Reviewed by John Carmichael
While I sat in the audience waiting for the session to begin, I carefully scanned the faces of the players in the International Youth Wind Ensemble (IYWE) and noticed a diversity of ethnicities with a majority appearing to come from Asian countries. There did not appear to be any band members of African descent. My next thought had to do with communication. With so many nations and languages represented, how would the conductors explain musical concepts and corrections with some form of communication other than gesture? This was going to be interesting to say the least. The common language chosen for instruction was English. Fortunately I understood most of what was being said, but I am not sure the same could be said for every member of the band or the audience. Americans, for the most part, do not speak other languages. I would like to address that personally at some point but I have trouble just imitating a Scottish accent.
WASBE immediate past President Glenn Price introduced the International Youth Wind Ensemble and the first clinician/conductor Dario Sotelo of Brazil. Maestro Sotelo in turn introduced Matthew George who invited directors in attendance to join a commission consortium to produce a work that would include representation of a particular culture including indigenous instrumentation. Unknown to me, Dr. George has been involved in an ongoing commissioning project, at least partly through his the University of St. Thomas that has produced 75 works over the years. That is a remarkable feat and represents a significant effort to enrich the repertoire of the wind band.
At the invitation of Dario, Luis Nani, the composer of the current work to be rehearsed entitled Lost Forest, came to the stage to explain and describe key portions of the piece. Before starting he thanked Matthew George for the opportunity to be the commissioned composer for the consortium.Lost Forest was featured on a compact disk entitled From All Sides by the University of St. Thomas Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Matthew George, conductor. It was a Grammy semifinalist in the best new classical recording this past year. Since Luis’ English skills were not up at a level to sufficiently describe his work, Dario served as an interpreter. Now, it is apparent that Dario speaks not only Portuguese and English, but also Spanish since Luis is from Argentina. I would suppose that would make we mono-linguists feel a bit ignorant.
The first idea in Lost Forest is taken from an Argentinean folk rhythm. According to Luis, Argentina possesses a very vibrant folk music culture. Starting at letter B, after speaking to band in English, Dario conducted the section that clearly represented that rhythm. The next section of the work was slow and in rondo form. Luis indicated that it could be more aptly described as variations on a rondo. To demonstrate this portion, Dario began at letter I. At this point the rehearsal of the band was more oriented toward continuity for the players and demonstration for the audience. The sound of the band was rich and they seemed to be achieving a high degree of accuracy in performance. The focus however, was on illuminating important sections of the music.
Now, arriving in the middle of the composition, the composer stated that the music needed more contrasting ideas to represent the complaining of the forest regarding its treatment by mankind. The next portion played was at measures 251 – 281, which transparently featured metal keyboard percussion, piano, harp, a wind machine and solo euphonium. To finish the work, Luis integrated another folk song that represented a small carnival. Dario then thanked the composer, and explained to the audience that from his point of view the music is very textural. The sounds should sometimes be classical and at times, clarinets and saxophones needed to distort on purpose their sound for the proper effect. This was apparent at rehearsal letter R where those instruments did perform with a folk-like sound. Their accuracy with rhythm and the unity of their playing, however, would have identified them to a knowledgeable ear as capable musicians trying to play a particular way. As the section continued the tone qualities began to morph in the direction of being characteristic. They couldn’t help it.
Reviewed by John Carmichael
Dario was acutely aware of the time available, and he indicated he would rehearse specific places so that the audience might have a better understanding of the challenges of the repertoire (that particular piece). As noted earlier, I anticipated that the language barrier would be a problem, but it seemed to be a non-issue with Dario as he kept instructions at a generally simple level. And, whenever verbal instructions were provided, he would use visual gestures to highlight what he said. Therefore, when he asked for less from mallet percussion, more from the piano and less from the low brass, he was understood clearly.
It was at this point that the use of the microphone on a stand was clearly a bit of a hindrance. A wireless, remote mike on the conductor would have produced superior results and more efficiency if a sound person was watching the volume so that when the band was playing it would not be amplified. Not everything said was amplified or understood. Maybe it was just my years in front of loud bands.
As rehearsal continued, he stopped to ask the glockenspiel player to “lead us” in a particular passage. At this point Dario departed from earlier practice and began to use more English than gesture. To obtain a particular melodic contour, he sang the shape of the line. It was very apparent that I was observing a very learned conductor who was clear, concise and possessed a rich gestural vocabulary. Another technique he utilized was stepping off the podium to make more connection with the clarinet soloist who was playing a folk-like melody against a drone. In his instructions he said, “The challenge is to make accents and ornaments clear while still maintaining a long line. This is something not commonly found in the classical style.” I think he was referring to the character of folk music in this particular context.
Some intonation issues went by uncorrected, probably because of his focus on line and melodic shape. There was also some difficulty obtaining a blending of voices in the ensemble as players needed to become more comfortable listening across the ensemble. Dario indicated at 10:35 a.m. that he was running out of time, and began to rehearse his second selection, The Supplication of the Forest. Maestro Sotelo gave the audience a little background about the composition, noting that the first part was about man’s need to be aware of the environment around us. According to Dario, the first part is motivic and difficult to clarify, especially the entrances. The texture is “Frenchy.” The second part deals with the intervention of man and includes a fugue. It finishes very lightly as it began. Then he indicated that he hoped to visit those sections (rehearse) in the remaining time without infringing upon Douglas Bostock’s portion of the open rehearsal.
As he began to rehearse from the beginning, the clarity of verbal instructions in terms of amplification for the audience began to decrease. Something I and everyone else understood with 100% clarity was the statement “OK.” It seems to be universal. This piece began with oboe and piano. At one point, the maestro was direct with a horn player about their not being ready to play a better entrance. It was much better the second time. There were a number of soloists in the slow, opening section and the texture was correctly identified as Impressionistic. In listening to the soloist, it became apparent that the players in the group did not possess consistent experience. With gesture, Dario very nicely showed the expansiveness and sweep of the first climax and the ensuing lighter texture in woodwinds which was bird-like. I noticed minor phase problems as well as with attack, but Dario was achieving for the players a continuity that would allow them to be able to understand the sequence of the music and address the fundamental issues with more focus. Throughout he demonstrated a very elegant left hand. His instructions were concise as shown when he told the pianist to “look at me” for a cue to indicated a descending glissando. Generally, if he stopped it was for something that was not in the place it should have been. He addressed intonation in the direction of the horns by pointing to his ear. After one entrance by stopped horn that was not successful, he spoke to them about projection of sound. “Look at me, and I will be giving you (a) very clear indication.” That fixed the problem. And, once again, he sang to demonstrate the shape of a line, in this case as it was moving toward a release.
The second section of the composition was begun with authority, achieving a very clear and emphatic effect. The low brass section was particularly beautiful in this portion. Even so, he stopped and complained that it was too loud. At 10:55 am, Maestro Sotelo stopped with some parting words of encouragement to the players. Their reaction evidenced a warm relationship between players and conductor.
Glenn Price, after complementing the bands’ achievement level after just three days of rehearsal, introduced Douglas Bostock with a quick recap of the maestro’s conducting career. Douglas used a chair for rehearsal, but usually kept one foot anchored on the ground. His approach was very business-like, and he indicated that this was a rehearsal and not a show (for the audience). He did not want to lose any rehearsal time.
For his hour Maestro Bostock indicated that he was going to cover two Japanese compositions. He began with the middle movement of Prayer of the Flying Gods (2007), which required the use of Taiko drums for which they had to use the Chinese version. The movement according to Bostock was based on strong Buddhist beliefs with the music representing the smoke being emitted by incense sticks.
He also spoke in English tended to use more verbal instructions for the band than Dario. From the start, he asked for more expressiveness in the solo and for softer entrances overall. “Let's do that beginning one more time.” As I watched, it was evident that we had another conductor with a strong, elegant left hand. At one point he said that the music should be getting thicker but not louder, and described the whole atmosphere as being dark and quiet. Clear gesture was another way he transmitted information as evidenced when they moved into ensuing sections of the music. He gave very specific instructions regarding issues of balance and line. He wanted the band members to understand clearly their role in the music.
There were again times when it was difficult to hear his instructions, possibly because my ears were not tuned to hear an English accent that was blended with a slight German inflection. In some places of the music, he felt it necessary to show a rebound division to achieve musical unity. He also directed instructions to the horns to explain what he would do to help them secure a difficult entrance.
For the most part, neither conductor isolated individual sections and rehearsed them in specific places in the music. They did always provide verbal instructions and moved on. As his rehearsal proceeded, he addressed a balance issue in trumpet and made mention that the lower a part is, the harder it was to hear. The presence of a growling sound or white noise in my ears during tutti passages seemed to indicate to me that this group is not yet achieving the intonation and resonance of the other bands heard to this point of the conference. This was a function of mental focus.
Maestro Bostock addresses numerous issues during the following minutes including:
1. How a section should listen
2. How a fortissimo should never be so loud that control is lost. The sound must always be beautiful.
3. There should always be a quality sound in spite of the dynamic.
4. Soloists should perform with more rubato and more expression.
5. How the ostinato figure should be played length-wise to help clarify solo parts
6. To correct rushing, give notes more time.
7. When playing softly, be sure to maintain support.
8. In the allegro, use more separation for clarity.
9. Long notes cover shorter notes balance-wise.
10. To achieve evenness, you must feel the division.
To explain musical reference, Douglas noted that the solos after the big subito piano represented the souls of dead people. An interesting comment occurred when he observed that in some parts of the music he conducts to keep place but not to provide time for the players. I saw him use numerous sophisticated techniques in the course of his rehearsal including the gesture of syncopation, and he possessed a good, clear ictus. Cues to most solo entrances were given and were very well prepared.
It was characteristic of this band to rehearse quietly with good attention and quick error corrections. Douglas indicated that he wanted to leave time to do the piece by Mashino (Danse du Phénix), so they skipped to letter M “as in Mashino.” This final section contained harsh harmonies which were loud but not resonant. Running technical figures were very aggressively performed by the band. In spite of his sense of urgency to get to the next piece, the maestro would not accept poor entrances. This area of the piece was in 7/8 time, and the coda was only eight measures long.
Next, Douglas Bostock identified Mashima one of Japan’s leading composers and cited his Les trois notes du Japon as one of his strongest compositions. According to Maestro Bostock, Mashima often composes in an impressionistic manner. His music has made it around the whole world. His composition being performed was descriptive of a Golden pavilion in Kyoto and the flight of a golden-winged Phénix. The rhythm section plays music representing wind rustling a bamboo garden outside the walls of the pavilion. The music starts from nothing and builds toward a big climax when the Phénix flutters to the top of the pavilion. A high screeching sound represents the midday sun reflecting off the golden wings of the Phénix. As rehearsal proceeded, Bostock asked the band not to play too forcefully and to listen for their pitch within the harmony. Occasionally he would instruct while band was playing. It was evident that Douglas was comfortable with the score and had a good understanding of what needed to happen. He spoke to timpanist about being more forceful to maintain good time. Bamboo chimes were employed to achieve the desired rustling effect while a soprano saxophone soloed. It is necessary to have a harp to perform this work properly. After skipping to measure 311, they played to the end quite effectively. Glenn Price then came on stage to conclude the session with a thank you to the conductors, composers and players as well as the people in the audience.
This was indeed an invigorating rehearsal in that the musical choices were diverse from both a stylistic and composer nationality viewpoint, and because both conductors used contrasting rehearsal style while maintaining high musical standards. I suspect the student musicians, the WASBE board, and the members of the concert audience received their money’s worth and more. It was just great to have the opportunity to observe both outstanding maestros at work. And it was likewise great to see the world come together for the purpose of making good music.
Submitted by: Dr. John C. Carmichael, Director of Bands, University of South Florida, Tampa