Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Touching Lives for Fifty Years

The Bettendorf Park Band in warmer times.
Our country has always been a nation of immigrants. From the earliest settlers to those seeking a better life, all have contributed to this great melting pot of humanity. And all have brought to this land the cultural wealth that has enriched us all. This is what the Bettendorf Park Band will celebrate in its 50th Anniversary Season Opening Concert, Friday, November 3.

Many Italian-Americans came to Iowa to work in the coal mines and settled in southern parts of the state. The Societa Stemma D’Italia, Mutuo Soccorso (Mutual Assistance), established in 1898, included in its articles of incorporation, “The particular and principal objects of the said Society are for the benevolent and charitable purposes to aid and secure the members in case of need and practice benevolent and charity work to all.” The organization exists to this day as Des Moines's Society of Italian Americans. Our tribute to these pioneers is Eduardo Boccalari's Il Bersagliere, the "Italian Riflemen."

Danza Espagnola, by Rosario Carcione pays homage to the large Hispanic communities in the nation and in Iowa. Immigrants from Central and South America have brought their own unique heritage and ethic to make this land a better place. Currently, two men of Hispanic roots serve on the City Council of Dubuque.

Inside St. Wenceslaus Church
Spillville, Iowa
Among the most well known of Iowa's immigrant populations are the Bohemians. Early Czech immigrants to Iowa settled in farming communities, most notably at Spillville in the northeast corner of the state. In 1893 the famous Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, who was living in New York City, spent a summer in Spillville where he was able to work on his music surrounded by his fellow Czechs. A large community would spring forth in Cedar Rapids, now the home of the National Czech and Slovak Museum. Albert Oliver Davis's Bohemian Scene, is a brief three-movement setting of folk pieces, including on reminiscent of the dance music of Dvorak.

Nordic Fest, Decorah
(Is that really a marching orchestra?)

Decorah is renowned as Iowa's center of Norwegian heritage. Luther College, an institution of Norwegian-American descent, is among the highly regarded colleges in the country. The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum is the national Norwegian-American museum and heritage center, with over 24,000 artifacts, 12 historic buildings, a Folk Art School, and a library and archives. Arlin Snesrud's Norwegian Folk Rhapsody uses six folk songs and dance tunes to create a delightful panoply of the sights and sounds of Scandinavia.

Warren Barker' Ireland is a "true Irish medley" with arrangements of "Saint Patrick's Day," "Donnybrook," "The Irish Washerwoman," "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," and "The Kerry Dance."

Other stops on our musical tour and tribute include:

  • March Suite Britannia by John Cacavas, a stirring martial suite (Great Britain.)
  • John Tatgenhorst's arrangement of Scottish folk songs, Gary Owen and Scotland, the Brave.


  • A three-movement suite entitled Bartok for Band (Hungary.)


  • The finale from Hector Berlioz's monumental symphony for band, the Marche Triomphale (France.)


  • Rimsky-Korsakov's stirring Coronation Scene from "Ivan the Terrible" (Russia.)


  • A return "home" with a march by euphonium virtuoso Russell Alexander, From Tropic to Tropic. (Nearly all of Alexander's compositions are published by Iowa's own C. L. Barnhouse Co., in Oskaloosa.)

The concert takes place at the Herbert T. Goettsch Community Center, 2204 Grant Street in Bettendorf. THIS FRIDAY, November 3 at 7:30 PM. Admission is free. Come and enjoy.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A NEW SEASON BEGINS

"Jolly Good!"
The Quad City Wind Ensemble commences a new season with "British Band Classics," October 22, at 3:00 PM at St. Ambrose University's Galvin Fine Arts Center.

The cornerstone of the modern band repertoire was laid by visionary British composers such as Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gordon Jacob, and others. These men adapted the British brass band tradition to create a new medium: the "military band," which incorporated woodwinds. These composers and their landmark works remain among the most significant works for the contemporary symphonic bands and wind ensembles.



Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) is known to audiences for some of his lighter works, including A Grand Grand Overture(featuring three vacuum cleaners and a floor polisher) and recently performed by the QCWE. Peterloo Overture departs significantly from that norm and is a highly dramatic depiction of an 1819 event. A crowd of some 8000 people met to hear a speech on political reform. The gathering was broken up by armed forces--including the cavalry--and resulted in eleven deaths and 400 injuries. Arnold wrote, "This overture attempts to portray these happenings musically, but after a lament for the killed and injured, it ends in triumph, in the firm belief that all those who have suffered and died in the cause of unity amongst mankind will not have done so in vain."







Along with his original band works, symphonies, and other compositions, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) served as musical editor of the most important book of Anglican church music, the 1906 English Hymnal. Many of the tunes he collected and harmonized served as the impetus for other compositions, such as the three organ preludes of 1920. Based on Welsh hymn tunes, the best-known of these is probably Rhosymedre. The melody is simple, made up almost solely of scale tones, yet Vaughan Williams constructed a piece of grand proportion, with a broad arc that soars with the gradual rise of the tune itself. Walter Beeler arranged the lovely prelude for concert band in 1972, marking the composer's centenary.




Gordon Jacob's (1895-1984) magnum opus was undoubtedly the William Byrd Suite, composed originally for orchestra. The band edition, now a classic, came about on the recommendation of Adrian Boult, as part of the music for an exhibition and promotion of British national art and spirit. At this same time, Jacob, still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, composed the Original Suite, the title given by the publisher Boosey and Hawkes. Jacob said of that decision, "At that time very little original music was being written for what was then 'military band,' so the title was a way of distinguishing that it was an original work rather than an arrangement--not that the music was original in itself. It was an unfortunate title, I know." The entire piece emulates the folk tunes in wide use by other band composers. With two brisk outer movements, the dramatic climax is found within the Intermezzo, a beautiful tune ushered in by a solo alto saxophone with increasing chromaticism and even implied Impressionistic references. 



While the First Suite by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is based entirely on original material, the Second Suite in F is an arrangement of folk songs and morris dances. A very British style March leads to an instrumental version of one of the composer's choral works, the "Song without Words." Complete with an anvil, the "Song of the Blacksmith," is particularly evocative, while the "Fantasia on the Dargason," combines the main theme with "Greensleeves" in several variations and concluding with a duet for piccolo and tuba! Colin Matthews 1984 edition aims to return more closely to Holst's original scoring, and that is how we will offer it, only a bit larger than the minimum complement of 23 players. It's a whole different sound of this well-known work. I think the audience will love it.



A composer born in the British empire, who spent a significant amount of time in the Isles, and eventually settled in the United States, Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961) remains among the great "characters" in music history. Himself a collector of folk tunes, he also dabbled in the creation of early electronic instruments, while championing the sarrusophone and an extensive use of large numbers of percussion instruments. Although Grainger wrote for a wide array of ensembles, the wind band claims him as its own (for we continue to play his music!)

Grainger (center) with his saxophone

Grainger wished that he had never written Country Gardens, a light piece of froth that sent audiences clamoring at every one of his concerts. It remained in constant demand as an encore wherever he went. In the 1950s, Leopold Stokowski came to Grainger with a proposition to re-arrange much of his music for a unique recording project. The 1953 version of Gardens is a radical departure from the original. Contained within are at least two "mistakes" in the harmony, the first of Grainger's jokes. Later, one can hear the trombones sticking out their tongues at the bourgeois audiences who refused to adopt any of his other works. It's all good fun. We'll try to get Stokowski's wind tempo!

Colonial Songcomposed as a Yule-gift for his mother, "Mumsie," in 1911, remains among the most beautiful pieces in the band's repertoire. Grainger himself wrote, "In this piece, the composer has wished to express feelings aroused by thoughts of the scenery and people of his native land, Australia."

"Gum-sucker" is an Australian nick-name for Australians form in Victoria, the home state of the composer. The eucalyptus trees that abound in Victoria are called "gums," and the young shoots at the bottom of the trunk are called "suckers"; so "gum-sucker" came to mean a young native son of Victoria, just as Ohioans are nick-named "Buck-eyes." In the march, Grainger has used his own "Australian Up-Country-Song melody, written by him to typify Australia, which melody he also employed in his "Colonial Song." Gum-suckers March is the final movement of the suite, "In a Nutshell," but has become a stand-alone favorite.

A concert full of favorites. Who could possibly want to miss it?

Friday, July 28, 2017

HUEY 7: WCF Symphony

WCF Symphony: Unmissable Music
Office: Gallagher-Bluedorn PAC #17, Cedar Falls, IA 50614
https://wcfsymphony.org
Performance Site: Great Hall, Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, Cedar Falls
Artistic Director/Conductor: Jason Weinberger (15 seasons)

The Great Hall, Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, Cedar Falls

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony has a long history serving the cultural community of the Cedar Valley. Initially performing in Waterloo high school auditoria, in 2000 the ensemble most to the stunning Gallagher Bluedorn PAC on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. All has not always been smooth sailing in the "captain's seat" Following the departure of 17-year veteran Joseph Giunta (1974-92), the orchestra had four conductors in the ensuing ten years, with some tenures lasting months instead of years. With the arrival of Mr. Weinberger in 2002, WCF has become a leader in innovative programming. The orchestra's "history page" notes that "we are also uniquely devoted to living American music – nearly a third of our repertoire over the past 10 years has consisted of new or recent music from Iowa and across the country."

No one could ever accuse WCF of the Overture-Concerto-Symphony format in its concert program; each seems to intentionally deviate from the tried and not-so-true. There is one "traditional" piece on its season opener (Appalachian Spring) as well as a piece so deserving of more performances, The White Peacock by the American impressionist, Charles Tomlinson Griffes.

The performances I have always appreciated the most have been the actual chamber concerts at Waterloo's Brown Derby Ballroom. These are user-friendly, briefer than a typical full symphony concert (hence, two concerts in one day), and performed in the round in a more intimate space. This year's offerings include:

Serenades (November)
  • W. A. Mozart – Overture, Abduction from the Seraglio (Harmoniemusik)
  • Franz Schubert – Minuet and Finale
  • Franz Krommer – Partita in F major
  • Ludwig van Beethoven – Rondino in E-flat
  • W. A. Mozart – Serenade no. 11 in E-flat (I only wish they were performing the C-minor serenade. What a piece!)
Concertos (February)
  • J. S. Bach – D major Harpsichord Concerto with Jason Weinberger
  • Johann Friedrich Fasch – Chalumeau Concerto with Daniel Friberg
  • C. P. E. Bach – A minor Cello Concerto with Isaac Pastor-Chermak
  • George Frideric Handel – Concerto Grosso Op. 3 no. 4

The Brown Derby Ballroom, Waterloo
Another item of particular interest (for me, at least) is

The Hungarian Project, with Anima Musicae and violinist László G. Horváth. (May)
  • Johannes Brahms – Hungarian Dances 1,3 & 10
  • Béla Bartók – Divertimento
  • Béla Bartók – Rhapsody no. 1 with László G. Horváth
  • Zoltán Kodály – Dances of Galanta
Anima Musicae (the soul of music) defines its mission to create a musical workshop where European quality sound, carrying on the noble traditions of the Hungarian musical culture, and respect for the value-creating examples of great predecessors are essential requirements along with their determination for constant self-renewal. Their repertoire, embracing the significant periods of classical music, ranges from baroque, through 20th-century masterpieces to contemporary music. They regularly perform pieces composed by Hungarian composers especially for them.

“It’s a really cool project....Laszlo will come and lead the group in two works by Bartok. I’ll conduct, and he’ll be concertmaster, which is not a typical guest artist role. I think the audience, orchestra, and musicians are going to have an unforgettable experience,” Weinberger says.

WCF has also made youth education a significant part of its mission. Rather than simply sponsoring a tuition-driven youth ensemble program, its offerings include

YOUTH CONCERTS, which inspire 4,000 4th-6th graders each April and serve schools from an 8-county radius. These free concerts at the Gallagher-Bluedorn feature the full orchestra in creative and interactive programs. Local educators work with wcfsymphony to create materials that help teachers integrate the concert experience into their classroom curriculum.
LOLLIPOP CONCERTS are free Saturday morning performances that have delighted children and their families for over 30 years. This season’s series will feature the three unique, engaging performances listed below. Our legendary – and often gleefully loud – Instrument Petting Zoo is available for musical fun immediately after each concert.

One thing can always be said of WCF seasons: they are never bland.











Thursday, July 27, 2017

HUEY 6: Quad City Symphony

QUAD CITY SYMPHONY "Musical Postcards."
Office: 327 Brady Street, Davenport, IA 52801
https://qcso.org
Performance Sites: Adler Theater (Davenport), Centennial Hall (Rock Island)
Conductor: Mark Russell Smith (9 seasons)

Adler Theater, Davenport (capacity 2400)

Centennial Hall, Augustana College, Rock Island (capacity 1600)
It must be a twist of irony that I happened to see mention of the "Tri-City Symphony" while reading a biography of conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos. He was a close friend of James Dixon, who had been appointed conductor of that ensemble in the 1950s. Mitropoulos himself came to Davenport to usher in his friend's new position, one that would also include a post as Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Iowa. Dixon was still leading the orchestra when I relocated to the Quad Cities in 1987, and his performances of Mahler remain the stuff of legend.

That said, the orchestra went through a difficult time following Dixon's retirement with successive conductors not appealing to either the public or the personnel. Things have obviously turned around since the arrival of Mr. Smith in 2008. Smith needs to be commended for the commissioning project during the orchestra's 100th anniversary season as well as his participation in the Benjamin Britten War Requiem project a few years ago. These are endeavors worthy of the orchestra and its patrons.

It should be noted that Smith also serves as Artistic Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Minnesota as well as Artistic Director of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies. Each of these would be a full time job in itself. I've always wondered, with so many conductors wearing different hats, does one--over time--not fit so well anymore. This is not meant to suggest anything more than what I've written. I just wonder...

The upcoming season, "Musical Postcards" offers a few programs with a diverse repertoire, while others either fall into the now established "pattern" or come off as a smattering of tunes tossed together in an odd-tasting musical salad.

Some of the oddities include:

Postcards from the Wild West:
  • John Williams: The Cowboys Overture (actually one of the famed composer's best)
  • David Ludwig: Violin Concerto
  • Jacob Bancks: Into the Wild   ????????
  • Copland: Billy the Kid Suite
And then there is the Postcards from Venice concert: the Arban Carnival of Venice (I have yet to find the tie to the city), a Vivaldi concerto, Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite (huh?) a couple of Rossini overtures (one wasn't enough?) and more. 

The Postcards from Russia should read "Postcards from Tchaikovsky" as all of the compositions were written by good old Pete.

The now-expected pops concerts include the annual "Riverfront Pops" (Beatles Greatest Hits), "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (with the film), and "QCSO: A Space Odyssey. 

The season closes with a gala performance, "An Evening with Joshua Bell." 

So, two works by living composers, five from the twentieth century (all dead) and lots of old favorites. I may try out a Sunday concert to hear the Ludwig concerto since I'm usually in the QCs rehearsing with the Wind Ensemble. The rest? When I was 18, I managed through a Tchaikovsky marathon at Meadowbrook, former summer home of the Detroit Symphony. I think I have that out of my system.

The QCSO does have a lively history in its bank. My only hope is that Smith and Company don't rest on their laurels.

And in the "I wish" category, there is another--truly lovely theater in Davenport that I wish was used for concerts:

Davenport's Capitol Theatre: an unused gem






Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Huey 5: Orchestra Iowa

ORCHESTRA IOWA: "Outstanding" (they'd better be!)
Office: 119 Third Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
http://www.artsiowa.com/orchestra/
Performance Sites: Paramount Theater (Cedar Rapids), Coralville Center for the Arts, Brucemore Mansion Lawn (Cedar Rapids), West High School (Iowa City), Independence (IA) High School, Voxman Concert Hall (University of Iowa), Opus Concert Cafe (Cedar Rapids), Old Capitol Senate Chamber (Iowa City).
Conductor: Timothy Hankewich (11 seasons)

Concert night at the renovated Paramount Theater.

Old Capitol Building, Iowa City
Since the 500-year flood of Cedar Rapids in 2008, an act of nature that reeked untold damage to that city as well as the arts complex at the University of Iowa. Built within a flood plain near the Iowa River, flooding leashed its wrath on the music facilities and the university's main concert site, Hancher Auditorium. Both were finally replaced eight years after the onslaught. In Cedar Rapids, the beautiful Paramount Theater was filled with water, damaging the auditorium itself, anything stored in the lower level dressing rooms and basically destroying the theater's "Mighty Wurlitzer" organ.

Downtown Cedar Rapids, Summer 2008

The remains of the Mighty Wurlitzer













Finding itself homeless for an extended period of time, the (then) Cedar Rapids Symphony embarked on a nomadic journey. Without a home in Cedar Rapids, the orchestra set out to refine itself and expand its outreach beyond the environs of the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor. The result was a reimagined ensemble: Orchestra Iowa. Personally, I thought the name was presumptuous; this wasn't "my" orchestra; why make the not-so-subtle claim that it was "Iowa's" orchestra. In all honesty, I may be coming around.

The concert programs of Orchestra Iowa are a mixed bag; some follow the "formula," while others deviate significantly. What is of particular interest to me are those that include lesser known works such as:
  • Alberto Ginastera: Variaciones Concertantes (Having written a dissertation on the piece, I'll admit my bias. Still, this piece needs to be played much more.)
  • Jean Sibelius: A symphony? Nope; Swan of Tuonela.
  • William Bolcom: Orphee Serenade
  • And yes, a bit of silliness: Dmitri Shostakovich: Tahiti Trot
A number of "traditional" concertos appear (Shostakovich: Cello Concerto 1, Mozart: Piano Concerto 21, Rachmaninoff: Paganini Rhapsody.) The orchestra is presenting the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, but they've brought in Emmanuel Ax as the soloist; this concert is in April and is well worth the trip.

The concert season ends in June with the monumental Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler, a major undertaking for any ensemble. But that's not all, Orchestra Iowa also presents opera (Turandot, with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theater) and ballet (Alice in Wonderland, with the Quad City Ballet.) Orchestra Iowa jumps on the pops bandwagon but offers a live performance--with the film--of the classic Casablanca.

But again, that's not all. There is also a chamber series, presented at the Opus Cafe and other sites. With each program centering around different repertoire and instrumental combinations, these excursions into true "chamber" music promise an authentic experience of this genre.

I probably sound like I'm gushing, and I suppose I am. Orchestra Iowa has become the major player in classical music in this part of the Midwest. While I am a fan of the Chicago Symphony, there are plenty of reasons to skip the drive, the traffic, the hotels, and simply stay close to home.



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

HUEY 4: Madison Symphony

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA "Listen With All Your Heart" (Seriously?)
Office: 222 W. Washington Ave. Suite 460 Madison WI 53703
Performance Venue: Overture Center for the Arts (capacity 2255)
Conductor: John de Main (24th season)


Madison is very proud of its shining new hall, built totally with private funds. The concert hall contains a magnificent Klais concert organ. In fact, the organ took nearly three years to design and build. Including its unique movable chamber, the instrument weighs in at 174 tons and is believed to be the heaviest movable object in any theater in the world.

The orchestra obviously has a wealth of financial support; soloists for the current season include Gil Shaham, Sharon Isbin, Olga Kern, and Christopher O'Riley, among others. Orchestra personnel includes faculty and students from the Mead-Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, putting into place all the parts for an orchestra of unmatched quantity and quality. In the state's liberal bastion, one would expect that audiences would expect concert programs far beyond the standards of the repertory.

And yet, that's not what is happening. Here are a couple of examples:
  • Prokofiev: Love for Three Oranges Suite
  • Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
  • Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 3 (who plays that?)
Well, they're all Russian, but it's O - C - S
OR
  • Ravel: Mother Goose Suite (this gets trotted out often, but I've heard the MSO play it better under a guest conductor.)
  • Barber: Piano Concerto
  • Dvorak: Symphony No. 9, From the New World (It's easy to offer a perfunctory reading of this old war horse. Among the most revelatory (to me) was David Becker's effort with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
And again: O - C - S

The rest is same-old, same old. Throw in the Rodrigo Concierto as well as the Three-Cornered Hat Suite (those must be popular this year) and look at symphonies by Mendelssohn (5), Brahms (1), and Schumann (1), and things aren't really that thrilling. At least the soloists are of the highest caliber.

John DeMain is, of course, a conductor with many gifts and talents, but sometimes he has appeared to be ill-prepared for the task at hand. Most in the orchestra and many in the music community know that Mr. DeMain longs to conduct opera more than anything else. I understand that he is an entirely different conductor in the pit. It's a difficult task, trying to transfer one's energies and skills between symphonic and operatic work.

Madison audiences deserve that kind of (operatic) effort in the concert hall, and the orchestra needs to define a plan to attract an audience beyond its subscription base.


Monday, July 24, 2017

HUEY 3: Dubuque Symphony

DUBUQUE SYMPHONY "Be Moved" (Ugh...)
Office: 2728 Asbury Road, Suite 900, Dubuque, IA 52001-2970
http://www.dubuquesymphony.org
Performance Site: Five Flags Theater (capacity c.700)
Conductor: William Intriligator (18th season)

Five Flags Theater interior

I have to admit more than a bit of bias against the Dubuque Symphony. One year after receiving a particularly glowing performance review (I served as Conductor of the Youth Symphony and Assistant Conductor of the DSO), I was released from employment. There was truly no reason given, although it was well known that I did have artistic differences with the newly-appointed conductor, Mr. Intriligator. Since my musical ability and integrity had never been questioned, it must have been something else.

Highlights:  Dubuque is offering two premieres this season, both commissioned by the orchestra. One features a trumpet concerto by Dubuque-native Michael Gilbertson, and the other is a purely orchestral work, Where Eagles Fly, by Ohio composer Rocky Reuter. The DSO is mounting a full-scale production of Bernstein's West Side Story to close the season in April. From the DSO season brochure: The DSO breaks new ground by presenting its first staged musical, West Side Story, in honor of the centennial of composer Leonard Bernstein in 2018. Partnering with the Heartland Ballet, and with a cast of professionals who grew up in Dubuque and Tri-States, this will be a not-to-be-missed event!

One caveat: It had better be good. WSS has been staged by more than one area theater organization/school in the past few years. OK, another caveat: Can this "big" show be pulled off on a (very) small stage.

The programming for the remainder of the "classical" series comes off to me as a little slapdash. For example:
  • Manuel de Falla: Three-Cornered Hat Ballet Suite No. 1
  • Jean Sibelius: Finlandia with the Youth Orchestra (back in 2000, the same group performed it on four tour performances--all by itself.)
  • Michael Gilbertson: Trumpet Concerto
  • Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Two Violins RV 522
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (billed as Intriligator's "signature symphony")
The DSO appears to have, like Faust, sold its soul to the devil. For each of the five classic concerts, there are an equal number of pops concerts, including two separate performances ("Ultimate Rock Hits" and "Ultimate Country Hits") held at a casino venue. Other pops concerts include the annual Holiday Concerts (formerly including lighter classics, now no more), a spring family show, and an outdoor concert at the Arboretum, "Summer Melodies."

While individual works on some of these programs are enticing, I can't say that any single performance will totally "move" me.





Sunday, July 23, 2017

HUEY 2: Des Moines Symphony

DES MOINES SYMPHONY: "Music in Motion" (Isn't it always?)

Office: The Temple for Performing Arts, 1011 Locust Street, Suite 200, Des Moines, IA 50309
Performance Site: Des Moines Civic Center (capacity 2,744)
Conductor: Joseph Giunta (26th year)

Des Moines Civic Center: who chose the color scheme?
Of course, the best seats are usually in the middle;
Get there early. There is no center aisle.

And the exterior: brutalism at its best?
General: Because of its location the Des Moines Symphony has access to a talented player base, including faculty from Iowa State University and Drake University. Maestro Giunta's programming is conservative, and concert titles make little effort to inspire, e.g. "Invitation to the Dance," "Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake," "Stravinsky's Petrouchka," and the like. Each concert remains in large part the Overture - Concerto - Symphony format or some variation on that theme. The one truly new work is a world premiere by Augusta Reed Thomas, to be offered in March. That said, there will be two Beethoven works (the first piano concerto and the seventh symphony) to "soften the blow."

Regarding highlights, there is not a concert on this series that shouts out, "I just have to go to this show!" Solo works include violin concertos by Bruch (G-minor) and Sibelius, piano concertos by Beethoven (No. 1), Shostakovich (No. 2) and Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue), as well as the ubiquitous Concierto de Aranjuez (for guitar) by Joaquin Rodrigo. Pops concerts include "The Music of Queen," the New Year's Pops - "The Classic Hits of Motown," and "Leslie Odom, Jr. in Concert."

In more ways than vitriolic politics, our capital city can do much better.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE RETURN OF THE HUEY'S

The Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids
Without a doubt, Iowa's most beautiful concert "palace."

In Summer 2011, I began an ongoing series of posts rating the programming of local "regional" orchestras (those within a three-hour drive from the home office in Dubuque, Iowa). Originally, I wrote that,

The "Huey awards" are arbitrary, based on my own criteria which include possible thematic content, the inclusion of both contemporary and American composers, and overall creativity and originality.  The latter would imply programs that step out of the Overture - Concerto - Symphony box.  Also of note is the presentation of works outside the standard repertory.  Why offer yet another performance of Dvorak 7 (or 8 or 9) or Shostakovich 5--regardless of my own love for those works--when there are hundreds of neglected works that may be favored by audiences (and surely the players)?  Do we need yet another performance of Beethoven 5 instead of say, the Bizet Symphonie?  Or what about the Franck--long a staple of the repertoire that now seems to be rarely played?  I could make a long list of neglected works, and that's just the works of the "masters."

And I made short mention of contemporary composers. For the record, my own programming over the past few years has included a concert of female composers (with another to come in 2018) and our Musica Nova, focusing solely on the music of the twenty-first century.

Last year I established criteria for scoring; this year that, to me, got cumbersome. So to change it up (it's my system anyway), discussion of each orchestra will include "highlights" and "lowlights," as well as a look at each ensemble's contributions outside "classical" concerts.

Greg Sandow, composer, teacher, critic, and mensch wrote a November blog post on how not to write a press release. In it, he states,

My Juilliard course this fall is well underway, and its title (slightly shortened for clarity) is “How to Speak and Write About Music.”

We read descriptions of music, by critics and others. We practice describing music I play in class.

And, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, we study press releases, bios, and program notes to see how they’re written. And — you knew this was coming if you’ve read me on these subjects — how they could be written better.

They do a terrible job, so many of them, describing the music they’re trying to sell.


For more, read here.

Much of the same could be said for a lot of the publicity generated by orchestras and other arts organizations. Seasons are often highlighted by a catch phrase that is either esoteric or almost incomprehensible. Others are simply too cute for their own good. It's also interesting to read of so called "alternative facts" on some organizational web sites. But that will be left up to the reader. I'm a notorious fact checker, so it's in my blood. That may be unimportant to others. To each his (or her) own.


What? And miss the great music?

Friday, April 21, 2017

WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE?


Hero:

a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b: an illustrious warrior
c: a person admired for achievements and noble qualities
d: one who shows great courage

Nope...
The word is grossly overused. My all-time favorite running back: Barry Sanders. An extraordinary athlete, but a hero? I think not. Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali (he called himself the Greatest!), Hank Aaron? Not a hero among them, but Jackie Robinson? He was a hero, putting his life and safety on the line to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Yes, these were admirable athletes with amazing abilities, but that's it. To me, that last definition--"shows great courage" sums up what it means to be a hero.

Musical heroes? Hard to think of one except for (possibly) Shostakovich and that's a stretch. Bach, Beethoven, and all the other killer B's? Nah. Other artists as heroes? Writers? Painters? Sculptors? Leonardo was the ultimate Renaissance man, but no hero.

Uh Uh....
Military men and women as heroes? Yes, but it's usually the unsung kind: the grunts in the trenches willing to throw themselves on a live grenade to save their fellow soldiers. But the generals? Usually not, as most are sitting in the background watching the battle unfold before them.

Definitely not...

Many heroes are expressed in music and the journey the Quad City Wind Ensemble takes with its next concert, Heroic Measures. This is music about individuals or groups who made sacrifices for their beliefs or for others around them. In this, the close of my tenth year with the ensemble, I'm hard pressed to think of a more profound and emotionally wrought program.

William Walton, among the great British composers of the 20th century, is very well-known in his homeland for his film music. It is spectacular. His Spitfire Prelude and Fugue was extracted from one of the four film scores that Walton composed in 1942. That film, The First of the Few, chronicles the design of the famous fighter plane and pays homage to the boys who flew them in the Battle of Britain. Their courage inspired Winston Churchill's speech, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few". The Prelude is hailed as one of Walton's greatest marches, and the Fugue is a flurry of notes, eventually combining with elements of the Prelude at its thrilling climax.


Anyone who knows me is aware of my deep love of the music of Mark Camphouse. His 1992 work, A Movement for Rosa, remains one of my favorites. Written in three distinct sections, it expresses significant events in the life of civil rights heroine (yep--she was definitely one). These include her early life following her 1913 birth in Tuskegee, Alabama; the years of racial strife in Montgomery and the quest for social equality, and an almost serene conclusion, broken however with dissonance that reminds us all of the lingering presence of racism. Mr. Camphouse actually sat with Miss Parks at a performance, stating, "the most memorable experience that I've had – as a musician and as an American."

The tale of Siegfried begins before his birth in the second part of Richard Wagner's massive tetralogy, Die Walkure. The third part is based on Siegfried's adult life, while Götterdämmerung is truly the "twilight of the Gods," the climax of the entire story, and the end of at least 15 hours of music(!) The five hour conclusion is a tale of mistaken identities, magic potions, and an accord gold ring, among so much more. Siegfried, the hero who slew the dragon, Fafner, is himself slain by enemies of his family and the Funeral Music ensues. This brief interlude is full of many of the leitmotivs Wagner has constructed as the basis for the entire four-part opera "mini-series," composed over a period of 26 years and first performed in its entirety in August 1876 at the new Festspielhaus in Bayreuth.

Miklos Rozsa: "Parade of the Charioteers," from Ben Hur




Few scenes on film can match the intensity of the chariot race sequence in William Wyler's 1959 epic. The 18-acre arena itself was the largest movie set ever constructed. Planning for the sequence lasted a year and the scene itself took five weeks to shoot. In 2004, the National Film Preservation Board selected Ben-Hur for preservation by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for being a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" motion picture. And the music? Rózsa's score won the Academy Award (his third) and is considered his cinematic masterpiece. While a charioteers' "parade" is not at all historically accurate, who would really have it any other way?

Eric Ewazen: Hymn for the Lost and the Living  Ewazen writes:

On September 11, 2001, I was teaching my music theory class at the Juilliard School, when we were notified of the catastrophe that was occurring several miles south of us in Manhattan. Gathering around a radio in the school’s library, we heard the events unfold in shock and disbelief. Afterwards, walking up Broadway on the sun-filled day, the street was full of silent people, all quickly heading to their homes. During the next several days, our great city became a landscape of empty streets and impromptu, heartbreaking memorials mourning our lost citizens, friends and family. But then on Friday, a few days later, the city seemed to have been transformed. On this evening, walking up Broadway, I saw multitudes of people holding candles, singing songs, and gathering in front of those memorials, paying tribute to the lost, becoming a community of citizens of this city, of this country and of this world, leaning on each other for strength and support. A Hymn for the Lost and the Living portrays those painful days following September 11th, days of supreme sadness. It is intended to be a memorial for those lost souls, gone from this life, but who are forever treasured in our memories.

Artie Shaw: Clarinet Concerto, Ian Aplington, winner of our solo competition


Stephen Melillo has composed more than 1145 works (!), including 33 hours of pieces written for what he calls "Ensembles of the 3rd Millennium." Melillo is counted among the earliest composers for any medium to self-publish his own work; his astute business sense (or a great staff) assures fast delivery. Best of all (to me) is that Steve is a really nice guy, inscribing scores and parts with personalized messages and including "gifts" with any purchase made. David, Stephen's 800th, 4-movement work, has many layers of meaning. True for all of the "storm" works, these layers have been extended to include the use of many new and fresh colours. It is a dramatic work, calling for a boy-soprano or soprano-actress who can depict David, the boy before battle! David is a work about Faith Triumphant! David's faith brings down the insurmountable Goliath. The work is dedicated to Faith and Hope despite the untimely passings of friends and family.

We're mounting a performance that says something; that sends a message, or possibly many of them. It is surely not to be missed.

Saturday, May 13, 2017, 7:30 PM
Galvin Fine Arts Center
St. Ambrose University
Davenport, IA

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

WOW: the joy of youth

Keep true to the dreams of your youth.
~Friedrich Schiller



When we think of Richard Strauss, we are drawn to his early operas: Salome or Elektra, or his many tone poems, Don Juan and Til Eulenspiegel, among them. But none of these were Strauss's "breakthrough" compositions. That was something much briefer and steeped in a language and tradition much different than the direction that his compositional journey would take him.

Strauss was born in Munich (1864), the son of the principal horn player in the Court Orchestra. Like the modern day Vienna Philharmonic, the ensemble performed in both the opera and subscription concerts of the Musical Academy. The Munich Court Orchestra, under the leadership of its esteemed conductor, Hans von Bulow, offered the first performances of both Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger. Richard's father, Franz--possibly the finest horn player of his day--despised anything to do with Wagner. And yet, this "Joachim of the Waldhorn" (as Bulow would call him) never performed anything without his conscientiousness and artistic perfection.

The young Strauss grew up--like Mozart--surrounded by music and showed his preferences for various instruments at an early age: the horn would bring smiles to his face, while he reacted to the violin with tears (maybe it was the player?) His earliest studies included the piano (from age four) and he began learning the violin when he was eight. And yet, he maintained forever his love for dad's instrument and would eventually compose two of the finest concertos for the horn.

He would be grounded in the classics, hearing Der Freischutz and Die Zauberflote when he was only seven. Attending a large number of concerts, he was drawn to the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, while he shared his father's intense hatred for Wagner. Of Mozart's music, he would state:

...The abundance of the ideas, the harmonic richness, and yet the sense of proportion, the marvelous, lovely, tender, delightful ideas themselves, the delicate accompaniment. Yet one can't play anything like that anymore! All you get now is drivel; either twittering or brash roaring and crashing or sheer musical nonsense. With Mozart, with few means, says everything a listener could desire to be refreshed and truly entertained and edified, the others use all the means at their disposal to say absolutely nothing.

Strauss's homage to Mozart is demonstrated by his first acknowledged masterpiece, the Serenade, Op. 7. In its instrumentation, it bears distinct resemblance to Mozart's Gran Partita, K. 370a. While basset horns were no longer in fashion, Strauss includes two flutes. The rest is the same: pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, four horns and a single bass instrument (string bass or contrabassoon.) While very little is known of the circumstances surrounding the composition of the Serenade, it was the first Strauss work performed in public. von Bulow, who led that premiere, stated at the time, "The Serenade, Op. 7 by Richard Strauss exhibits the virtuosity of our players in the most brilliant light. I make no qualifications regarding its acceptance." The conductor was more than willing to put his money where his mouth was, for he would perform the Serenade no fewer than seven times over the next two years.

The work is classical in its form, nearly a perfect example of sonata-allegro. Strauss demonstrates some of the orchestrational prowess that would bring him fame (and actually it did with the Serenade). But enough of my talk; here's the piece, performed by members of the Czech Philharmonic. There are lots of recordings to be found through a simple Google search, including a nice job by our own U. S. Marine Band. But for me, I like the earthy sounds of the Central and Eastern Europeans.

Need sublimity in your life? Here goes:






Thursday, February 23, 2017

WOW! It's Carnaval!

Just a few weeks ago, I (and many others) received an email from a colleague in the music business announcing that the Alfred Music Company, one of an increasingly dwindling number of publishers, was going to allow H. Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana to go out of print and become permanently unavailable.

WHAT?

These kinds of business decisions are being made every day. Yes, it's expensive to keep inventory on the shelves. There are definitely advantages to getting things out of the door before the tax man cometh. And Alfred is not alone. Another firm, Hal Leonard, which seems to own practically everything else, is especially egregious. But that's another story for another day. Back to La Fiesta (without mentioning Alfred--at least for a few moments).

The composer, H. Owen Reed, was trained at Louisiana State University, where he received Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Music AND a B.A. in French! From there, he moved on to the Eastman School, earning a Ph.D. in composition in 1939. Post-graduate studies included work with Roy Harris, Bohuslav Martinu, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. That's a pretty decent pedigree.

Reed's earliest masterwork was the result of a Guggenheim Fellowship that took him to Mexico for six months in 1948-49. An immersion into the native music of that country eventually led to La Fiesta Mexicana: A Mexican Folk-Song Symphony. Herein, Reed interweaves aspects of Aztec, Roman Catholic, and mariachi music, often quoting tunes verbatim, into a work of profound depth, imbued with rhythmic invention, and colorful orchestration.

About the first movement, "Prelude and Aztec Dance," Reed tells us:

The tolling of the church bells and the bold noise of fireworks at midnight officially announce the opening of the fiesta (opening pages of the score). Groups of Mexicans from near and far slowly descend upon the huge court surrounding the old cathedral–some on foot, some by burro, and still others on bleeding knees, suffering out of homage to a past miracle.

After a brave effort at gaiety, the celebrators settle down on their serapes to a restless night (No. 1) until the church bells and fireworks again intrude upon the early quiet of the Mexican morn.

At midday, a parade is announced by the blatant blare of trumpets (No. 5). A band is heard in the distance (No. 6). The attention is focused on the Aztec dancers, brilliantly plumed and masked, who dance in an ever-increasing frenzy to a dramatic climax.


II. Mass

The tolling of the bells is now a reminder that the fiesta is, after all, a religious celebration. The rich and poor slowly gather within the walls of the old cathedral for contemplation and worship. The closing of the movement is especially poignant: an offstage horn intones a chant, signaling the final benediction, which is answered by the "congregation" in a final "Amen."



III. Carnival

Mexico is at its best on the days of the fiesta, a day on which passion governs the love, hate and joy of the Mestizo and the Indio. There is entertainment for both young and old–the itinerant circus (first part of the movement), the market, the bull fight, the town band, and always the cantinas with their band of mariachis on the day of days: fiesta.


La Fiesta Mexicana is, with little doubt, among the outstanding musical tributes to that country ever composed, regardless of medium. With great skill, Reed worked to honestly portray the native tunes in their original incarnations (I will admit, that the Quad City Wind Ensemble has played around with the rhythm in one of the mariachi melodies to sound more authentic.)

But what of Alfred Music? With pressure from their customers, they have relented and agreed to continue publishing this great work AND are combing through their holdings to free other outstanding wind pieces from the bondage of the dreaded POP (permanently out of print).

La Fiesta Mexicana is included on this weekend's concert of the Quad City Wind Ensemble (www.qcwindensemble.org). Along with Moncayo, Marquez, and others, it's going to be great fun! So, in you find yourself in Iowa.....

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A belated WOW: Reveling in a "Rusty Squeezebox"

I began this post on Mozart's birthday (January 27). Once I had written way too much (my discussion had gotten extremely technical and academic), I trashed it. So here is another try.

"On the page, it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse. Bassoons and basset horns, like a rusty squeezebox. And then suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there, unwavering. Until a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God."

F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri
Thus begins the first discussion (and the appearance) of Mozart's music in the multiple Academy Award-winning film, Amadeus. The piece? Serenade, K. 371 (370a), better known as the Gran Partita. In seven glorious movements and clocking in at about 50 minutes, it is Mozart's longest purely instrumental composition.

It is part of a wind music tradition dating back centuries, from public tower concerts, known as ablassen, to the court bands maintained by many of the wealthy patrons of the Classical era. Beginning as sextets (pairs of oboes, horns, and bassoons), the introduction of the clarinet established what would become the standard wind octet. Composers would write original music for these Harmoniemusik ensembles, and scores of arrangers would take up the tunes of the popular operas of the day. The sounds of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, and much more filled the streets as well as the opera houses.

But Mozart took the ensemble several steps further, writing for pairs of oboes, clarinets, and basset horns, four horns, two bassoons, and contrabassoon (or contrabass). The sonic possibilities here are much more numerous, and Mozart exploits them to the fullest.

It has been surmised that Mozart wrote the Gran Partita as a wedding gift to Constanze in 1781. However, given that Emperor Joseph II founded his famous wind group in 1782, as well as other contradictory evidence, I posit that it was written sometime between 1783 and 1785. But, in terms of WOW, that is totally unimportant. 

The first movement is in true Sonata-Allegro form, within an amazing introduction. That, in itself, sets the stage for what is to come. Played by a Scottish "band" here it is:


Jumping ahead to the third movement (the "rusty squeezebox"), it is easy to become enraptured by the glorious sounds. The impact of the basset horns is beyond measure; with all of these darker-hued colors, we are awash in richness. Here we are with Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.


There are many joys that await listeners with an hour to spare. And here are some selected recordings.
  • The Vienna Philharmonic Players, Furtwangler (1947)
  • Amadeus Winds, Hogwood
  • London Winds, Michael Collins (2010)
  • Netherlands Wind Ensemble, De Waart (2011)
and many, many more. Check out www.arkivmusic for details.

 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A photo of WOW! Polished gems hidden from sight.

I am currently working on editing a brief study on anti-German sentiments during World War 1. This particularly pertains to musicians and musical organizations. While the travails of the Boston Symphony and its Music Director, Karl Muck, are relatively well known, equally as heinous were events in Chicago (more on that sometime later).

While researching one of the "principals" in the scandal, I came across mention of recitals held in the "Music Hall, Fine Arts Building." The building I know well as the home of the Fine Arts Cafe as well as Bein and Fushi, one of the world's premiere dealers in high-end string instruments. The hall? I'll admit I know practically nothing at all, although the building used to house a low-end triplex for art films and other entertainments.

Renovations have taken place; the triplex is gone, and the original hall--known as the Studebaker Theater--has been restored. Walking down Michigan Avenue (as I have done countless times) you'd never know it was there.


And down the street, around the corner, and across from the Hilton is this splendid palace.

The Merle Reskin Theater of DePaul University
(formerly the Blackstone Theater)
I know that I'll be checking these out the next time I'm in the city. They are full of history and now, returned to their glory.

Friday, January 20, 2017

WOW addendum: My programming

In this week's discussion of transcriptions, I believe that I made known my feelings on the subject. What was left out, however, was any sample of the type of concert program I would offer. Here's a couple:

QUAD CITY WIND ENSEMBLE
Brian L. Hughes, Music Director and Conductor
Sunday, October 26, 2014     3:00 p.m., St. Ambrose University

Oh the Places We’ll Go!

Via Appia

Star-Spangled Banner     John Stafford Smith, arr. Jack Stamp

Smetana Fanfare     Karel Husa
           
Slavonic Rhapsody, No. 1, Op. 104     Carl Friedemann, arr. Mayhew Lake

Rose Variations     Robert Russell Bennett 
Kurt Dupois, "The President's Own" U.S.M.C. Band, soloist

(Encore:  Leroy Anderson: Trumpeter’s Lullaby)

Azcárraga, Pasodoble Fallero     Richard Scott Cohen
Charles B. DCamp, Conductor Emeritus

INTERMISSION

Toccata Marziale     Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Hornet’s Nest     Ralph Hultgren

The Pines of the Appian Way from Pines of Rome     Ottorino Respighi, arr. Leidzen
           
(Encore: Meredith Willson/Iwai: 76 Trombones)

* * * * * * * * * *

QUAD CITY WIND ENSEMBLE
Brian L. Hughes, Music Director and Conductor
Saturday, May 13, 2017     7:30 p.m., St. Ambrose University

Heroic Measures



Star-Spangled Banner     John Stafford Smith, arr. Jack Stamp

Spitfire Prelude and Fugue     William Walton, arr. Noble

A Movement for Rosa     Mark Camphouse

“Siegfried’s Funeral Music,” from Götterdämmerung     Richard Wagner, arr. Whear 

INTERMISSION

“Parade of the Charioteers,” from Ben-Hur     Miklos Rosza, arr. Hawkins

A Hymn for the Lost and the Living     Eric Ewazen

Student soloist: TBA

David     Stephen Melillo

It's looking like I'm split somewhere down the middle. That's probably not a bad place to be.

See you Monday. Hoping something WOW's me by then!