in: Reviews

December 10, 2012

BU Wind Ensemble Crossing Parallels


The Boston University Wind Ensemble, directed by David Martins, gave an energetic concert of recent works which revisited musical textures of the past, featuring the stunning Crossing Parallels by Kathryn Salfelder.   On December 6th at the Tsai Center, the musicians were in top shape in a program which was demanding and musically engaging.

Salfelder’s Crossing Parallels created connections between several trends of compositional thought apparent in the younger generation of composers.  Her sensitively scored writing deftly mixes triadic tonal implications with set theoretic manipulations of sonorities.  Several simultaneous lines weave continuously at different speeds, distinguishable by register and instrumentation, interspersed with brief vigorous patches of canonic figuration which are consciously inspired by Renaissance and Baroque textures.  In her program note, Salfelder includes her own poem, which suggests that the sonic worlds of Crossing Parallels are made up of:

two divergent planes
naively self-sufficient
a succession of variations
vying for supremacy
interrupt, overlap, mimic
a intrinsic struggle
until the discovery . . .

Crossing Parallels was premiered in 2010 by the Furman University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Les Hicken.  With much professional experience already under her belt (her wind ensemble works alone have already been performed over a hundred times), Salfelder is now pursuing a doctorate at New England Conservatory, and is definitely someone to watch!

Beginning the program was Andrea Gabrieli’s Aria Della Battaglia.  Published in Venice in 1590, this work has been recently scored by Mark Scatterday for two contrasting groups of 8 winds (2 each of oboes, English horns, bass clarinets, and bassoons) and 8 brass (3 trumpets, 2 French horns, 3 trombones).  Conductor David Martins separated the two groups on the concert stage, recreating the performance practice of cori spezzati, or spatially separating “choirs” of (unspecified) wind performers in various lofts throughout Venice’s St. Mark’s Cathedral.  Scatterday’s transcription cleverly underlines Gabrieli’s dynamic indications of the soft echoing of loud passages. Aria is part of a long tradition of programmatic description of militaristic music.  Indeed, Gabrieli’s richly imitative elaborations of repeated militaristic brass flourishes presented a curious juxtaposition of the traditional church performance space with depictions of the battle field.

William Bolcolm’s Machine, from his Symphony No. 5, is a tongue-in-cheek spontaneity, described by the composer as “a boisterous last movement inspired, if one can call it that—by the mechanistic disco-music craze of about 1990.”  Transcribed by Paul Lavender, the opening Shostakovian snare drum pulsations kept in check the mechanistically repeated melodic motives.  Ensuing disco patterns had me bopping until the catatonic ending, at which point everything broke loose.  Bolcolm’s Symphony No. 5 was premiered in 1990 by the Philadelphia Orchestra (for whom the piece was written) under Denis Russell Davies.

Paul Hindemith’s March from Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber had its genesis as a work for dance, as part of a collaboration suggested by Leonide Massine.  Having started composing, Hindemith, however, declined to continue further on the project, after seeing one of the choreographer’s ballets and learning that Massine was planning to use sets and costumes designed by Salvador Dali, whose work Hindemith disliked.  Hindemith decided to refashion the music as a set of variations, premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1944, conducted by Artur Rodzinski.  The wind ensemble transcription, by Keith Wilson, presented to this listener a recreation of a “binaural” experience akin to psychology perception tests, as if listening in one headphone ear to Weber’s broadly scored and well-known themes with oompah military marching band percussion flourishes, and in the other ear, Hindemith’s metamorphic variations, with its motoric rhythms and chromatic gestures, including winding horizontal countermelodies and pulsating woodwind sonorities.

The rousing finish last night was Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.  The suite was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1961, Bernstein conducting, four years after West Side Story opened on Broadway.  Historically-minded listeners are urged to compare the wind ensemble version (transcribed by Paul Lavender) with the original Broadway scoring, which includes 4 virtuosic reed players, who are each expected to pick up piccolo, flute, saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, with little switchover time.  As most Broadway composers at the time were songwriters who did not write dance music, this example of Bernstein’s ballet music is a testament to the composer’s versatility tapping into finger-snapping visceral grooves.

Ketty Nez holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Berkeley, a master’s degree in composition from the Eastman School of Music and a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from the Curtis Institute of Music. Currently on the BU faculty, her website is here.

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