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ClassicsOnline Home » GRYC, S.M.: Passaggi / ZIVKOVIC, N.J.: Tales from the Center of the Earth / SCHWANTNER, J.: Recoil (Hartt School Wind Ensemble)
Stephen Gryc and Nebojsa Zivkovic composed their concertos—Passaggi and Tales from the Center of the Earth, respectively—for the instruments they play themselves. The artistic integrity and natural virtuosity of these major works is further magnified by the astonishing musicianship of the soloists, trombonist Joseph Alessi and percussionist Benjamin Toth, each a much acclaimed musician. Joseph Schwantner’s highly rhythmic Recoil contrasts with the simple and eloquently lyrical beauty of the lullabies by Leslie Bassett and Joseph Turrin, which evoke an adult’s longing for childhood innocence.
By David Denton
Passaggi: Music for Wind Band
Schwantner • Gryc • Bassett • Turrin • Zivkovic
The Hartt School is delighted and honored to be a part of the Naxos Wind Band Series. We are excited to share with the listener four relatively new works and one old gem that is, thankfully, in print again. One unique aspect of this recording is that Joseph Schwantner, Stephen Gryc and Nebjosa Zivkovic were all present during the recording process and served as producers for their own works. Stephen Gryc (a former student of Leslie Bassett) produced Lullaby for Kirsten and Joseph Turrin helped in the post production of his Lullaby. This recording features two composers who wrote concertos for the instruments they grew up playing. As you will hear, this allows for a natural virtuosity that enhances the works’ artistic integrity which is further magnified by the world-class musicianship of Joseph Alessi and Benjamin Toth.
Lastly, I want to thank the members of The Hartt Wind Ensemble for their devotion to this project. It was an honor to work on this project with them.
Joseph Schwantner: Recoil
The University of Connecticut and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler New Music Foundation commissioned Recoil for conductor and Artistic Director Jeffrey Renshaw and the University of Connecticut Wind Ensemble. The première performance took place on Wednesday, 3rd November, 2004, in Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York.
The instrumentation includes piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, euphonium, tuba, amplified piano and percussion. Four percussionists play an arsenal of pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments, including a two-octave set of crotales, vibraphone, marimba, tubular bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, timbales, bongos, four tom-toms, conga drum, tenor drum, two bass drums, anvil, three tam-tams, three suspended cymbals, four triangles, four brake drums and a large cowbell.
Recoil is my fourth work for wind ensemble in a series of pieces that span 27 years. The other works are: And the Mountains Rising Nowhere (1977), From a Dark Millennium (1980), and In Evening’s Stillness… (1996). While the instrumentation for Recoil is larger than the earlier works, all are framed in a single continuous movement and exploit the rich timbral resources of an expanded percussion section that includes amplified piano.
Recoil, a highly rhythmic work, opens with an aggressive six-note figure played by piano and ringing percussion. This obsessively articulated pitch collection is the primary generative element that helps shape many of the linear, harmonic and gestural ideas in the work. The music reflects the result of the positive and fruitful collaboration with the University of Connecticut Wind Ensemble and is dedicated with admiration and appreciation to conductor Jeffrey Renshaw.
Stephen Michael Gryc: Passaggi
Passaggi was commissioned by Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic. The concerto form is stereotyped, so I sought a means by which I could give the soloist something unique and personal. Each of the three movements is an evocation of a stage in a musician’s development. The title Passaggi, the Italian word meaning “passages,” has both musical and non-musical connotations. The piece is somewhat autobiographical; each of the three movements is dedicated to a different trombonist who has been influential in my musical life.
The concerto starts with a slow movement, Preludio, giving the whole work a dramatic shape markedly different from most other concertos. The Preludio is an evocation of classical music’s mystery and sublime sense of beauty that I found compelling even as a small child. The Preludio represents the dream of becoming a musician and is dedicated to Daniel Livesay, a wonderful trombonist who, at different times, taught both Joseph Alessi and me.
The second movement, Variazioni, is a set of variations on an odd little theme of my own composition. The theme has two parts, one playful and jaunty (played by the bassoons), the other ethereal and lyric (played by the trombone). Each successive variation has a strikingly different character and its own designation: Marziale (martial music), Tarantella (a frenzied Italian dance scored for woodwinds, percussion and trombone), Recitative (a short meditation with accompaniment by the percussion section), Cantilena (the lyric highpoint of the work), and Finale piccolo (a virtuosic “little ending”). The second movement ends with an abbreviated version of the theme. An academic form which I tried to enliven, the Variazioni represent a musician’s years as a student and is dedicated to my composition teacher (and former trombonist) Leslie Bassett.
The last movement of Passaggi bears the unusual title Scherzi tempestosi or “tempestuous jokes.” A boisterous evocation of the competition among professional musicians, the movement pits the soloist against the entire brass section of the wind ensemble. Both the principal trumpet player and the principal trombone player “horn in” on the soloist’s attempts to play a cadenza. Amid the frenzy, the original impetus to become a musician is recalled with music from the Preludio, and the movement reaches its climax with music from the Variazioni. This movement is dedicated to the supreme musician who commissioned the work, Joseph Alessi. I spent two years composing the piece, which was completed in September 2005.
Leslie Bassett: Lullaby for Kirsten
Lullaby for Kirsten was written in 1985 and was commissioned by the student members of the University of Michigan Band to mark the birth of Kirsten Reynolds, H. Robert Reynolds’ daughter. This lullaby has all of the markings one would expect to find in a work by Bassett. It is sparse and lyrically beautiful while retaining Bassett’s characteristic atonal harmony. The form is a simple song structure and uses as its melodic basis the first interval (minor 3rd) of Brahms’s Lullaby. In the final two measures one can clearly hear this reference to Brahms both melodically and rhythmically.
Joseph Turrin: Lullaby for Noah
Lullaby for Noah was composed for Noah Donald Koffman-Adsit and commissioned by Glen Adsit, Carrie Koffman and The Hartt School Wind Ensemble. When Glen asked me to compose a lullaby for his son Noah I was completely taken with the idea. I wanted to write a piece that was simple and eloquent. As I composed this piece, I thought of that wonderful main theme of Elmer Bernstein’s score for the film To Kill a Mockingbird—how provocative and song-like—beautifully shaped and filled with a quiet melancholy. There is also a touch of melancholy in this lullaby and perhaps a longing for the innocence that once was our basic nature.
“When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become.” Louis Pasteur
Nebojsa Zivkovic: Tales From the Center of the Earth, Op. 33 (2003) for percussion solo and wind ensemble
In the spring of 2002 I was commissioned to compose a piece for percussion soloist and wind ensemble. The concerto was commissioned by a consortium of twelve universities from the United States, led by The Hartt School, University of Hartford. Conductor Glen Adsit and Professor of Percussion Benjamin Toth of the Hartt School requested a piece that would be a real challenge for the soloist, showcasing the marimba as well as a multi-percussion set-up. In addition, the piece should also challenge the wind ensemble and should feature the percussion section. As the solo part was composed ON the actual set-up, it explores all the possibilities and colors of the chosen instruments in very effective and virtuosic ways. Therefore, it is important for the soloist to build his set-up exactly as indicated in order to make all the “licks” playable. In little less than one year after the commission, the concerto was given its première by Toth, Adsit and The Hartt School Wind Ensemble in Hartford, USA (April 2003).
Tales from the Center of the Earth is a musical story that evokes an oriental, Balkan-like mood. Although the large formal structure of the piece is divided in two main sections, there are many “little tales” throughout, such as dreamy cadenzas for the marimba and winds and the Egyptian-sounding groove in the tutti passages. The first movement features the marimba in dialogue with solo woodwinds. After the “oriental” awakening introduction, the music moves into a slow Arabic dance, the first movement ends quietly with dark, metallic sounds of cymbals and deep tam-tam. The second movement is connected attacca and begins with low drums and two tubas in a slow uneven two-bar metric phrase, 5/4 plus 9/8. The percussive sounds grow slowly and add a touch of mystery. In general, the second movement is energetic and propelled by strong rhythmic pulses, often performed by the whole ensemble in unison. Volcanic-like eruptions emerge from the percussion section and the soloist, leading to a percussion cadenza. The work was composed in a rather tonal musical language, with more progressive harmonies featured in the second movement only.
Tales from the Center of the Earth has turned out to be a very successful piece, receiving many performances world-wide and more than a dozen performances within one year of its première in the United States alone.
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GRYC, S.M.: Passaggi / ZIVKOVIC, N.J.: Tales from ...