Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Comment of IYWO concert

Dwayne Corbin

The International Youth Wind Orchestra (IYWO) was comprised of fifty students ranging in age from 18 to 25 from thirteen countries: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Estonia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK, and the USA. They were led by two conductors, Glenn Price from the University of Calgary, Canada, and Gerhard Markson, Principle Conductor of the RTÉ National Symphony in Dublin, Ireland. The choice of enlisting Markson was a strategic one of the WASBE board in order to build more connections between the wind ensemble “bubble” and the larger community of classical music.

The IYWO played remarkably. The repertoire presented was immensely challenging, and they had very little time to prepare it: just one week of rehearsals. The group sounded professional in all respects. I am certain that the students has a remarkable time working with two outstanding conductors, a world-famous soloist, and two composers, one of which was commissioned to write for the IYWO.

The highlight of the concert for me was Schwantner’s Percussion Concerto, transcribed for band by Andrew Boysen Jr., and performed by Dame Evelyn Glennie. I have heard this work before, but Glennie’s performance brought the piece to a new level through her commanding performance that clearly communicated the essence of the work. Through this she was able to connect the more unusual elements of the piece into a logical whole.

The piece has two elements that are most unusual for a concerto. First is the fact that the soloist plays from the back of the orchestra for the first and third movement, coming to the traditional front of stage for the second movement only. This, according to Glennie, was due to the fact that the work was composed for Christopher Lamb, principle percussionist for the New York Philharmonic. Schwantner wanted to showcase not just the soloist, but also how the soloist works within the section. This is the second unusual aspect of the work: the soloist often plays ensemble passages, whether unison mallet parts in the first movement, or simple triangle and metallic percussion gestures in the second movement. Glennie used stage lighting and tall risers in order to create a more vibrant back-stage solo area, as well as spot lights to highlight her movement from one set-up to another. She had purple lights on her second-movement set-up, which is musically more reflective. Her body language helped the audience understand how her parts fit in, as ensemble or solo passages. Glennie played with great passion, grace, and fire, including a lengthy cadenza on drums in the final movement, and the audience received her very well.

The other four pieces on the program suffered by comparison to the Schwantner and each other. The works were in many ways too similar: rhythmic, well-crafted, post-tonal color-oriented works that would sound refreshing next to Grainger, Ives, Maslanka, Mendelssohn, or pieces in other styles, but began to sound dull when programmed together. In addition, after all the excitement that Sir Simon Rattle generated by his fresh interpretations of Grainger wind works, I was hoping to see a similar event with Markson. However, Markson chose or was assigned three contemporary pieces, eliminating this possibility.

John Estacio’s Frenergy opened the concert, a fast energetic work that still retained a nice sense of melody and lightness. It was performed with pleasant character, and was precise technically.

Resonance, by Christopher Marshall, opened the second half. It is one of the many pieces commissioned by Tim and Hilary Reynish in memory of their son, William. The work employs a variety of styles and sounds: gentle passages, a street march, dark—almost eerie—melodies, then closes with a chorale from which most of the earlier sections were derived. A listener could see it as either oddly fragmented or as a refreshing post-modern work, mixing styles without necessarily ascribing value to them. This work definitely merits further listening and study.

Ian Wilson was present for the première of his work Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel. He gave a pre-concert talk where he discussed his experiences writing the piece, his first for wind ensemble. The work was inspired by and named after the moons of Uranus, whose individual characters shaped the form or compositional ideas for each movement. The result was a complex, thick piece, dense with counterpoint and disjointed melodies. It was highly dissonant, and was difficult to grasp in the first hearing. This work was rehearsed by Markson in an open rehearsal, where he stripped the opening down to each individual line. These sections made much more sense to the listener, leading me to believe that, while difficult at first, Wilson’s work might come alive through multiple exposures.

Richard Rodney Bennett’s Morning Music was the final piece on the concert. As with all of Bennett’s work, Morning Music is superbly orchestrated, contains interesting harmonic structures, and keeps the listener’s attention. This work, based on the poetry of Wordsworth, contains seven movements: a prelude, five variations, and a finale. The IYWO performed it wonderfully.

from wasbe.com

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