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CLASSICAL  January 2007

CLASSICAL January 2007

Subject:

Music for Band

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 18 Jan 2007 08:53:18 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (80 lines)

Illinois State University Wind Symphony
Commissioned Works

*  Zyman: Cycles (2005)
*  Halper: Concerto for Flute and Wind Ensemble (2004)
*  Maslanka: Symphony No. 7 (2004)

Kimberly McCoul Risinger (flute);
Illinois State University Wind Symphony/Stephen K. Steele.
Albany TROY821 Total Time: 71:24

Summary for the Busy Executive: Well, two cheers, anyway.

This CD features music by three youngish composers, all fairly
conservative and tonally-based, quite typical of what went on in
American tonal music of the Fifties, despite the relatively recent
dates of composition.  I might as well clear away the dead brush first.
Matthew Halper's flute concerto is one of those works that just go by,
like the endlessly flat, treeless scenery of the Plains states.  Not
one idea grabbed me.  The orchestration created its own dreariness, drab
and pretty much unvarying.  In his liner notes, the composer evokes the
memory of Ravel.  He does himself no favors in the comparison.

Samuel Zyman, a Mexican composer based in New York City, combines the
relentless drive of Revueltas's Sensemaya, the rhythms and energy of
Alberto Ginastera (Estancia perhaps), and the Leonard Bernstein of West
Side Story into the enormously vigorous Cycles.  As its title implies,
the score consists of distinct gestures that combine and re-combine, not
according to classical symphonic procedures, but cyclic ones.  Miraculously,
it not only all hangs together, but with a few more recordings could
very well become a modern lollipop.  Zyman strikes me as a composer who,
thank God, ignores good taste and shamelessly works to manipulate listener
response with maximum effect.  Dickens's Fat Boy wanted "ter makes yer
flesh creep." Zyman wants you on your feet, screaming for more at the
end of the piece.

David Maslanka studied with one of my favorite American composers,
Joseph Wood.  In his day, the mid-Fifties, Wood had a lovely reputation,
including a Pulitzer, and won the respect of such knowledgeable critics
as Virgil Thomson.  Hardly anybody even knows his name today, let alone
his music.  As far as I can tell, only one CD of his works still remains
in print.  Maslanka, on the other hand, has been taken up by the Albany
label.  I don't begrudge Maslanka, but I sure as hell miss Wood.

If Maslanka's symphony is anything to go by, Wood was a wonderful
teacher.  The approach to symphonic form is highly personal, even
poetic.  The music, eminently tonal, nevertheless shows an individual
ear.  Maslanka doesn't hear the same way most of us do.  It's not a
matter of weird harmonies or even odd leaps of melody, but a kind of
realignment of listening hierarchy.  Maslanka takes cliches or melodic
turns most composers would pass by and rubs your nose in them.  The
seventh symphony, inspired by hymns and folk songs, has, according to
the composer, tunes you merely think you've heard before, since they all
originate with the composer (excepting a single quote from a Bach chorale).
In a way, Maslanka takes off from Virgil Thomson, although Maslanka
exhibits a thoroughly Romantic sensibility, as opposed to Thomson's
objectivism or Cubism.  In four movements and with a prominent (though
not concertante) piano part, each movement presents the "light" and
"dark" sides of a tune.  The first, for example, begins with an exuberantly
loopy evocation of a Victorian hymn (the congregation's pianist in the
throes of "inspiration," perhaps).  The band joins in for a while, until
all musical hell breaks loose -- demons coming up through the floorboards.
This goes on until the "happy" returns.  It's pretty much the same
scenario for every movement.  At one point, we even hear a reference to
the Dies irae chant, re-imagined by, say, Bernard Herrmann, and the Bach
chorale-tune quote -- "Du Friedensfurst, Herr Jesu Christ" (you Prince
of Peace, Lord Jesus Christ).-- appears ironically in one of the "dark"
episodes.  Nevertheless, even though the rhetorical strategy remains
unvaried from movement to movement, Maslanka travels a wide emotional
range -- Americana pressed into the service of the personal, rather than
of the Coplandian epic.  A beautiful, rich, imaginative piece.

Steele and the band do well by each score -- which, by the way, they
commissioned.  The band not only plays with a great sense of ensemble,
the solo players, particularly the flute and the trumpet, get inside
their bits with a fine sensitivity and shading of line.  They can move
you almost to tears.  If I'm less than enthusiastic about the Halper
piece, I don't blame the performers.

Steve Schwartz

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