Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Arnold

Concert Aftermath, Etc.

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Well, as promised, here’s a report on my latest concert with the Racine Concert Band, which was held at Horlick High School in Racine, Wisconsin, on February 26, 2019. I’m going to give you my general impressions of each piece, in the hopes you’ll appreciate the music even without hearing any of it.

The band played four pieces, which started with Richard Rodney Bennett’s Farnham Festival Overture. Overtures, along with marches, are traditional to start a band concert with; they have a known structure and pacing that audiences are accustomed to. The main difference between Bennett’s version and other overtures I’ve played had to do with how well Bennett understood how to write for symphonic band, and exactly what instrument could do which thing the best. A part written for euphonium was meant for exactly that instrument, rather than being a part that could’ve been given to a tenor saxophonist in a pinch; a part written for the tuba was idiomatic for the tuba, and worked perfectly with the rest of the orchestration.

In other words, it was a cute little piece that did exactly what it ought: it started the concert out well.

The second piece was an arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s St. Anthony Divertimento, which is known predominantly for its second movement (a chorale). This piece has four short movements, and is a staple of classical music because of its form and feeling. There is some dispute as to whether Haydn wrote this himself or whether one of his students, Pleyel, wrote it instead; what there isn’t a dispute about is how pretty the music is, how measured, and how much it embodies the feeling of stately grace.

The band seemed to enjoy this one. It’s another sweet piece that audiences enjoy, and it helped the concert move along nicely.

The third piece was an unusual work by Ottorino Resphigi called The Huntingtower Ballad for Band. Written in 1932, it was commissioned by the American Bandmaster’s Association to be played at a memorial concert after the death of John Philip Sousa (composer and bandmaster legend). Respighi is known for big orchestral works like The Pines of Rome, and he brought that sensibility with him into this piece. According to my conductor, Mark Eichner, who looked into the writing of this piece at a deeper level, Respighi had only six weeks to write this piece before the concert, and that made it perhaps shorter than it needed to be.

But what was even more interesting was the story behind why Respighi wrote it in the first place. It was meant to be programmatic, as it was about a historical love story (and nearly everyone can get behind those!), and there were three definite sections: the first being a lead-in to the main section, which is about the two young lovers trying to figure out a solution to their seemingly doomed love affair, and the third, quiet section where it’s obvious the lovers got away and have started a new life free from anyone getting in their way.

I’ll be honest, here; this particular work was challenging to put together. Not because any part was all that difficult, mind; it’s that the harmonies were not what you usually hear and the phrase lengths were either shorter or longer than most. (I know this isn’t very concise of a description, but describing music in words is quite difficult. Please bear with me.) The horns and low brass stood out in the Respighi, and they made this piece shine.

And the fourth and final piece of the band’s solo part of the program was the Malcolm Arnold English Dances. This is another four-movement work, but it’s a difficult one because it’s both lively and technically challenging. This was the one piece I had a solo part on, and I hope I did it justice.

The Arnold, for me, was by far my favorite piece of the night, and not just because I managed to snag a solo part. There were melodies, counter-melodies, and outstanding orchestration (Arnold was known for his orchestrational abilities). They were immediately accessible to the listener.

In short, you don’t have to love classical music to have enjoyed our program on Tuesday night. You just have to keep an open mind and listen, and hear…”those who have ears, let them hear,” as the Bible said. (I may be misquoting this.)

Our coda, concert-wise, was the Moorside March by Gustav Holst. We played that alongside members of the Horlick High School band. It’s a very short, English march (short in Holstian terms, anyway, as Holst is known for pieces like The Planets, First Suite for Band, and Second Suite for Band.) The Horlick members did a fine job on this work, and the audience seemed to enjoy it.

My reminiscences here wouldn’t be complete without saying a few more things.

First, I played this concert through a very bad back strain. Afterwards, I was down for about a day and a half. (Right now, with the physical limitations I struggle with, anything I do, I’m going to pay for in pain. It’s just the way it is.) Because of this, I wasn’t in that great of a mood either on the night of our dress rehearsal or on the concert itself.**

Second, I have to admit that it was difficult, again, to go to a concert, play the concert, and have no one there to listen to me play it. Sometimes, I’m fortunate and my Mom is well enough to go; that wasn’t the case this time. Other times, my sister can go, which also wasn’t the case. Still other times, my good friend who lives in town can come hear me play…but again, that wasn’t possible this time.

It’s at times like these, when my back is out, I must play the concert anyway, and I have no help whatsoever to get in (though I did have help on the night of the dress rehearsal, as one of the horn players helped me in and out of rehearsal when she realized I was in distress — bless her forever for doing this!), that I start feeling extremely frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to play music. I hope the audience enjoyed what we did. And I was happy to get a solo, and as I said before, I hope I did it justice.

Because of my physical limitations, I am now among the first to get to rehearsal (to make it easier for me to get settled and put my horn together) and the last to leave. This was definitely the case on Tuesday with my back being as painful as it was; my conductor, Mark Eichner, and his wife Esther, were waiting patiently for me to finish getting my winter boots back on (as I brought dress shoes along for the concert, of course), get bundled up, and get out. They couldn’t leave until I did, as the room had to be locked behind me…sigh.

That said, the only way I got through that concert was to pretend my husband, along with my best friend Jeff, were in the audience. They both loved music. They would’ve enjoyed seeing me play. And I can’t imagine, had they lived to see this day, that they wouldn’t have been there. So it made me feel a little better to picture them there, and made me feel far less alone in the bargain.

And yes, in case you’re keeping score, I also pictured them waiting for me as I was the last to leave. And tried to think about what they’d say, while I drove home, in great pain.

I was fortunate when I got back, because my father helped me get inside with my saxophone (he carried it, and my purse, too, as he knew I was in agony). He didn’t ask much about the concert, though, as the Badger basketball game was on, and he really wanted to know how that game would end.

So, that’s my wrap-up. I hope you enjoyed it, even with my additional conversational fillips regarding my bad back and the difficulties I had playing this concert. If I did my job correctly on that stage, the audience never knew thing one about it…and that’s as it should be. Because music, like any form of art, should speak for itself.

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**And in case the person at Horlick High School who was in charge of moving the chairs, etc., for the band to sit on sees this, I want to apologize to him. I was curt there, when I realized a whole row of chairs was missing. (We needed eight more chairs for the saxes and the French horns.) Normally, I wouldn’t be as short (I hope I wasn’t rude, and I didn’t use any foul language, but still), because I do understand how difficult it can be for one person to try to set up and strike a stage after a concert.