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Brett Abigana

The Wind Music Of Brett Abigana

By Tim Reynish

The Wind Music Of Brett Abigana

By Tim Reynish

Revised June 2016.

For school bands, there are very few wind band pieces which I feel I can describe as beautiful and which I immediately want to conduct, but one which I discovered recently was DOWN THE LONELY PATH by Brett Abigana. I should not have been surprised, as every work I know by Brett has interested and entertained me, but this is a gem. With echoes of Glenn Miller, Copland and Vaughan Williams and an overall aesthetic of hints of Bluegrass, I am delighted to have discovered this, and this link will take you to his main publisher, World-Projects and a performance.

One of the most entertaining works at the 2009 WASBE Conference was PETITEOVERTURE by Brett Abigana, played by Logan High School Wind Symphony conducted by Ramiro Barrera. I wrote:

There are two works from this opening concert on Sunday which I would like particularly to hear again. The first was Petit Overture by a member of the theory staff at New England Conservatory, Juilliard and Boston trained Brett Abigana, an energetic and engaging all-too-brief three minutes. If you enjoy Ticheli's Blue Shades you will probably enjoy this, and I am intrigued to know what his other works are like, Soliloquy for Band written for the Pioneer HS Wind Ensemble, Miserere for large symphonic band, chorus and narrator written for California State University and Suite Fantastique. Its time to commission some more music from Brett Abigana.

After Conference, Brett got in touch, let me know about his other works for wind, and recently sent a couple of CDs of wind orchestra and wind chamber ensemble works. His is a very personal voice with a natural feel for the wind ensemble and choir, and his work so far should be far better known and more widely performed.

Petite Overture is a bright, breezy, short opening number of tremendous energy, immediately captivating. It is based on the fourth movement of his String Quartet Une Grande Messe;the words for this movement are Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth, and in its all too-short three minutes, it captures the joyous abandon of a dance of religious extasy.

The first of three superb works written for the United States Naval Academy Band and its conductor Brian Walden, CHORALE AND BLASPHEME is a pair of contrasting movements, the first an almost impressionistic development of an opening three note phrase, the second Abigana describes as an exploration of a violent and explosive motive that attempts to expand the conventionally accepted ranges and capabilities associated with the wind ensemble.

In his oeuvre there are two works entitled Sketches on Paintings. The first is for Wind Quintet, and the impressionistic writing at the start of the second is so spare in its textures that I wondered at first whether I was listening to a wind quintet again. But no, Abigana unlike so many American colleagues, uses the full range of wind ensemble coloring, from a couple of solo instruments to the glorious full orchestra. This work is superb, a worthy complement for that other great wind ensemble work inspired by painting, Karel Husa's Les Couleurs Fauves.

Abigana's programme notes deftly catch the mood of each movement.

The first movement, Claude Monet - Water Lilies, is an exploration of sonorites through the ensemble reminiscent of the famous triptych first viewed by the composer at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. Edgar Degas - L'Étoile is a whimsical, dream-like waltz to which ghostly ballerinas in the painting may be dancing. Jackson Pollock - Lavender Mist is a quasi-minimalist piece written specifically to follow the erratic yet graceful movement of the painter as he created his works, as seen in numerous videos of his process. Joseph Turner - Norham Castle: Sunrise is a seemingly un-moving contrapuntal fantasy on a simple tapestry of chords meant to evoke the suspension of time and misty lack of clear definition in the painting.

Sketches on Paintings No 2

Misere is an ambitious and superbly successful twenty-eight minute choral work of great power, combining three opposing forces to communicate its message: the chorus which is dedicated to the words and some direct quotes from Allegri's setting of Miserere, the narrator which takes us through Whitman's disturbing and bloody environment, (from his poem The Wound Dresser... a depiction of his time spent as a volunteer in the Military hospitals in Baltimore and Brooklyn during the height of the American Civil War) and the wind ensemble which offers commentary and clarification to each while tying all components together.

It is a powerful indictment of war, but at the end of his programme note, Abigana writes: It must be said that while this piece is somewhat direct in its message, this is in no way a statement of mistrust or lack of support for our troops stationed aboad. Perhaps Lt. Gen Harold Moore said it best "Hate war, but love the American warrior".

I found the piece quite compulsive, the end one of the most moving passages in the repertoire. Anyone wanting to essay a shorter work by this composer with voices would be well advised to look at Omnes Gentes, written on commission from the United States Naval Academy, a nine minute work with chorus, organ and antiphonal trumpets, on a text from Psalm 47, also set by Giovanni Gabrieli. Asked to fill the space of the newly restored Naval Academy Chapel, the inspiration of Gabrieli is clear, the result thrilling. It is good to know that the US Naval Academy has invited the composer to expand this into a 40 minute symphony.

The Masque of the Red Death, was commissioned by the Woodland High School Wind Ensemble and premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2010. It is an 8 minute tone poem, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe, of a masquerade ball repeatedly interrupted by ominous bells which lead to the appearance of an apparition dressed as the Red Death, a fatal epidemic which has ravaged the countryside. The piece presents as a slightly misguided waltz which can never really reach its zenith and is constantly interrupted by strange and disturbing sounds.

The electronics in this piece are sampled from various sounds and words recorded by the ensemble for whom the work was written, and subsequently manipulated, affected and distorted by the composer. The works is written for a stereo mix but can be adapted for 5.1 surround sound as well.

To listen to a recording by the Summer Music at Stanislaus Concert Band go to World-Projects THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

Many of Brett Abigana’s works are now published by


Suite Fantasque

(Symphonic Band)


(Large Symphonic Band, Chorus and Narrator) - Commissioned by California State University Stanislaus Wind Ensemble and Choirs, Stuart Sims and Daniel Afonso, cond. Premiered May 15th, 2008.

Soliloquy for Band

Commissioned by the Pioneer High School Wind Ensemble, Bobby Rogers, cond. Premiered in Spring, 2007.

Chorale and Blaspheme

Commissioned by the United States Naval Academy Band, LCDR Brian O. Walden, cond. Premiered February 26th, 2009 at Mischer Hall, Annapolis, MD.

Sketches on Paintings no. 2

Commissioned by the United States Naval Academy Band, LCDR Brian O. Walden, cond. Premiered February 26th, 2009 at Mischer Hall, Annapolis, MD.

Petite Overture

Commissioned by the Logan High School Wind Symphony . Ramiro Barrera cond.. Premiered at WASBE Conference, Cincinnati, July 2009.

Omnes Gentes (Symphonic Band, Antiphonal Trumpets, Chorus and Organ)

Commissioned by the United States Naval Academy Band, LCDR Brian O. Walden, cond. to commemorate the restoration and reopening of the Naval Academy Chapel. Premiered October 21st, 2009 at the US Naval Academy Chapel, Annapolis, MD.

The Masque of the Red Death

(with electronics) Commissioned by Woodland High School Wind Ensemble and premiered at Carnegie Hall, 2010.

Down the Lonely Path

Premiered at Carnegie Hall by Vista High School, Director Ralph Ewell, 23rd April 2014, 5 minutes duration

Published by World Projects

Down the Lonely Path is a piece which continues the trend in my recent work of exploring the bluegrass aesthetic and its influence on concert music.Of course, many composers have been fascinated with the extended harmonies, complicated rhythms. and overall aesthetic of jazz,for the past hundred-odd years, but comparatively little attention has been given to that other uniquely American art form of Bluegrass. While bluegrass can certainly claim ancestry from many cultures and non-American aesthetics, I believe the resultant mix of styles is very American and should be explored and exploited in concert music. Down the Lonely Path draws upon the simplicity and beauty of a bluegrass waltz, but frames it in a more extendedharmonic framework, with nods to jazz (Glen Miller in particular), Copland and Vaughan Williams.

The piece begins with a layered waltz rhythm behind a soaring alto saxophone solo which develops constantly throughout the piece. At the climax of the piece is a not-so-veiled quote of Waltzing Matilda, which seemed to me at the time to be the natural result of the preceding melodic development. The work ends peacefully with that same saxophone solo, winding slowly down as it runs out of energy.


World premiere Wasbe Youth Wind Orchestra, July 18, 2015

Published by

On the World Projects website there is a fine performance by the Murray State Wind Ensemble, conducted by Dennis Johnson.

The composer writes:

This piece is based on Dante’s epic poem La Commedia, with each of the three movements corresponding to one canticle; as such, a basic knowledge of Dante’s work will no doubt prove most useful in approaching this piece. Rather than invent my own vision of hell, purgatory and paradise, this piece attempts to musically represent Dante’s vision in three separate ways. The first movement directly represents, or in some cases, commits, the sins associated with each of the nine levels of hell. The second movement is meant to be the hymn sung by the faithful as they travel up the mountain towards redemption. The third movement is a musical depiction of the journey through paradise, culminating in meeting the divine. The composers’ names in the score and parts towards the end of the movement correspond to the latter part of Dante’s journey, when he sees the saints on either side of him: I thought it appropriate to imagine which compositional saints I might see if I were in Dante’s shoes.

Widow’s Walk

Commissioned by Simon Tillier and the Morris University Wind Ensemble, performance to be arranged in 2016.

The composer writes:

Widow’s Walk is for semi-wordless mezzo-soprano and wind band. While there is text, it is spoken and not sung, whereas the sung parts (which comprise the majority of the vocal part) will be on whatever vowel the vocalist prefers, in the style of a vocalise. The spoken text is taken from the BBC Shipping Forecast. Simon introduced me to this when we first discussed a new work, and I, like he, found the broadcast to be quite calming, hypnotic, and even strangely beautiful, despite its seemingly mundane content. That, combined with the image of a widow’s walk (a platform on top of one’s house, common on the New England coast, from which an anxious wife might scan the horizon for her husband’s returning ship), gave rise to this piece. The piece will be a kind of monodrama, similar to Schoenberg’s Erwartung in dramatic scope, which explore’s the psychological state of a wife awaiting her husband’s return, but seen through the lens of the shipping forecast. As the forecast changes, so does her mood, so that once she reads the latest forecast, the music changes accordingly. There will be numerous quotes from various maritime sources, including Ronald Binge’s Sailing By, the piece that preceded the BBC Forecast on the radio. We’re not sure if the poor woman has any closure or resolution at the end of the piece: we’re thinking that perhaps the piece should end with the forecast announcing a significant storm of some sort, leaving her mood unresolved and her husband’s fate unknown.