Windsync Program Notes 2019-02-18T15:22:31-05:00

Garrett Hudson, flute

Emily Tsai, oboe

Julian Hernandez, clarinet

Anni Hochhalter, horn

Kara LaMoure, bassoon

Clefworks

February 22, 2019

WindSync is five outstanding North American wind musicians who come together as performers, educators, and community-builders. WindSync concerts are intimate, joyful, and thoughtfully programmed with people and places in mind. The quintet eliminates the “fourth wall” between musicians and audience by performing from memory. Recent winners of the Concert Artists Guild and Fischoff competitions, they approach their mixed repertory of classics for quintet, new American music, and in-house transcriptions with infectious excitement and artistic dedication.

This season, WindSync celebrates their 10th anniversary as an ensemble with an exploration of origins and home. The program opens with two pieces that broke ground in establishing a uniquely American sound in classical music–Antonín Dvořák’s American Quartet and Alberto Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas. The two other works are virtuosic examples of how the American style has since developed–a brand new piece by Marc Mellits celebrating NASA’s Apollo moon missions and Maslanka’s Quintet for Winds No. 3, which is based on the Bach chorale “Your stars, your cavernous sky”.

Program

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904): Finale from Quartet No. 12 in F major, “American”

Marc Mellits (b. 1966): Apollo

I: Theia

II: Sea of Tranquility

III: Buzz

IV: Luna Nova

V: Debbie Waltzing on the Moon

VI: One Small Step

VII: Moonwalk

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Bolero

—–

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Dance I from Suite for Variety Orchestra

David Maslanka (1943-2017): Quintet for Winds No. 3

    Slow – moderate

    Moderate

    Very fast

Program notes

Antonín Dvořák: Finale from Quartet No. 12 in F major, “American”

Though he was Czech, Antonín Dvořák can be credited among the first composers to attempt a truly American style of classical composition. After a long and diligent career in Prague, he was recruited to be director of the new National Conservatory of Music in New York from 1892 to 1895, and he set to work identifying the unique musics of the United States. In the spring of 1893 the composer attended one of Buffalo Bill Cody’s traveling shows, where Sioux musicians and dancers performed. A few months later, he attended a performance of the Kickapoo Medicine Company. He concluded that Native American music offered a rich foundation for a new sound world, writing, “The fact that no one has as yet arisen to make the most of it does not prove that nothing is there.”

The summer of 1893, Dvořák accepted an invitation to set up residence with his family in Spillville, Iowa, an agricultural community of 300 residents, many of them Czech. Newly inspired by life in the American Midwest, he set to work on two major chamber works: a quartet and a quintet for strings that now both go by the nickname “American.” Dvořák sketched the works at lightning speed, writing at the end of the draft, “Thank God. I am pleased. It all went so quickly!”

The finale for the quartet was completed on July 25, 1893, less than three weeks after Dvořák created the initial sketches for the piece. The themes are mostly pentatonic throughout the quartet, perhaps inspired by the Kickapoo and Sioux music he had recently heard, and the ostinato rhythms under the main melody hint at a drum beat. The hymn-like middle theme may recall the Church of St. Václav in Spillville, where the composer would occasionally play the organ during his summer visit. Dvořák was a violist, and he is known for paying extra attention to the instrument in his music. In WindSync’s version, the clarinet and bassoon take these middle-range melodies.

Marc Mellits: Apollo

Apollo is commissioned by and dedicated to WindSync, inspired by the Apollo 11 mission of July 1969.

Marc Mellits is one of the most performed living American composers, enjoying hundreds of performances throughout the world every year. His music is eclectic, all-encompassing, and colorful. Mellits often composes works that comprise short, contrasting movements—sets of miniatures that form a multi-angled view of a single image, setting, or subject. His unique musical forms alternate driving rhythms with soaring lyricism.

Mellits has been commissioned by groups such as Kronos Quartet, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bang On a Can All-Stars, Canadian Brass, New Music Detroit, Third Coast Percussion, and the Society for New Music. Mellits has scored numerous films, including the PBS mini-series “Beyond the Light Switch,” which won a 2012 Dupont-Columbia award. He also directs and plays keyboards in his own ensemble, the Mellits Consort. Mellits studied at the Eastman School of Music, Yale School of Music, and Cornell University, and he is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Maurice Ravel: Bolero

Bolero came into existence by coincidence. In 1928, Russian actress and dancer IDa Rubenstein commissioned Ravel to arrange Iberia, a piano suite by the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz, for full orchestra. After discovering that another composer had beaten him to the task, Ravel decided instead to compose original music with a similar flavor. Ravel had a taste for Spanish dance forms, and he first experimented with the idea of a fandango before settling on the bolero, which features a driving triplet on the second beat of each measure. The Spanish version of bolero may be danced solo or as a couple. Without a partner, the soloist communicates a theatrical passion and longing.

Ravel intentionally wrote his Bolero without any development, challenging himself to see how long he could repeat material and keep it fresh. The academic nature of this compositional process left Ravel quite critical of his own work and bewildered by its success. WindSync is challenged, then, to apply similar rigor to their performance of Bolero–to make it sound like “one very long, gradual crescendo,” as Ravel put it. While the accompaniment of a Spanish bolero is traditionally covered by castanets, WindSync uses Ravel’s choice of a snare drum. Each instrument passes the solo, then plays in combination with the instruments around it, allowing the audience to observe the timbres of the ensemble.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Dance I from Suite for Variety Orchestra

Dmitri Shostakovich was a Russian composer and pianist, and is today known as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. He remained in the Soviet Union during a period of great political change and strife, and as such his music is known for having a political bent. A polystylist, Shostakovich was equally adept at military marches, neoclassicism, and atonality. All three would mix in his symphonies and chamber music in a way that often sounds dark and, to some, sarcastic.

Shostakovich compiled the Suite for Variety Orchestra late in life as a sort of “greatest hits” album of his film music. The suite includes a variety of light pieces—waltzes, marches, and dances—and shows us the rare festive side of this often-sardonic composer. “Dance I” originally appeared in the Soviet film The Gadfly, a sweeping epic about Italian revolutionaries. In the film, it accompanies a busy marketplace scene. The brilliant character of the music makes it a natural favorite of woodwind players, and several WindSync musicians encountered it early in life as band students eager break their own records for speed.

David Maslanka: Quintet for Winds No. 3

In recent years I have developed an abiding interest in the Bach Chorales, singing and playing them daily as warm-up for my composing time, and making my own four-part settings in the old style. The chorales now regularly find their way into my music and have become a significant “leaping off” point for me.

The first movement of Quintet No. 3 opens with the chorale “Ihr Gestim ihr hohlen Lufte” (“Your stars, your cavernous sky”). The movement is a “continuous play” kind of piece. After the chorale there is a sharply contrasting first theme, which works its way over time into a second theme, and this becomes the subject of a short and very pushy set of variations. There is a restatement of the first theme, and the movement ends with a blunt presentation of a new chorale: “Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht” (“Christ, you are day and light”).

In the second movement, the chorale “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist” (“Take courage, my weak spirit”) serves as a backdrop for an impassioned flute soliloquy. This is an intimate and personal music. The movement closes with a simple and uninterrupted statement of the chorale.

The third movement is exceptionally demanding for the performers because of its speed and length. It is something of a sonata form. However, the second theme, which sounds like a chorale melody, becomes the subject of a set of variations. The movement finished with a partial recapitulation and an extended coda.

–David Maslanka