Osaka College of Music Wind Orchestra

Conductor Toru Kitano

Review by Tim Reynish

Yoshio Nagahashi b. 1978Blessed Promising Future Festal Overture (2004)*
Hiroshi Hoshina b.1936Fu Mon (Wind Patterns) original version (1987)*
Itaru Sakai b1978A Bridge High into the Sky (2005)*
Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery RhymesHiroshi Oguri 1918-1982
Mindscape for Wind OrchestraChang-su Koh b. 1970

* Published Brain Music

Conference burn-out is a frequent phenomenon around about Wednesday, and time was when we were all given Wednesday afternoon off to climb a mountain, go on a boat trip or do some shopping. However concert 8 was not one to miss; we were presented with a huge wind orchestra 80 strong, playing with awesome discipline under their excellent and very experienced conductor and Dean of the Graduate School in Osaka College, Toru Kitano. His conducting is an exemplary lesson in getting results with the minimum of effort, the tiniest inflection of the beat results in a controlled crescendo or diminuendo, a pushing- through of the phrase, an intensification, an accent of great variation. Not for this band mindless blind obedience to the score full of loud dynamics. Gunther Schuller points out in his wonderful book The Compleat Conductor that in any movement there is not one type of forte, but perhaps forty; Osaka never forced the sound, they played very softly and very loudly but always as the peak of an architectural build-up. This was music making of the highest order, every event moved forward or back with an unanswerable logic. It is all very well to conduct superbly, but you need the horses to respond, and Maestro Kitano has trained this group to respond to his every gesture, however minute.

The programme started with  Blessed  Promising Future - Festal Overture of symphonic proportions,  a twelve minute tone-poem based on an old traditional story of the magpie who is able to foretell the future. A pompous opening section, rather predictable in its harmonic and melodic language, gives way, after a few magpie cries,  to a quite charming central chamber with some delicious writing for solo woodwind, rudely interrupted by a solo euphonium who energises the whole band into hectic activity, finally dissipated in a rather naive Hollywood style finale, referring back to the opening fanfares.  I think it is an unequal work, but worth exploring. vestigate Hoshina’s Fu Mon -  your students  would enjoy playing it.

A Bridge High in the Sky was written for Kasukabe Kyoei Senior High School and is intended for bands with outstanding trumpet and euphonium players. The opening reminded me of so much British brass band music, sentimental rather than full of sentiment. After a more encouraging passage of fanfares on trumpets and flutes, a big romantic tune emerges with a series of sequences which you might discover in a weak bit of Rakhmaninov followed by a real 19th century orchestral passage. Its not a piece for me, but if you want to showcase your solo trumpet and euphonium and you like film music and the idiom of a 19th century transcription, this is the piece for you; I found it a disappointing use of this superb orchestra.

After the interval a more traditional work, Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery Rhymes of 1966 by Hiroshi Oguri. Maybe the melodic material is not very memorable, but I did not enjoy this as much as the same composer’s Fantasia on Osaka Folk Tunes played at previous WASBE Conferences. The middle section sounds rather lugubrious and Russian, and this breaks into a rather confused allegro, interrupted by pompous chord for brass and finally a terrific coda passage of great virtuosity. Did this do enough to save the piece? On reflection, I think it probably did.

This was a well constructed programme, with strong pieces by Nagahashi, Hoshina and Oguri giving us a birds-eye view of Japanese music of today, and ending with what I considered an especially strong piece, Mindscape for Wind Orchestra by the South Korean composer, Chang-Su Koh.  A misterioso opening on bowed percussion and marimba gives way to the tolling of bells, fanfare figurations for brass, an important brass chordal passage, and a very exciting fugato builds up until the whole orchestra erupts, finally dying away onto muted brass and a very touching section for the woodwind – the programme note speaks of love, atonement and salvation – think of the chromatic passage in the Wagner Trauermusik. This is followed by a long melody, unashamedly romantic, but for me good honest lyrical writing, traditional and full of sentiment but not sentimental, and played here with great finesse by the Osaka players……well perhaps a bit of sentimental writing creeps in, but I loved it, and for me the work stops too early, with the briefest of five bar codas.

Summing up, for me a superb demonstration of conducting, technical training and above all, musicianship in a programme which possibly needed more variety, but which gave us two good Japan pieces to  consider programming, and, also for me, an excellent work from South Korea which ticked all of my boxes and I would love to conduct. But what a conductor Toru Kitano is, superb language of gesture with not an inch of space wasted; no wonder that they play so well.