Reviewed by Matthew George
An international ensemble representing nine countries/territories (Columbia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States), known as the WASBE Youth Wind Orchestra took to the stage during the afternoon of the final day of the WASBE conference. Having gathered together for less than a week of rehearsals, the ensemble proved to maximize its experience with two accomplished yet stylistically contrasting conductors. Dario Sotelo, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Brazilian Wind Orchestra led the ensemble for the concert’s first half, and Douglas Bostock who is currently Principal Conductor of the Aargau Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland was on the podium for the second half. Both conductors were agile and purposeful, and clearly demonstrated a keen understanding of the repertoire they were interpreting. Throughout the performance, the ensemble responded admirably to both conductors’ prompts, adjusting quite well to the gestural differences between the two.
The two halves of the concert were as varied in repertoire as were the conductors themselves. Sotelo’s half consisted of music from South America, specifically Brazil and Argentina, while Bostock’s program consisted primarily of Japanese or at least Japanese-influenced repertoire. In many ways the program as a whole was really two concerts in one. The orchestra responded very well in meeting the challenge of performing the wide variety of styles and performance techniques placed upon them. With only one week of rehearsal, the ensemble did very well in terms of maintaining a good sense of balance and blend. For the most part, nuance and shape was consistent across the band, and intonation was fairly consistent. Inevitably, an ensemble formed especially for a specific event like the WASBE conference will have some unevenness in terms of like abilities; but for the most part each section held its own. There were many fine soloists sprinkled throughout the wind orchestra as well.
Dario Sotelo’s chosen repertoire was clearly programmatic. Both pieces that he conducted were based on the beauty of the forest and the dangers of man destroying it. His first work by Brazilian composer Edumundo Villani-Cortes (b. 1930) was entitled Caetê Jururê – The Supplication of the Forest. The two part symphonic poem borrowed from French Impressionism as well as employing neo-Baroque contrapuntal techniques. Starting with an oboe solo in a “mysterioso” setting, the first part of the piece works its way through a rich color palette in terms of instrumentation and texture. This along with birdcall whistling in the orchestra sets the stage for the peace and beauty of the forest. The tranquility of the first part is then interrupted by a rhythmically and texturally aggressive second part marked by a fugal section close to the beginning of this second section, often disrupted by jagged proclamations in the brass. In both sections, Villani demonstrates his mastery of orchestration and color, and Sotelo did well in bringing these traits to the fore. The work closes in reflection of its opening, finishing with a soft unison stopped by the single ring of the finger cymbals.
The concluding work of the first half, Lost Forest, was composed by the Argentinean composer, Luis Nani (b. 1967), with the composer in attendance. This is a through-composed work with the latter section repeating itself. The piece, like Villani’s, refers to the negative effects man has had on the forest, and the middle section of the work actually portrays the trees of the forest whispering cries to one another through the wind (with the use of a wind machine) with the musicians themselves doing the whispering. The effects are convincing, and this midpoint of the work serves as a point of contrast between the outer sections. The composition itself is meant to be reflective of a variety of indigenous Argentinean styles and timbres, as well as rhythms found in the country - particularly in the northwestern region. Nani employs a variety of sound colors and textures from stark to lush to nearly abrasive. All are evocations of either emotional content or portrayals of Argentine sounds and styles. Several solos lines are sprinkled throughout the work, notably a chant-like narrative by the clarinet followed by the English horn in addition to a declamation by first the euphonium, then the French horn and then together in duet. While not necessarily requiring virtuosic playing by the ensemble, it does require mature musicality to make the phrasing and style come off effectively. In this case, the ensemble did very well and again, Sotelo was very clear in bringing out the specific colors, nuance and phrasing the composer seemed to intend.
The second half of the concert began with the work entitled Hiten-no Inori – Prayer of the Flying Gods by Japanese composer Isao Matsushita (b. 1951). The only atonal (quasi) work on the program, this too was a programmatic piece, but this time based on the gods flying from heaven to earth where they are first tranquil but then become increasingly fervent in their prayer for the relief of the sufferings of mankind. This is emulated musically by starting with a steady “heartbeat” of the repetitive timpani ostinato accompanying a series of section solos. The texture becomes quite dense until leading to a quasi-cadenza first heard in the bass clarinet then English horn, flute and others. The “prayer” picks up soon after with a layering of rhythmic ostinato set in a 5/8 to 2/4 changing meter. Percussion are featured throughout the work particularly the timpani which is assigned a rather virtuosic solo passage toward the end of the work with daiko (Japanese) drumming as part of the fervent intoning of the prayer. This was a complete change in style of composition from the first half, and the ensemble shifted to the new conductor, Douglas Bostock, and the work itself quite convincingly and admirably.
Bostock and the ensemble then followed with Belgian composer Piet Swerts (b. 1960) and his Concertino “Uzeme’s Dance” featuring the renown Japanese saxophonist, Nobuya Sugawa. Another Japanese story-inspired work, Uzeme’s Dance depicts a tale of the Shinto goddess of dance, Amano-Uzeme. The work as a whole is rather light, and opens with almost circus-like levity, followed by a middle lyrical section, returning to a more march-like bright tempo with material reminiscent of the famous saxophone concerto of Paul Creston. A cadenza ensues and then the work is wrapped up with the opening material. Throughout the work, Swerts invokes occasional pentatonicism as obvious connotations to the programmatic content. The expected virtuosic writing for the saxophone does not disappoint, although the cadenza didn’t seem to show off the capabilities of the soloist as one might expect or desire. Sugawa however demonstrated an agile and facile control with consistent clarity and depth of tone. His artistry through phrasing in the slower section was rich and expressive. The ensemble also did an excellent job in accompanying the soloist, never overwhelming even in the thickest textures.
While perhaps somewhat incongruous to the rest of the program, the Out of the Darkness, Into the Light by the ever-popular Philip Sparke did provide significant contrast to the rest of the program. Starting with solos in the clarinet and bassoon, the music quickly progressed to the rich textures associated with the composer that could be classified as “Sparke-ian Romanticism.” This lush sonority is then interrupted with brash fanfare figures that then go back and forth before returning to the opening material, only to again be brought back to another fanfare figure before closing quietly. Again, both conductor and band handle the contrasts aptly, and this short work was abundant in expression.
The final work of the program was again by a Japanese composer, this time Toshio Mashima (b. 1949) who was also in attendance. Danse du Phénix was inspired by the city of Kyoto. According to the program notes the work includes musical settings of two famous and beautiful Zen Buddhist temples and the appearance of the grand bronze Phoenix. Like seemingly many pieces on the program, this work begins in a “mysterioso” setting with the low sounding instruments setting the stage for the main motive of the work sounded by the French horn, presumably the motif of the Phoenix. This is then followed by the tutti horns before others join in leading to pentatonic allegro section. Changing tempi and styles ensue going from aggressive to contemplative and back and forth with Japanese connotations throughout. The works ends in a massive utterance of the motif in augmentation representing the sighting of the Phoenix atop the great temple. As a whole, the work is quite effective, and appropriately concluded an adventurous program.
In all, the wind orchestra played convincingly, and like all concerts at the conference, the audience received the band enthusiastically. Maestros Sotelo and Bostock are to be commended for their excellent work with a very diverse group of musicians.