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:

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


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)

* * * * * * * * * *

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 


“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!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Everything's up to date in......Detroit?

Pillaged by fire and crime, Detroit has struggled for over 60 years
Back in 2013, the city became the largest municipality in the nation to declare bankruptcy. Concerning population, Detroit has lost 61% of its residents since 1950 (down from 1.8 million to 700,000). The public schools have become, individually and collectively, an educational nightmare, guided by one of Michigan's emergency managers (this guy used to be in Flint) as well as administrators who have ended up in jail after bribery charges and convictions. A tumultuous work stoppage at the Symphony (DSO) dragged on for months. Could things get any worse?

Financial straits are still dire, and the schools still suffer. There are signs that the population has begun to stabilize, and new construction and renovation of old are combining to offer a renaissance of this once great city. The city was recently named one of the "52 Places to Go in 2017" by the New York Times. Challenges remain, but many community leaders in the public and private sectors are meeting them head on.

The once crime laden "Cass Corridor" is morphing into "The District."
Anchored by the new ice arena, it will include easy access to all of
Detroit's professional sports venues, theaters, loads of restaurants,
and lots more reasons to come into the city.
In the fall, the DSO announced the formation of an adult amateur ensemble, expanding the organization's educational components to a new group of stakeholders. In financial terms, Crain's Detroit Business is boasting a "resounding success" for both the DSO and the Michigan Opera Theater. The symphony ended the fiscal year over $130,000 in the black. Individual donors are up over 30%, surpassing 10,000, up from 7,000 last year. Gifts earmarked for the endowment were over $5.1 million.

Detroit's magnificent Orchestra Hall, reclaimed in 1989
As a result, the orchestra and its musicians negotiated a new three-year contract, achieved well ahead (eight months) of the end of the current agreement. According to the Detroit News, the terms include:
  • A 4-percent raise by 2020, the last year of the contract, lifting base pay from $91,259 to $96,096.
  • A stipend to tide them over in the 10 unpaid, nonperformance weeks, so they don’t have to file for unemployment insurance.
  • More flexible work rules boosted the number of performance weeks from 36 to 38 and will shoulder more of any increases in health-insurance premiums. The number of musicians will stay at 87, well beneath the 96 before 2011.
DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin has been the catalyst behind much of the orchestra's rebirth and growth. He has made a significant commitment to American music and the orchestra's Carnegie Hall concerts, including all four symphonies of Charles Ives, garnered praise from the oft-critical New York press. A little over a year ago, Slatkin announced that he would be leaving the DSO at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, offering the organization plenty of time for a search, hire, and transition to a new leader.

In July, the orchestra will embark on its first international tour since 2001, presenting eleven concerts in China and Japan. One would expect the repertoire to include (unlike too many other U.S. orchestras) a healthy dose of American music and the Detroiters do not disappoint. According to the DSO website, Asian audiences will hear Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Bernstein’s Candide Overture, Cindy McTee’s Double Play, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

It was a long decline from the city's heyday in 1950 to its nadir in 2013. But things are looking up all over. People are starting to believe in their city and at least some of its prestigious institutions. One hopes that this will carry over to the Detroit Public Schools. Change has to start somewhere and new minds, new leaders, can start to make that change work.

Monday, January 16, 2017

WOW! Thou shalt not perform transcriptions

I have had a number of mentors in my conducting training. As a whole, they could be broken down into a few different groups:

  • Those who refuse to perform transcriptions. "There's too much great original literature written for the wind band; why play a transcription of an orchestral work?" These are usually the wind ensemble guys, and they really don't like marches either.
  • Those who play transcriptions, transcriptions, and more transcriptions, with a march tossed in for variety. "These are the warhorses that I grew up with; if they are good enough for me, they're good enough for my students! Hrumph!"
  • Those who fall somewhere in-between. The transcriptions are not "bread and butter" of programming, but are included for reasons to be discussed below.
As conductors, we are products of our education and those teachers who encouraged us to rise up to challenges of the repertoire and to the students in our care. I have been fortunate to study with some of our finest pedagogues in both the short and long terms. Suffice to say, nearly all have been extremely opinionated about one or more facets of our art. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the advice does not force exclusionary tactics into our own teaching and repertoire choices.

Lest I drift away from the point, here is a program of a concert by the John Philip Sousa band:


What fun! Sousa concerts often included overtures that were well-known orchestral works (Berlioz's Roman Carnival was a favorite) or other pieces that had fallen by the wayside. Soloists always appeared: this concert had three(!): the usual cornetist, sometimes a violinist, and always, one of Sousa's "ladies in white" singing a tune or two. Here we have works by Chopin, Sarasate, Percy Grainger, and the "well-known composer," Preston Ware Orem. Sprinkled throughout were a large number of encores, almost always a Sousa march. These were introduced by a lovely young woman who placed a large placard containing the title on an easel. Needless to say, this is much different than standard concert fare.

The Bill Revelli everyone "knew and loved."
He and Kruschev probably got along well.
The University of Michigan Symphony Band, as noted in programs from its groundbreaking tour of the Soviet Union in 1961, performed a large number of transcriptions. Just a handful include:
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Procession of the Nobles (almost unheard of in orchestra halls)

  • Respighi: The Pines of Rome

  • Wagner: "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral," from Lohengrin
  • Kabalevsky: Comedian's Galop
The transcription is part of the heritage of the wind band. Audiences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries couldn't hear the "masterworks" unless they lived near a city large enough to support a symphony orchestra. That left it up to the great touring bands, as well as the burgeoning community band movement, to provide a vital part of America's musical education (and lots of entertainment. Compare the Sousa program above with a typical university band concert:

(from November 2016):

George Friderich (sic) Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks

D. J. Sparr: Cloud of Witnesses

Michael Daugherty: Reflections on the Mississippi (tuba and wind ensemble)

Henry Brant: Whoopee in D for a very fine orchestra

Morton Gould: Symphony No. 4, West Point

All original works for the contemporary wind band (except Handel). Individually, some excellent moments I am sure, but collectively? I'm trying to figure out if I'd want to shell out money to hear this? And the sacrilege: not a march to be heard.

I have few negatives to offer about the playing of transcriptions unless they sound downright silly. Once I listened to a very talented ensemble perform 1812 Overture about as well as a band probably could. It sounded ridiculous. Berlioz is hard to pull off but Wagner is made for the wind band, and so are works by composers who have been lost to time:

Giuseppe Verdi was composing "marches by the hundreds" long before he aspired to write an opera. Rimsky-Korsakov held a civilian post as Inspector of Naval Bands. There are many more.

It all boils down to one main point. For whom are we playing? Our own egos? Or the (often) paying public? I'm not even suggesting trying to pander to an audience; rather, my axiom is to educate them without knowing it. Fans will show their support in many ways: boisterous applause, stunned silence during which no one wants to break "the moment," and with their feet. It's almost as easy to run them out of the hall if all they hear is esoteric programming. BUT, on the other hand, if you build it, they will come.

Monday, January 9, 2017

This week's Moment of WOW!

As many know, I inhabit a number of different musical worlds, as a teacher, conductor, and erstwhile scholar. But I can even create subsets there, as I have conducted choral, wind, and orchestral ensembles (often, my bands and orchestras forget that I was once a "throat"). There is one big characteristic that the instrumental folk share: they are snobs.

Yes, a number of my orchestra friends look down upon the bands of American. "All they play are marches. No Beethoven symphonies nor Mozart concertos!" AND (horror of horrors) they march--outside! Note to orchestral wind players: you didn't develop all that technique by playing third heckelphone in the Pumpkin Center Philharmonic. Some of the finest wind players on this continent have one thing in common: many played in our Armed Service Bands. And another note: there's more to band than Sousa (for whom I make no apology) and Drum Corps International.

But let's mention, albeit briefly, Sousa marches played by orchestras. They sound ridiculous: the editions are always in the wrong key and the re-scoring lacks any intent of the composer. PLUS, orchestra conductors just play them too damn fast; it's kind of like, "this is easy, let's get it over as quickly as we can."

Then again, lots of band folk, particularly band directors (only the hoity-toity "wind ensemble guys," in their ubiquitous turtle necks, are called "conductor"), refuse to play transcriptions. There are even some--gasp--who refuse to play marches. A couple of years ago, I was glancing through a tour program of what has been (and still is) a fine band program. In the annotations, the conductor (roughly my age) admitted that he's never conducted The Liberty Bell. What? You ask. Seems impossible to me, and--honestly--I would probably never admit to it in public. Wind and orchestra conductors are stuck in the mindset that, if a composition is short and popular, it must be crap. How so not true.

The march is the only musical form indigenous to the wind band; it's as simple as that. Without delving into extreme minutia (as we musicologists are prone to do), let's accept the Britannica definition:

March, originally, musical form having an even metre (in 2/4 or 4/4) with strongly accented first beats to facilitate military marching; many later examples, while retaining the military connotation, were not intended for actual marching. And, let's be honest, they're not just written for military bands: I can think of a march in Beethoven's Eroica symphony and another in Chopin's B-flat minor Sonata. There's the March to the Scaffold (Berlioz), Mendelssohn's Wedding March, and so many more.

But to this conductor--with an occasional turtleneck--there are a limited number of different kinds of marches: concert marches, quick-step marches, funeral marches (and more in this vein) and the be-all and end-all of the genre: the Helluva march.

But let's start with Sousa, who wrote 130-some marches, depending on how one counts. One of his earliest, Revival March (1876) was written for the Philadelphia Orchestra! There are also some others that have been uncovered in steamer trunks with parts strewn everywhere and even one tucked away for decades on the shelves of the Library of Congress. Needless to say, there's a lot more than Stars and Stripes Forever. But exactly what did the old man (and his wife) favor over all the rest?

Sousa's Favorite? It's said to be Semper Fidelis, penned at the end of his career with the U. S. Marine Band, "The President's Own." It's a march without a "dogfight," that ferocious strain tucked in amongst statements of the (frequently) lyrical trio. But Sousa make up for it in that fantastic trio: it's first stated by the trumpets as a kind of bugle call; the second time adds woodwind flourishes, and the third time (!) the low brasses sound forth in a commanding countermelody. Put it all together and it sounds something like this:

Performed by the Tri-State Wind Symphony, Brian Hughes conducting. c. 2015

But what of Mrs. Sousa's favorite? Probably not The Fairest of the Fair, the composition of which was prompted by a pretty girl at one of the Sousa band's concerts. According to the Sousa's daughter Helen, her mother's favorite was The Thunderer, composed in 1889. This performance by "The President's Own." If you've never heard them, sit back and enjoy.

The United States Marine Band, Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig, conducting. January 2015.

Then there is the "Bohemian Sousa", Julius Fucik. We've done more to bastardize this poor fellow than nearly any other. It has long been a tradition to perform his Entry of the Gladiators under the big top and play it like a galop. That's really too bad, but thanks to the evils of tradition, if it's done right, people will complain, "But it's so slow." So let's go with Florentiner; nah, that one's well known too. Here's one (Fucik's Opus 360--he was a prolific guy) that is one of his least known. But it, like many others here, is a helluva march: Gigantic.

The Quad City Wind Ensemble, Brian Hughes, Conductor. c. 2016

One must include at least one composition of Iowa's march king, Karl, that is. I'll admit that I've not always been a King fan, partly again began one of his best marches is played too fast! Every circus march is not a galop and this one, Barnum and Bailey's Favorite, when approached with the care it deserves (there's a lot going on here), is truly a masterpiece.

The Quad City Wind Ensemble, Brian Hughes, Conductor
Iowa Bandmasters Association Conference, May 2014

We have not even scratched the surface. This link will lead in several directions, but one needs to hear a lot of them to grasp a composer's style. It's kind of like discovering Beethoven; the only real way is by listening to all the string quartets. That's a lot of listening. Instead, visit the U.S. Marine Band website and download the first three volumes of their "Complete Sousa Marches." They've got 55 edited and recorded and--the best part--they're absolutely FREE. Best use of our tax dollars I can think of (besides education).

Here's one more. I offer it just because it's a long time favorite and indicative of a different style: the concert march.

Written for his (and my) music fraternity, here's The Sinfonians, played by the 125-strong UW-Madison University Band, a whole bunch of non-majors. I think they're pretty good.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Everybody wants in on the act.
He doesn't have the Dude's hair, however...

For several years now, I've been blogging. Much of the impetus arose from the dissertation process. Now, I write because it keeps my brain engaged, and I attempt to develop arguments that are well supported by the evidence. If people choose to read these few words each week, all the better.

Somewhere along the line, I seem to have become overwhelmed with my disdain for the "management vs. the worker" conundrum. This blog strayed from no discussion of either the score nor the podium (except in discussing the musical chairs of the profession). I know that I've stirred more than a few pots and have to hope that some of this may have been ever-so-slightly influential in decisions made, initiatives moving forward, and people simply deciding to work together.

But mostly, things have been negative, so it's a new year and time for WOW. This brings us full circle to the reason behind the title: talking about the score, and sometimes about the conductor's approach to it. WOW is the "work of the week" and will focus mostly on the wind repertoire. Why? In my own study of the music I teach and conduct, I realize that nothing in the music history books gave any shrift to this medium.

Take Karel Husa, who passed away on December 14, 2016. He was a giant in the wind medium, and his Music for Prague, 1968 is a monument to the repertoire. Husa won a Pulitzer in 1969: for Prague you say? Nope. A string quartet...And this is just the beginning.

* * * * * * * * * *

My intent here is to highlight one or more works that I deem (I suppose that some of the "movers and shakers" in the profession might agree, but that doesn't matter) to be, for whatever reason, a WOW kind of musical expression and experience. To that end, our very first WOW is:

Gustav Holst: Suite in E-flat (1909), possibly the first true masterpiece for the modern wind band. It is unfortunate that no one has seen fit to publish Holst's original source material because a performance clear of all the "clutter" would be a wonder to behold.

I own several scores, condensed, full, and even a copy of the manuscript. It's interesting to see what's missing from any of the published sources: this note from the composer: As each movement is founded on the same phrase, it is requested that the Suite shall be played right through without a break...

Holst and Vaughan Williams out hunting for tunes...
I've engaged in many discussions with (apparently, unknowing) conductors and players over which of the Holst suites is superior. The answer is simple (the E-flat). The material, although sounding at times like the folk tunes that Holst and his colleague Vaughan Williams collected in the countryside, is entirely original. AND, all of the movements is based upon the simplest of motives: three pitches, mostly presented in their original "set". So simple and yet so genius.

The "set" is expressed in its entirety in the first movement, the Chaconne, a paean to countless ground bass forms (one of the best known being "Dido's Lament" from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas). Holst achieves a balance here with 16 versions of the tune; a few times it is inverted, and there is some harmonic elision toward the close.

To me, Holst's ability to finish the movement in much the same way as he began, albeit with vastly different orchestration--and dynamic--is another sign of a brilliant mind at work. One must recall that Holst was well versed in Eastern philosophy and taught himself to read Sanskrit. His interest in astrology and mythology had a direct bearing on his most popular work, The Planets. Of course, this is not the Gustav Holst of that galactic suite; this is Holst, the trombone player.

The second movement has that catch-all title, "Intermezzo," and begins with a pair of E-flat clarinets announcing the tempo and rhythm (two instruments are necessary). The theme is similar to the chaconne except that it carries upward after the three notes of the set.

There is a bridge in the clarinets (and tambourine) that leads to the second theme.

Note the "extra" pick-ups in the first measure. This theme is very similar to the opening, except much different in rhythm (all the note values are doubled) and character. At the close, Holst combines all the elements: opening, bridge, and second themes, in (for want of a better word) a particularly cute conclusion.

Despite my bias toward the Chaconne, the march may surpass it in concept and construction. Here, Holst gives us a theme in inversion. Note the difference below:

 A sudden and smashing chord in A-flat takes us to the trio, itself Holst's homage to Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" and based on the original material (seen below with the countermelody)

But again, and most glorious of all, is after a mysterious build-up, and even some snarling of teeth, both tunes emerge in perfect counterpoint, bringing to a close the WOW work that ushered in a new age of composition for the wind band.

And here's a link to a local community band and its version of the March:

Frederick Fennell, founder of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and an authority on so much of the wind band repertory reminds us over and over that band music like this--so forward thinking--so artistic--did not exist until Holst wrote it down.

* * * * * * * * * *

And from our Middle East desk:

Zubin Mehta
In 2018, Zubin Mehta is stepping down at the Israel Philharmonic, ending 55 years of association, the last three decades as "Music Director for Life". Israeli news source Haaretz notes that 

Despite Mehta’s flourishing international career, his relationship with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is unique – each is greatly associated with the other. Although the Philharmonic has strong management and musicians, Mehta’s departure is likely to cause a shake-up requiring a reorganization, new music, and a new identity.

Excellent orchestra. Not particularly a place one would want to live--in more ways than the obvious. Israel is moving toward becoming a pariah in the international community. Not thinking I'd want to take that one on.