CBDNA 2001 Conference

College Band Director's National Association

1st National Conference

Looking To The Past, To Grasp The Future

19 - 24, 2001, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas

This assessment appeared on Bandchat and in the WASBE Newsletter - revised 26th August 2004

Outstanding Finds Of The Conference:

Three major significant works for solo trombone and wind ensemble:

Arrows of Time Richard Peaslee
Colloquy William Goldstein
Downtown Diversions Adam Gorb

Other Works I Want To Programme

  • Dana Wilson's (1999), a virtuoso work for piano and wind ensemble
  • Jack Stamp sensitive Four Maryland Songs(1995), sensitive settings
  • Cancion de Gesta by Leo Brouwer full of excitement and originality
  • Frank Bencriscutto's arrangement of Profanation from Jeremiah of Bernstein
  • The newly discovered Partita by Robert Linn, strong writing
  • James Syler Minton's Playhouse, a hilarious re-creation of experimental jazz of the forties
  • Bruce Yurko Bassoon Concerto, useful addition to the small repertoire for this instrument

Confused Of Leyland

This was really a great conference with wonderful playing and some great performances of major works like the Hindemith Symphony, Michael Colgrass' Winds of Nagual, and some exciting new music. As often happens, I came away excited but a little confused. I don't want wind music to ape the orchestral world, (luckily we cannot because our repertoire is younger and more vital and exciting than some of those tired old war-horses) but I do think we need to take great care of what we play. Some pieces transcribe wonderfully (Hindemith Metamorphoses on Theme of Weber), some are just a travesty (Strauss' Four Last Songs), and whatever the programme, it must flow and make sense as a piece of entertainment.

Twenty years ago, in Manchester, we hosted the first International Conference for Wind Bands & Ensembles, which was largely sponsored by the CBDNA under the presidency of Frank Battisti. The last twenty years has seen an enormous change in the repertoire and perception of the Wind Ensemble, inspired largely by that Conference and the founding of WASBE and BASBWE; this CBDNA Conference drew many of the threads together, helping us to assess these developments and plot the future.

How Not To Programme

The Conference was spread over six days, three with an evening concert, three with lectures, discussions and three concerts each day. One of the biggest problems facing band directors is that of programming. How do you achieve variety of timbre with an ensemble which is full of such variety of colour but yet has a brilliance which begins to pall. How do you achieve variety of pace with a medium in which most of the better works are less than fifty years old? The answer is certainly not to give an eclectic mix which leaves everyone confused and nobody satisfied. The United States Airforce Band gave an object lesson in how not to programme:

  • Overture to "The Barber of SevilleRossini*
  • March "The Klaxon" Fillmore
  • Harrison's Dream Graham*
  • Two songs from "Four Last Songs" Strauss*
  • Symphonic MetamorphosisHindemith*
  • Interval
  • Onward-Upward MarchGoldman
  • Escapade (world premiere) Stamp
  • Marietta's Lied from "Die tote Stadt" Korngold*
  • Prelude and DanceCreston
  • Ballet Suite 4 Shostakovich*
  • America the Beautiful trad*

*Seven arrangements, two marches, a world premiere and an American "classic" suggest an impoverished repertoire.

It was good to hear a solo voice (another group offered Mahler's marvellous Um Mitternacht), but I would much prefer to hear an original work such as the Gilmore Five Folk Songs or Jack Stamp's sensitive Four Maryland Songs (1995) which we heard in a repertoire session, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams but sensitively handled. The opening concert was similar, given by the River City Brass Band, a band modelled on the British tradition, the main differences being a marked lack of vibrato and the use of french horns instead of Eb horns. The programming was old-fashioned, Shostakovich, Puccini, Rossini and Gershwin alternating with Fucik, Sousa and show medleys.

Dallas Wind Symphony

Dallas Wind Symphony is a professional group with a season of about 6 concerts annually. It was strange to hear the Holst Second Suite played a large group with all of the extra instruments put in by Boosey and Hawkes for the US market. Frederick Fennell conducted an energetic account of a romantic Suite from Merry Mount by Howard Hanson, a very big piece gorgeously scored by John Boyd, which might be very useful if you are looking for something from that period., and Jerry Junkin introduced Grantham's Fantasy on Mr Hyde's Song, an attractive genre piece worth exploring. They gave a fine reading of the Hindemith Symphony in Bb, and followed it with a Sousa March. Why? This was not as bad as the performance of Daphnis and Chloe in Boston, followed by Texan Cowboy, but why do we need encores after a major statement? Or is Hindemith not a major statement?

Too often programmes would start with variety, and then pile on vast canvas after vast canvas. David Gillingham's Cantus Laetus (2000) was a fantasy on "Veni Creator Spiritus", skilfully scored, sometimes annoyingly trite in its treatment, but building up to an enormous climax, surely the end of a concert. But no, it was followed by an arrangement of Grainger's massive The Warriors.

Sometimes fates conspire to change programmes dramatically. Our hosts, University of North Texas were forced by circumstances to take on the world première of Pullitzer Prizewinner George Walker's Canvas, (2000), a vast score involving choir and narrators, with a great deal of powerful and deeply felt music. The three sections can be performed separately. I found the other world première, Cindy McTee's Timepiece (2001), says little more than had already been said in earlier slightly minimalist works of hers, but her music does have energy and elegance. The most impressive work in this programme for me was Dana Wilson's Vortex (1999), a virtuoso work for piano and wind ensemble, well worth investigating.

Perhaps the most thoughtful programming came from Glenn Price and his University of Calgary Wind Ensemble:

  • Circular Marches (1997)Dan Welcher
  • Danceries (2000)Kenneth Hesketh
  • Colloquy (1967William Goldstein
  • Interval
  • Hommage a l'Ami Papageno (1984)Jean Francaix
  • Cancion de Gesta (1979)Leo Brouwer

Music from the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties and this century, music from USA, England, France and Cuba, ensembles varied between full band, the American Wind Symphony orchestral line-up and chamber ensemble.

The Welcher, like so much of the American repertoire, I found to be wonderfully scored but also full of Americana, the lingua franca of generations of post-Copland, post-Ives composers which strikes resonances with American audiences but begin to pall for me; I often wonder why they are not writing for westerns in Hollywood, but perhaps they are.

The Hesketh was billed as a North American première, but I recall conducting it in Florida last December (perhaps Florida is ceded to Central or South America after the election fiasco) - it is not great music but it is wonderfully effective. The Goldstein (he must be a film composer) was a great find and makes me wonder why it has languished, and the Cancion de Gesta by Brouwer is from the vast Peters catalogue of commissions for the American Wind Symphony, full of excitement and originality.

Dulled Into Insensitivity

The new Hall at the University of North Texas is superb, taking dynamics from very soft to loud; there was little very soft music, but there were performances which went well over the bounds of comfort. It is impudent of me to point out to vastly experienced colleagues once again that we do not need to work hard at making a noise, and that forte and fortissimo are our easiest dynamics. Piano and pianissimo are rarely found in our performances, and so the really big fortissimo or even triple forte lose effect because we in the audience are already dulled into insensitivity by the noise. Composers often do not help.

Concert As Theatre And Entertainment

thoughtful programming, but the evening must flow. Mallory Thompson and her Northwestern University Wind Ensemble made a sensational start to the evening with a spectacular performance, from memory, standing, of Richard Strauss' Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare, followed regrettably by several minutes of re-setting the stage. I felt the Strauss could have been played around the already set stage; the second half began similarly with Grainger's Molly on the Shore, with a stage then being re-set for the Stravinsky Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments. However, this is quibbling at an excellent concert with a really great performance of Colgrass's Winds of Nagual and at the end a performance of the very successful arrangement by Frank Bencriscutto of Profanation from Jeremiah of Bernstein.

But is it quibbling? Will the wind orchestra ever hold its own with the orchestral and chamber music platform if we cannot get our act together to present our programmes as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Lost Partita

The programme by Keystone Wind Ensemble under Jack Stamp began with four world premieres, though the two most effective pieces were A Solemn Music (1949) by Virgil Thomson, a long chorale-like elegy and Robert Linn's Partita (1980), a work which had been lost before the première; parts were put together by the players, with disastrous results, and it has been pieced together again twenty years later. This performance revealed a strong work due to be published by Kjos.

It was good to hear a fine performance of Walter Hartley's Concerto for 23 Wind, but I am still unconvinced that it is much more than academic note-spinning. University of Georgia played it well and gave an exciting performance of Arrows of Time by Richard Peaslee.

Three Trombone Concertos

Richard Peaslee Arrows of Time (1993/2000) was the first of three excellent additions to the repertoire for solo trombone and band or wind ensemble Originally for trombone and piano, the work was later scored for symphony orchestra, and here was arranged by Joshua Hauser. He was considerably influenced by Bill Russo's trombone writing for the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and worked with Joe Alessi who gave the premiere. The work combines classical and jazz techniques, and is about fifteen minutes long.

Perhaps the first successful foray into this field of "crossover" for solo trombone and ensemble was Gunther Schuller's Eine kleine Posaunemusik (1980), but it is predated by thirteen years by William Goldstein's Colloquy (1967); jazz, rock and film idioms are again successfully combined with symphonic score which although clearly of its period yet has enough vitality to save its slightly overblown scoring from being too heavy-handed. It was given here a sympathetic performance by Alain Trudel.

Thirteen Universities put together the consortium for Adam Gorb's Downtown Diversions, and the resultant concerto was a thoroughly entertaining, witty three movement work. Adam has a knack for writing in a populist idiom while eschewing cliché. The first movement begins with a cadenza for trombone, accompanied by percussion and clapping, before opening out into a brilliant up-tempo allegro reminiscent of Awayday and its homage to the American musical. The last continues this restless energy, with mixed metres and an un-academic jazz fugue. The ballad which these two sections enclose could have become sentimental, but for me is lyrical without being hackneyed.

Sentimental Or Energetically Derivative?

American music for wind band seems to be at the cross-roads; so much is either frankly sentimental such as the Irish ballad Lagan Love by Luigi Zaninelli, the chorale prelude Be Thou my Vision by David Gillingham, and Frank Ticheli's An American Elegy, or energetically derivative of Ives, Copland and Bernstein like Dan Welcher's Labouring Songs, Gregg Wramage's The Last Days of Summer and Donald Grantham's J'ai été au bal, both styles self-consciously mining the heritage of 19th century religious song and 20th century orchestral music When something large-scale is attempted, the results are sometimes academic, often grandiose, sometimes vulgar.

Two Big Works

Two "big" works which did impress me were James Syler's Minton's Playhouse (published byBallerbach Syler's own publishing house), a hilarious re-creation of experimental jazz of the forties, and David Maslanka's Symphony no 5. Based on three Bach Chorales, this forty minute work could have appeared bombastic and over-blown; it did to some of the audience, but I found it convincing, and I jotted down "Is Maslanka the wind-band Mahler de nos jours? " At his best, he has Mahler's grand sweep of organisation, the control of large forces, the mutation of the seemingly trivial into the important." Perhaps this is too huge a claim, but his is a big and important voice... I think!

Research Sessions

Research sessions covered The Wind Music of Kurt Weill, various aspect of the Hindemith Symphony written 50 years earlier, The Wind Ensemble music of Frank Zappa, and two discussion sessions, one rather inconclusive from four composers, one rather more amusinglyLooking Forward, Looking Back by Donald Hunsberger, Robert Reynolds, Frank Battisti and David Whitwell. As always, discussions were informative and instructive; there is no doubt that CBDNA is still the prime mover in the world of wind ensemble, but also that the world perspective is needed to help colleagues break out of the goldfish bowl of academe which they still inhabit.

Standards of performance were extremely high technically, although the repertoire did not always encourage musical thought and sensitivity. I came away with several pieces which I would like to programme. To find three Trombone Concerti is a good start, Dana Wilson's piano concerto Vortex I would highly recommend, and the rediscovered Linn and the Virgil Thompson were impressive. The Brouwer was a great find, Syler and Maslanka need a very good ensemble and a great deal of rehearsal, the Yurko Bassoon Concerto could be useful, and I look forward to working on my new joint commission with members of CBDNA, Joan Tower's Fascinating Ribbons.