Oliver Waespi

The Wind Music Of Oliver Waespi

By Tim Reynish

Oliver Waespi

Born in 1971 in Zurich, Oliver Waespi studied composition and conducting at the Musikhochschule Zurich and pursued his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. His tutors included Simon Bainbridge, Gerald Bennett, Sylvia Caduff, Peter Maxwell Davies, Brian Elias, Klaus Huber, Andreas Nick and Alfred Reed. His music has been performed in many European countries, in Australia, China, Japan, Singapore and the USA and was featured at various festivals and in concert series such as the George Enescu Festival, the BBC "Hear and Now"-series, the Gulbenkian concert season, the Lucerne “Szenenwechsel” Festival, the Schweizerisches Tonkünstlerfest, MidEurope-Festivals or WASBE World Conferences

I have always found his music to be extremely well crafted, strong melodically, while his harmonic structures often have an originality and freedom absent in works by better-known colleagues. Back in my review of the superb WASBE Conference held in Luzern in 2001, I wrote:

Oliver Waespi's First Suite for Wind Orchestra flows attractively, little canons and fugatos give everyone an interesting time and while his harmonic style is conservative, he uses traditional methods with some flair and ingenuity, nothing new but very pleasant music...... Skies by Oliver Waespi, an effective programmatic piece

Skies is sadly not included in the WASBE recordings from the Conference, but there is a representative performance on YouTube by The Royal Windband of Horst,The Netherlands during the annual contest in 2005 in The Maaspoort, Venlo,The Netherlands. Conductor : Steven Walker.


I have listened to this work of nearly twenty minutes several times while preparing this paper, and I find it impressive; here is a relatively young composer with a formidable technique who writes a scherzo of tremendous power and excitement and yet has the confidence to end a twenty minute work with a lengthy quiet chorale passage.

Two other works are easily accessible on Youtube:

Divertimento by the Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides

Fanfare and Funk by the Ljubljana University Symphonic Winds conducted by Miguel Etchegoncelay

In my review of the WASBE Conference of 2009 in Cincinnati, I wrote of a repertoire session which included Berglicht:

A charming introduction from Peter Bucher told us something of the personality of the very important Swiss composer, Oliver Waespi, whose Berglicht was given a brilliant performance by the Philharmonic Winds OSAKAN. Brilliantly scored ostinati accompany fragments from the chorale Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern. The music calms into a pastorale with a long melody given to the cor anglais. In Killarney, WASBE 2007, I felt that Oliver's Temples was probably the most important new work played to us; Berglicht is a worthy successor.


My lecture in Killarney on premieres between 2005 and 2007 listed five works by OIiver and I wrote about his music as follows:

As usual many works were written in Europe for amateur performance and these included a fine Sinfonietta by Oliver Waespi. Waespi many will remember from works played in Lucerne and in Singapore . The work which I would like to introduce today is his Second Sinfonietta for Wind Band, premiered in June 2006 and strongly recommended by Christoph Müller. He has had a year further study in London, and I think has integrated a more advanced control of his technical language without losing the almost Straussian opulence of some of the earlier works. His new works are listed below, and Temples was certainly one of the great events of the conference.

Waespi, Oliver Sinfonietta no 2 christoph mueller chris@chrismusic.ch
Waespi, Oliver Il Cantico owaespi@bluewin.ch
Waespi, Oliver Moving Sculptures owaespi@bluewin.ch
Waespi, Oliver Temples owaespi@bluewin.ch
Waespi, Oliver Festive Impressions owaespi@bluewin.ch

There are a number of other works by Oliver which are in my CD collection. A fine Horn Concerto emerged in 2001, uncompromisingly difficult for the soloist, similar to the concerto by Dana Wilson written for the great Gail Williams, or the Concerto by Simon Wills written for the BASBWE Conservatoires Consortium but only, I think, played by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama so far. Suite Nr. 2 Shadowlands (1999) is cooler, four movements more conservative in idiom – Sarabande – Fuga Brevis – Air – Bourrée, three movements very restrained and an explosive finale. The Hebridean Rhapsody (2000, published by Ruh Music AG) is a folk medley in a traditional style. Toccata is a short opener, brilliant and effective, a great way to start a concert, while Canzun, played at the 2011 WASBE Conference disappointed me a little, seeming rather trite, written down for less advanced players.

Oliver’s most recent work is SONAR which premiered in Luzern on January 28th, 2012; this work was written in response to a commission from Perry Hoogendijk, solo tuba with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and has been recorded for a forthcoming CD of new works for solo tuba; The other pieces are writen by Kevin Houben (with Fanfare band), Paul Lovatt Cooper( Brass Band), Jaap Dijkhuizen(tuba euphonium duet) and Henk Meutgeert(Big Band), more information from Perry at perryhoogendijk@mac.com

Oliver Waespi writes:


Concerto for tuba and symphonic winds

The term „sonar“ means to sound an instrument“ in Italian, but also describes the technology that uses sound propagation in order to detect objects above or under water. Influenced by this imagery, I conceived the orchestral parts as some sort of sound environment which is being explored by the solo tuba in the course of the concerto. Large parts of the whole concerto are built upon the rhapsodic line of the soloist who develops a musical narrative throughout the piece. The solo line triggers several processes within the orchestra and is being reflected, harmonised, mirrored and accompanied by the orchestral instruments in multiple ways.

From a harmonic point of view, the piece is based on the simple, but very expressive central motive which Gustav Mahler entrusted to the orchestral tuba in his sixth symphony, consisting of the notes a – b –c – a. In my concerto, this motive is being treated simultaneously on an abstract and on an emotional level: It represents an abstract set of intervals, but also constitutes the emotional starting point of the dramatic narrative the tuba soloist is about to unfold. Furthermore, the motive finds itself explored from different stylistic perspectives and is thereby projected into the present time.

Formally, the concerto obeys to a four-part structure: It starts with a slow, yet feverish first section which already contains a short cadenza of the solo tuba. The ensuing second part requires an ever increasing virtuosity from the part of the soloist whilst the orchestra gradually builds up different forms of groove by expanding rhythmical patterns first exposed by the tuba. The third part is the only one to bear a subtitle, “Nocturne”. It contains dream-like features and widely spaced, lyrical lines by the solo tuba, as if the preceding and following music was mirrored in the black waters of a tarn at night.

Finally, in the last movement the soloist further develops the virtuosic gestures of the second part while driving the orchestra towards an exuberant ending. All sections are to be performed without interruption between each other.

The concerto „Sonar“ was written for the tuba soloist Perry Hoogendijk, solo tuba player in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, and was kindly supported by the Eduard van Beinum Foundation and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

Most of his music is published by Beriato

Beriato Music bvba
Montfortstraat 1
B-2550 Kontich

T: +32(0)3/888.49.89
F: +32(0)3/888.62.16

They have an excellent website with good notes on those works by Oliver that they carry.www.beriato.com



Six Rhaeto-Romanic folk songs from Graubünden, the largest canton of Switzerland, form the basis for this splendid piece by Oliver Waespi. The composer reproduces these melodies almost verbatim and works them into a rhapsody. This piece is ideal for a concert or competition and especially allows for in depth work on band sound.



This brilliant opening work with the sub-heading „Cinematographic Overture” is guaranteed to make a great impression on your audience. The piece starts with solemn brass-band motifs, followed by melodic movements in the quiet middle part that leads to a rich climax. At the end of this refreshing work, there is a reprise of the brass bands which reflects the spirit of this music very well. After all, this is the intention of this work which was written specially for the „Musikverein Henggart” to celebrate their 75th anniversary.


This work by Swiss composer Oliver Waespi was one of the highlights at the “Eidgenössische Musikfest 2006” in Lucerne. The piece opens with a festive fanfare featuring the brass section principally. The mood changes to a funk passage which develops modestly and grows into a James Brown-like groove. It also includes an ad libitum drum solo. Further to a slow blues which lends a calmer feel, the piece culminates with fanfare and funk styles interwoven leading to a striking combination! This work is highly recommended for concert programmes but is also a spectacular, unconventional choice for a competition.


2nd Sinfonietta was composed in 2005 for the “Musikgesellschaft Cham” and is made up of three parts, each flowing into the next. The themes presented in the first movement migrate through the work and return transformed at the end. Each part has its own colour and calls on a varied sound palette. This composition has been put together in an ingenious and thoughtful manner and is suitable for prestigious concerts or as choice piece for competitions.


Commissioned by the Stadtharmonie Zurich Oerlikon-Seebach for the 2005 WASBE Conference in Singapore available on recording by Mark Custom 6038 – MCD

STADTHARMONIE ZURICH OERLIKON-SEEBACH CARLO BALMELLI, CONDUCTOR Windspiele Overture, Pous 45/B. Mersson - Il Cantico, Poem to the Sun/O. Waespi - Solemnitas/F. Cesarini - March from Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber/P. Hindemith/arr. K. Wilson - Overture for Band, opus 24/F.M. Bartholdy/arr. H.W. Fred - Night on Bald Mountain/M. Mussorgsky/arr. W.A. Schaefer - Rumanian Dances/P. Dzon

Il Cantico was inspired by the poem “Cantico di Frate Sole” (Canticle of Brother Sun) by St. Francis of Assisi. In this famous mystic poem, St. Francis expresses his gratitude to God for the creation of nature, the sun, the earth and the living beings.

“Il Cantico” is based on specific parts of St. Francis’s poem. A slow, dreamlike song in the flute leads gradually to the appearance of the sun, the light energy of which is expressed by radiant, powerful music in the brass instruments. The next, slower part of the work is dedicated to the moon (sora luna), a sort of mirror of the sun, and to the stars (le stelle). The music becomes more thoughtful, leads to a calm sound field in the woodwinds and later to a mystic horn solo. Still during the slow part, several chord fragments flash up, thereby announcing the fast ultimate part of the work. This part is about the fire (frate focu) illuminating the night, some sort of representative of the sun on earth. Towards the end of the work, the sun theme is combined with the fire theme.

Besides these images, a purely musical structure guides the development of Il Cantico. Almost the entire piece evolves from a basic four-tone cell which appears in the horns and flute at the beginning. Consequently, the work is mainly monothematic and structured in the form of a metamorphosis. The basic cell gradually leads to a rich melodic and harmonic development. This basic material is later completed by a new chord series belonging to the fire theme. In the conclusion both approaches are combined.


This work is dedicated to Fritz Neukomm and was created at the Interlaken Festival in 2006 by the Schweizer Armee Spiel. The basic theme of this work is founded on a series of chords which are played in an archaic order. The variations that follow are not only musical variations of the theme, but also create a separate line that runs in parallel as a result of the choice of instruments. This piece is undoubtedly a real challenge for any ambitious orchestra and is extremely suitable for competitions and prestigious concerts.

The music of "Temples" evolved out of different sources of inspiration. The most impor-tant of them were four temples belonging to Angkor, a group of temple ruins in Cambo-dia. These temples represent several centuries of Khmer history, one of the most im-portant ancient cultures of South East Asia, and are characterised by both Buddhist and Hindu influences. Furthermore, four biblical text fragments from the Book of Eccle-siastes, chapter 3, became more and more important during the composition process. Hence, each of the four episodes of the work is related to a biblical text and an Angkor temple.

Besides this architectural and spiritual imagery, a purely musical structure underlies the whole piece, namely a sequence of intervals which has an architectural analogy in the height proportions of the main towers of Angkor Wat. My aim was to combine an ab-stract fabric of musical relationships with the sensual and emotional impact these tem-ples and their history made on me while visiting them.


"… there is a time to be born and a time to die..."

The music at the beginning is inspired by the old temple "Phnom Bakheng“ erected in the 9th century A.D., also referred to as "first Angkor". It is conceived as a temple-mountain, corresponding to the mythical mountain "Meru", home of the Gods according to Hindu belief. The music describes the awakening of life, the variety of living beings, the birth of human civilisation. Low, seemingly undefined chords form the soil out of which long melodic lines begin to emerge. After a gradual increase in speed, a transi-tion leads to a lively episode characterised by bright colours and flourish-like gestures. Later on, the music becomes overshadowed by darker colours, as if the sun was dis-appearing.


"... a time for war and a time for peace..."

Mysterious chords build up the scene for the entry of the trumpets and trombones, placed off-stage near the audience and playing menacing signals with increasing inten-sity. This dramatic episode depicts the war, a consequence of the diversity between different people and cultures. The temple "Bayon" with its rugged skyline, an architec-tural masterpiece dating from Angkor's flowering period, contains many war descrip-tions on sandstone reliefs, leaving no doubts that the Khmer civilisation, like many oth-ers, was built upon a great deal of warfare.


"... a time to mourn and a time to dance..."

A sequence of huge chords marks the entry into the temple "Preah Khan", the "Sacred Sword". This temple, mysterious and partly overgrown by virgin forest, was erected as a sanctuary in the 12th century A.D. on a battlefield. After the dramatic conflict of the second episode, a dirge follows, some kind of procession. This ritual has a mournful nature at first, but becomes more and more hopeful after a sudden shift of tonality and a calm, solemn statement of the tenor horns. Later on, reminiscences of the first epi-sode appear and lead to an increasingly joyful music.


"... a time to tear down and a time to build ..."

It is now, after both an outward and an inward conflict, that the re-building of something new becomes possible. This renewal is symbolised by the fascinating central temple "Angkor Wat" with its accomplished architecture. The motivic material of earlier episodes finds itself transformed and reappears in broad and luminous sound fields which bring the work to a close.

Available on Mark Custom Recordings 7724-MCD

MAJOR PHILIPP WAGNER, CONDUCTOR, JAN COBER, GUEST CONDUCTOR Marsch Inf Rgt 33/P. Huber - March Winds/D. Bourgeouis - Big Jig/T. Besançon - Dionysiaques, Op. 62 Durand et Cie/F. Schmitt - Temples/O. Waespi - Manhattan Symphony/ed. S. Lancen - IV. Broadway from Manhattan Symphony - V. Rockefeller Building from Manhattan Symphony - “Air Nostalgique”/H. van Lijnschooten - I. Allegro grazioso from Entornos/A. Blanquer