed from the high woodwinds to the brass. One last reminder of the opening ascending scale leads to a rousing and sanguine conclusion. Tucker gives the harmonic language a more modern sound by using an occasional extended chord and coloring the progression with tasteful suspension/resolution cadences.

Reviewed by John Darling.


“Fugue in G Major” by J.S. Bach

Arr. Yoshihiro Kimura  •  DeHaske Publications   •   Grade Level: 3   •   Approximate Duration: 3:00

Bach’s “Fugue in G Minor” is sometimes referred to as the “Little Fugue.” It should be noted, however, that there is nothing little about this fugue; its opening four measures are perhaps one of the most recognizable melodies in all of music literature. The mathematical precision and stirring counterpoint all lead to a conclusion so powerful and majestic that one marvels at its sheer majesty. A true masterpiece.  The exposition here is especially compelling. Kimura chooses the solo oboe as the voice to present the subject; the plaintive sounds of the oboe are soon joined by the English Horn for the second statement of the subject as solo flute joins the oboe in unison. This sparse and crystalline orchestration evokes a sense of chamber performance to the work at is inception, which, when contrasted with the fortissimo, tutti conclusion of the work gives Kimura’s setting an incredibly wide range of color and emotional impact.

Orchestration, of course, is the key to this most successful interpretation of the classic work.  As an example, one statement of the subject is performed by Alto Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Baritone Saxophone, Second Baritone Horn, and String Bass – just one example of the arranger’s ability to bring new sounds to the work without sacrificing its essential character and integrity. Bach would be pleased. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach has provided bands with valuable, legitimate literature through numerous transcriptions. This setting by Yoshihiro Kimura is an important addition to that tradition.

Review by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“Toledo” by Bruce Carlson

Dox Music   •   Grade Level: 3   •   Approximate Duration: 10:00

Although commissioned by a junior high school, “Toledo” gives the impression of substantial difficulty, and its musical quality has attracted bands at all levels.

The work is based on three related sources: El Greco’s painting “View of Toledo,” the “Spiritual Canticle” of St. John of the Cross, and the ruminations on both by Thomas Merton. El Greco’s painting is dramatic – a foreshadowing of the end of the world; St. John’s poem is still, focused upward toward God; and Merton observed that while El Greco was painting “View of Toledo,” St. John of the Cross was writing his Spiritual Canticle imprisoned in the city. Carlson was profoundly moved by all three of these sources.

The work is alternates sections that depict the stormy painting with others reflecting the serene mysticism of the poem. Carlson prefers that a slide of the painting be displayed during performances, and the performers discuss the painting, first verbally then musically through improvisation. Compositionally, the work employs techniques of the late 20th century including: improvisation, time controlled by seconds, reliance on texture and timbre (especially percussion), and parallel major chords that portray bell sounds. Most harmonic and melodic material is extracted from a pitch set comprised of alternating tritones and perfect fourths that is designated the “Toledo Chord” by the composer.

“Toledo” may be unique in young band music. Fully representative of late 20th-century musical idioms, it also deals with profound spiritual matters. This reflective aesthetic has captured the interest of thoughtful band directors around the world.   

Review by Keith Kinder.


“Snakes” by Thomas Duffy

Ludwig Music  •   Grade Level: 3/4    •  Approximate Duration: 3:30

Thomas C. Duffy has crafted a most imaginative and unconventional work for young bands. “Snakes!” uses aleatoric compositional devices, dissonance, and original, creative special effects in the percussion section to make this piece a humorous, entertaining and at times downright scary experience for young players and their audiences.

The aleatoric portions of the work are not at all intimidating. Duffy employs some unmetered measures and some random statements which give the performers a chance to improvise and a true sense of ownership over the performance. This is program music, which through contemporary harmonies and rhythms successfully captures the sounds associated with snakes. With shouts of “python” and “cobra,” band members get to create surprise and mock terror. There is even a spot in the piece where the young ladies in the band get to make the hissing sounds, gradually making them crescendo until the young men shout “Snakes!” There are hisses, rattles, sudden strikes and the intimidating swaying of the cobra. At one point a careful listener may even envision the menacing slow movements of a boa constrictor. There is even a “snake pit” with writhing and twisting sounds before the eerie, foreboding conclusion that should leave both performers and audience just a little bit uneasy, albeit pleasantly entertained.

Young musicians who have been fed a steady diet of block scoring and traditional melodies and rhythms will find “Snakes!” a refreshing change from convention. They will be entertained with its cleverness, join enthusiastically in the fun, and stretch their musical imaginations.

Review by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“Sinfonia V” by Timothy Broege

Manhattan Beach Music   •   Grade Level: 5    •   Approximate Duration: 7:00

A collage of musical styles similar to sweeping across the FM radio dial in a large city, “Sinfonia V” incorporates several direct quotes: the plainchant Divinum Mysterium, two chorales harmonized by Samuel Scheidt, and a Pavanne by Pierre Attaignant. While technical demands are limited, experienced performers are required.

The first section, Prelude, features antiphonal responses between brass and woodwinds with underlying percussion momentum. Melodic figures, like plainchant, employ a central reciting tone with whole- or half-step neighboring notes. Sections two and five are called Rag. Surprisingly for ragtime, the tunes in section two are frequently in canon. Section three, in 7/8 time, is titled Alla Turca. Antiphonal passagework initially appears, however, the wind instrument parts quickly simplify to a long pedal chord, while the percussion contribute the Turkish aspect. The fourth section presents the two chorales by Scheidt simultaneously, in woodwind/brass antiphony surrounded by improvisation, generating complex harmonies and textures. In section six, Ragtime alla turca, rag figures from the previous section continue and a new, folk like melody is introduced that sounds Middle Eastern. It flows smoothly into section seven where the band sings the chant in unison supported by euphonium and horns, while the percussion invokes sistrum bells, then segues into the Attaignant Pavanne cast in a transparent scoring. The work ends in quiet uncertainty.

Broege’s melodies are simple, but harmonies and rhythms are sophisticated, incorporating a wide variety of sonorities and rhythmic concepts. “Sinfonia V” is an effective amalgamation of an intriguing aesthetic with skillful compositional practices.

Review by Keith Kinder.         


“Children’s March” by Percy Grainger

Arr. Mark Rogers  •  Southern Music Publications   •  Grade Level: 5   •   Approximate Duration: 4:30

Mark Roger’s brilliant editing restores this miraculous work to its original splendor. Consulting a number of original sources, many in Grainger’s own hand, Rogers and his publisher, Southern Music, have done yeoman service to the band world in bringing out this remarkable edition. The work, with its infectious melody, is only half the picture; it is Grainger’s unerring orchestration that brings the music into sharp, one might say high-definition focus.

This work is a genuine masterpiece in the British Military Band tradition, and this edition uses all Grainger’s original instruments. The “Grainger sound” is so distinctive that one needs very few measures to recognize his musical personality, and it is not very long before his delightful sense of humor and whimsy come forth with both audacity and charm. Mature and advanced bands and wind ensembles will find much here to study and enjoy, while not needing to spend undue rehearsal time on the mechanical.

Grainger presents the march simply and economically in the opening statement and then continues for several repetitions, each with unique colors and styles. In lesser hands, the number of repetitions of the themes might become redundant; such is not the case here. Each rendition sparkles with originality and delight, keeping the work alive and compelling. Woodwinds and brasses and piano combine in a stunning variety of colors and dynamics with the tutti forte sections so engaging that one is virtually forced to smile in admiration and joy.

Review by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“Scenes from The Louvre’” by Norman Dello Joio

Edward B. Marks Music    •   Grade Level: 5   •   Approximate Duration: 10:30

“Scenes from ‘The Louvre’” is a five-movement work transcribed by the composer from his Emmy Awarding winning orchestral score for the NBC television series of the same name. The five movements are to depict the Louvre at its various stages of development, particularly the period during the Renaissance. As the subtitles of the subsequent movements suggest, the music is designed to depict the architectural elements as much as the famous paintings that actually hang in the various galleries: The Portals; Children’s Gallery; The Kings of France; The Nativity Paintings; and Finale. Some of the melodic themes are borrowed from Renaissance composers.

The outermost movements sound the most modernistic due to the use 20th-century harmonic language, and provide a nice arc form for the suite. One should feel the dominating sense of grandeur while entering the Louvre through “The Portals” and the uplifting exhilaration of exiting the Louvre after a day’s visit during the “Finale.”

The inner three movements are more sedate and utilize the more recognizable Renaissance melodies. “Children’s Gallery” uses a melody by Tielman Susato. There are some rhythmic gymnastics in this movement as sections pass motivic ideas around sometimes at the divided-beat level. The opening chorale of the “The Kings of France” was originally composed by Pietro Antonio Cesti. Dello Joio borrowed from his own composition, “Variants On A Medieval Tune,” for the musical setting of “The Nativity Paintings.” The familiar tune of “In Dulci Jubilo” is set in two contrasting variations.

Review by John Darling.


“Redline Tango” by John Mackey

Osti Music   •   Grade Level: 6   •   Approximate Duration: 9:32

John Mackey reminds us how exhilarating life can be! He takes you back to your first car and the rush of revving its engine on an open road (definition number one of “redline”). Mackey also relives the exhilaration of independence that comes from living on one’s own. For Mackey, that was as an aspiring, young composer living in New York City and commuting on the subway (definition number two of “Red Line”). This eclectic mix of personal experiences is the essence of “Redline Tango.”

The work is divided into three episodes. The opening is aggressive from the get-go. A constant 16th-note pulse (on the marimba) drives the redline here. It is raw energy. The composer’s occasional “brassy” markings will not suffice. He drives the point even further with more explicit instructions of “ballsy, jarring.” A rather abrupt halt to the opening section ushers in a tango, which is the work’s second section. Mackey claims the Eb clarinet solo to be klezmer-like. The music shifts to a more provocative mood, a seducing tango that is disjunctive enough to be more disturbing than sensuous, and more cocktail lounge than tango salon. But true to the essence of the tango, he notes the dance is “demented, and even a bit sleazy.” The opening driving 16th-note pulse returns (by self-admission, Mackey is inclined toward ostinato), and the aggressive feel of the composition’s opening returns immediately and all the more impelling. It is now “redder,” Mackey explains.

Redline Tango is exhilarating, portentous, daunting, rousing, harrowing, and mind-blowing.

Review by Lawrence Stoffel.


Frank Ticheli is a professor of Composition at USC Thornton School of Music, and is the recipient of a 2012 Arts and Letters Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the principal judge of the Frank Ticheli Composition Contest, sponsored by Manhattan Beach Music. His works for concert band are among the most celebrated in the industry.

John Darling is an associate professor of Music at Bismarck State College where he teaches theory and conducts the wind ensemble.

Keith Kinder is professor of Music at McMaster University, where he teaches conducting and music education.

Lawrence Stoffel serves as director of Bands at California State University, Northridge (in Los Angeles).

Gregory B. Rudgers of Ithaca College has spent his career studying, conducting, composing, and interpreting wind band literature from beginning bands to college and university levels.

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