Brett Abigana

The Wind Music Of Brett Abigana

By Tim Reynish

One of the most entertaining works at the 2009 WASBE Conference was Petite Overture 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 throiugh 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 ceated 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 asnd some direct quotes from Allegri's setting of Miserere, the narrator which takes us through Whitmam'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 ensemeble 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.

His most recent work, 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 depress control and left click on the following link:

The Masque of the Red Death


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.