On the Pulse of Time

Date: February 28th, 2018

Exploring new ways of composing for symphonic winds, gathering down-to-earth experience in orchestrating, rehearsing and performing new music, bringing together emerging composers and conducting students in view of an exchange of ideas and visions – such were the topics addressed by the recent week-long Masterclass for Composing and Conducting Wind and Brass music organized by the Music Department of the Berne University of the Arts (HKB). Eight young composers were selected to have their compositions discussed, rehearsed and performed by the professional Wind Symphony of the Swiss Army. The composers and conductors were tutored by Oliver Waespi and Philippe Bach respectively, who are both members of the faculty staff of HKB. In particular, Oliver Waespi leads the new Master Program in Composition for Wind Orchestra and Brass Band (see https://www.hkb.bfh.ch/en/studies/master/mact/ )

Composing new music remains a challenging feat, even – or particularly – in our time of omnipresent music and computer-aided notation. On top of a personal and refined composition technique, a great deal of practical experience is necessary when it comes to orchestrating and performing musical ideas with real performers. It was this type of experience the HKB wanted to provide with this masterclass by bringing together emerging composers and conducting students with one of the leading wind orchestras of the country. The participating composers had a variety of stylistic backgrounds, ranging from jazz and film music over classical and traditional band music to contemporary aesthetics. Not only composition students, but also established professional composers took part in the masterclass. This led to an enjoyable variety in terms of aesthetics and composing methods, and the resulting new works represent a fresh new outlook in writing for winds, showing just what rich a musical medium the symphonic wind orchestra actually is.

Two composers provided works for chamber winds: While Michel Byland explored the realms of legends and fairy-tales in his piece «Die erzürnten Elfen», Pascal Gendre took some of the important aestethics of 20th century chamber repertoire as a starting point of his “Suite Nr. 1” and developed a rich, personal palette of expression out of it. Pascal Gendre is no stranger to the brass band movement either, having composed the evocative work “Pyramids” for the Swiss Nationals 2nd Section in 2004 and later his “Divertimento”.

All of the six works written for the full wind symphony were different from each other. Prolific film composer Michael Künstle developed rhythm patterns, melodic lines and sound colours typical for contemporary film music in his piece “On the Pulse of Time”, while Berlin-based Tobias Fasshauer opted for a fresh take on the minuetto form in his “Invenzione alla Minuetto”. The work “Music op. 16a” by Anton Vinogradov is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Schnittke. It starts with subtle, aleatoric gestures by the woodwinds evoking some sort of secret dialogue, followed by a haunting procession in the full orchestra. Timmy Schenk paid tribute to the spectral tradition in his piece “Genealogy” by deriving harmonic material out of overtone structures of certain core sounds, which made intense rehearsal work on the level of balance all the more important. “Translucency” by David Carillo, a jazz composer with Columbian origins, explored the tension between light and shadow, concentrating on filter effects arising when light crosses translucent matter. Finally, Loris Knüsels piece “Ode an den Traktor” starts out with a traditional march tune which becomes more and more distorted and is finally lead astray completely in a whirling sound field – an original and at times hilarious take on the subject matter.

During the whole week the composers continued working on their pieces, literally day and night as new versions of the pieces had to be finished for each day of rehearsal. At the end of the week the new works were presented by the formidable Wind Symphony of the Swiss Army conducted by its leader, Major Philippe Monnerat, as well as conducting students Loïc Bera, Jonas Danuser, Isabelle Gschwend and Stefan Popp, all of them studying with Rolf Schumacher, head of wind conducting studies at the HKB and project leader of this masterclass. On the whole, this week of intense music making proved a great creative experience for all involved and met with an enthusiastic audience reaction at the final concerts. This masterclass was yet another important step on the way of HKB becoming one of the major hubs for advanced studies in composing and conducting music for wind and brass ensembles.

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