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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wind & Percussion Music by Penderecki, Mayuzumi & Badings

Only one other recording of these works grouped together appears to exist. Performed by the New Brass Symphony, it too is out of print. Even individually these works are tough to find. All three are extremely challenging to perform, and certainly challenging to listen to as well. They display the chaotic complexity of 20th century avant-garde classical style, making them less accessible to general listeners. All three have sections I find particularly nice, but the Mayuzumi is the most accessible work of the three.

Liner Notes:

American Wind Symphony Orchestra
Robert Austin Boudreau, Music Director

A short walk from teeming, downtown Pittsburgh two rivers—the Allegheny and the Monongahela—mingle their waters to form a third, the mighty Ohio, and start it down its 963-mile journey, southwest to the Mississippi. At the point where the rivers meet (to form what looks like the letter Y lying on its side) there is a lovely uncluttered park that attracts many strollers during the warm months. Some come merely to picnic or loaf and watch the boats go by, but many more head for a big red barge anchored on the north (Allegheny) side of the park, the home of a remarkable cultural phenomenon known as the American Wind Symphony Orchestra.

Founded in 1957 by Robert Austin Boudreau, this group of TK musicians, chosen from the top young talent from the United States and abroad, has in its 13-year existence caused a major upheaval in musical circles, not only in Pittsburgh but wherever it has been heard. While most large cities offer some kind of outdoor music in the summer, most of it is of the light-classic or familiar-masterpiece category. Not so, the orchestra in Pittsburgh. It throws in a few toe-tappers for encores now and then ("Down by the Riverside" is the inevitable, if only semi-official, theme), but its major business is the expansion of the musical repertory by commissioning hard, new compositions from some of the most adventurous composers in the avant-garde firmament. What you will hear on this record, is an example of what the American Wind Symphony Orchestra offers its audiences—wildly enthusiastic, please note—on any given night during its eight-week season.

Credit for this unique idea—which can be defined as a refusal to believe that people have to stop thinking once the warm weather begins—must fall to Boudreau, a New Englander trained at Juilliard and the Paris Conservatory, a man fiercely dedicated to preserving culture as a living, growing part of human experience, and awesomely endowed with the twin virtues needed to make one's way in his chosen field these days: the ability to make music superbly and the ability to charm enough money out of private and official sources to keep the enterprise afloat. Credit must also go in large measure to Point Park College in Pittsburgh and its president, Arthur M. Blum, a dynamic educational force in Pittsburgh which maintains the orchestra as part of its growing cultural service to its community.

Pittsburgh is, however, only one of many cities which benefits from the remarkable work of the American Wind Symphony. After the home season each summer, the barge sets out down the Ohio River, serenading communities in six states with the same challenging fare it performs at home. The orchestra's journeys in its time have taken it up and down the Mississippi, through the Tennessee Valley, and the Inland Waterways. Wherever it has sailed on its floating stage, it has spread the excitement of the living, growing musical repertory.

The three compositions presented herewith are splendid examples of the powerful, original music the American Wind Symphony has caused to exist through its commissioning and publishing activities. Each of the three composers—the Dutchman Henk Badings (1907- ), Poland's Krzysztof Penderecki (1933- ) and Japan's Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929- ) is among the most talented and respected free spirits among today's composers. Each of them has approached the problem of writing for a specialized ensemble of winds, brass and percussion with no condescension to the youth of the orchestra's members or the supposed tastes of audiences at outdoor summer concerts. They have, instead, written big, daring, vivid (and extraordinarily difficult) music.

Badings, one of the first major composers to experiment with the fascinating and seemingly limitless possibilities of music produced by electronic means, has created in his Armageddon a harrowing tone-picture of the Last Judgment. His score is in seven sections, of which the first and third are for tape alone. The fifth uses a soprano, who intones a wordless line. The last is a huge climactic section in which tape, orchestra and soprano (this time singing part of the text from the "Dies Irae" section of the traditional Requiem Mass) join forces. "The end of the world," Badings writes of his score, "is not the most attractive theme to linger with in our thoughts. I reread the Bible, I looked again at the woodcuts on the subject by the famous medieval Albrecht Dürer and at the impressive lithographs by Odilon Redon. From them the subject haunted me and I started my sound-fantasies." Badings has included in his score such unusual instruments as a bass flute, a bass oboe or heckelphone and two contrabass-clarinets. His tape was composed with sounds produced by a variety of oscillators, tone generators and ring modulators, transformed by means of an array of sophisticated techniques involving splicing and rerecording to produce the two-track tape heard here.
—Carole Farley, Soprano Soloist

Penderecki's Pittsburgh Overture uses nothing but "live" sounds, but uses them in an even more staggering array. No fewer than 18 types of percussion are required (five woodblocks of varying sizes, six cymbals, six timpani, etc.) along with a full complement of winds and brass. Yet, in no bar of the 104 the work takes are all instruments heard together. Instead, there is a constant vibration, a moving back and forth from one block of sound to the next. Penderecki's style is like that of no other composer active today. Wisps of sound, blurs of sonority sliding up and down the tonal spectrum, blat out at each other, often separated by long, mysterious silences. It sounds at first fragmented, formless; yet, further hearings reveal a subtle but clear over-all structure, a logic involving statement, departure and return that gives the music both shape and substance. Is there a more difficut piece of music in existence? Or an ensemble better equipped to cope with its intricacies? Very likely, not.
Mayuzumi, widely known to American audiences through his superb score for John Huston's film, The Bible, is one of the small but remarkable group of Japanese musical iconoclasts that has developed in recent years and brought that distant land into the musical mainstream. His Percussion Concerto, a one-movement work demanding yeoman work from two timpani players and four other percussionists, again along with a large wind and brass ensemble,- is in a single movement that, like the Penderecki Overture, returns to a restatement of its opening material at the end. Like several other avant-garde composers of the day, Mayuzumi has created his music with an ingenious consideration for the actual space that surrounds a performance. The two timpanists, for example, often echo each other's work from opposite sides of the stage, creating a spatial effect exciting in actual performance and also on a stereophonic recording. Vivid, slashing in its rhythms, colorful in its myriad sound combinations, the Concerto stands as almost an encyclopedia of modern percussive effects . . . but an encyclopedia that exists as a living work of art.
—Alan Rich, Music Critic, New York Magazine

Track List:
  1. Krzysztof Penderecki: Pittsburgh Overture
  2. Toshiro Mayuzumi: Concerto for Percussion and Winds
  3. Henk Badings: Armageddon
Download Link: Enjoy the Music!, or here.

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