Twisted Skyscape Album Release
As you may be aware, Shea and I are ‘officially’ releasing our Twisted Skyscape album on our own label (Legni Classics) this week ? on Friday, to coincide with the First Night of the Proms, at which featured composer, Gary Carpenter, will be spearheading this year’s Proms commissions with the world premiere of his piece, Dadaville. I’ve attached a copy of the ad that we’ve placed in the Proms programme for that evening, advertising a limited period (until the end of the month) 25% discount on the CD.
We have just taken delivery of 1000 copies of the CD and have received a very nice quote from Classical Music Magazine (it now features on the album cover, also on the ad attached), and we are hoping now to promote it to a wider audience.
We very much value BASBWE’s involvement and support thus far, and see it as a very important spoke in the wheel of our campaign to get this music and the woodwind orchestra genre in front of a very key interest group. And we hope that you might be able to help us with some support with the release of the album also. I wonder if you might be able to arrange for us:
- To send a promotional email (comprising a modified version of the Proms ad ? I would make small changes and supply a hi-res graphic to email) to BASBWE members informing them of the release of the album and the limited period special offer
- To include a listing of the album’s release on the BASBWE website (I can supply copy and artwork)
- To have an album review at the next opportunity in Winds magazine. We would be very happy if you might consider writing this review, if you felt it appropriate and were happy to ? your involvement in the project means you have a very good understanding of what we’re trying to achieve. I’ve also attached a review which an independent American wind music blogger has posted for us ? for your interest, and also I’m sure he would be happy for that to be put into print if you felt that was a preferable alternative.
‘Mystic Stardance’ and Sarah Watts’ Clarinet Playday
In another area, I’ve literally just completed (yesterday evening) work on a new commission for bass clarinet and piano. Mystic Stardance will receive its world premiere by SCAW (Sarah Watts & Antony Clare) at St John’s Waterloo on Saturday 7th November in an evening concert that will follow a Bass Clarinet Playday that SCAW are hosting ? flier attached. It would be wonderful to see you there if you’re able to make it ? please let me know if you do plan to come along and we can arrange a drink afterwards. I wonder if BASBWE might also be able to include a listing/the flier for the Playday and Concert online and in the next Winds magazine edition?
Information and Application Forms
Twisted Skyscape Review
Reading the list of composers involved with the ‘Twisted Skyscape’ project, you think that you’d expect to be listening to a brand new CD of ‘band’ music; Sparke and Gorb are doyens of concert band literature, of course, but this is something else entirely, and very, very refreshing?
To my mind, the thing that defines the ‘woodwind orchestra’ sound above the concert band is clarity; the multitude textures of brass and percussion can sometimes hinder, rather than help, and so Shea and Christopher, through this album (and hopefully beyond, in time) are almost starting a new renaissance in woodwind repertoire (one hopes).
I’ve mentioned Sparke, and his ‘Overture’ is probably the best way to open the album (any album, quite honestly). The spotless tuning and almost military precision of the Czech PWE under Shea’s baton is an absolute wonder ? just over six minutes of trademark melodies and flourishes, indicative of his maturing compositional style, but still resolutely Sparkeian. (I’m going to be honest and say that I miss the percussion towards the end).
A note about the Czech involvement ? why record over there when there are so many talented players in the UK? Probably too expensive here ? I don’t know, but the Prague acoustic allows the talents of the ensemble to shine through, so there must have been some benefit to completing this very British project overseas.
I’ll get this out the way now: it’s perhaps slightly irksome to me, being a completist, that not all potential woodwind instruments are represented in the orchestra (no alto/bass flute, no cor anglais, no e flat or alto clarinet, no soprano or bass sax) but as this is the start of something new, perhaps the instrumentation could be played with and developed further as other composers begin to start writing for it (including me, perhaps)?
Gary Carpenter’s ‘Pantomime’ is next up and in contrast, this seems to work much better for the ensemble than the Sparke ? can’t put my finger on why ? the swirliness of the ‘Prologue’ gives each section a moment in the sun, followed by a ‘Cavatina’, featuring the most gorgeous tunes for the double reeds ? this could almost be a good subject for a longer symphonic movement; I’m not sure why the ‘Polka’ makes an appearance in this movement, it seems a bit out of place, but the material is excellent, nevertheless. The ‘Dream Calypso’ is a bit muddy for my liking, but the ‘love duet’ that closes it is lovely, however the button ending is a bit of a wrench. I love the ‘Grand March’ that follows ? it’s deliciously mad and twisting, as is the ‘Waltz-Finale’, giving the saxes plenty of work (oh, the tonguing!), including a rather fab, lyrical baritone solo ? I could imagine this movement being a standalone piece, really, it’s very strong.
Now to the first of two Hussey pieces, ‘Dreamtide’. (Chris, with Shea, has been an integral part of this project and it is right that his work should feature so prominently ? he knows exactly how to bring out the best in players and create fantastic soundscapes ? more on that later). Opening with the sound of sharply-drawn breath from the ensemble (and throughout in various other places, ‘Twilight’s Haze’)), the piece is an other-worldly evocation of dream, originally adapted from his choral work of the same name (I’ll drop the W bomb now ? it’s a little bit Whitacre-ish, but more English ? does that make sense?). The programme notes suggest a ‘motor rhythm’ for the second movement (‘Wild Reality’) and here the accuracy of the ensemble shines through ? goodness knows how long it must have taken to get all that together in the studio (the whole album took just two days, but it doesn’t feel rushed in any way ? all credit to the production team). Some of the same dreamy, 1950’s-style harmonies from movement one return to round out the ‘Dream Within a Dream’ ? lots of solid playing here (perhaps the saxes could have been less aggressive, though, a touch on the hard side at times). A worthy adaptation and deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
I have to mention this, as it bugs me a little ? there are no women involved, at all, in the creative process of this project; all male composers, all male musicians, all male studio team ? where were all the women?! I urge any female composers, in particular, reading this, to consider writing for the woodwind orchestra ? being a patron of this project, I certainly wouldn’t want the continued legacy of this project to remain exclusively white male? Rant over.
Onto Adam Gorb’s fantastic ‘Battle Symphony’, a self-confessed ‘pastiche’, it certainly begins with a very ‘school band’ simplicity, soon escalating to something more Gorbian, particularly the mashed up harmonies that conclude movement 5 (‘Soldier’s drunken panic’), ending up in a stupefied heap on the floor as if all the notes had fallen off the page. The work, like Sparke’s ‘Overture’ was written for talented young musicians in Berkshire ? is this the new breeding ground for top notch wind talent in the country, perhaps? This piece, along with the Carpenter and Sparke, were all written prior to the millennium and adapted slightly for the purposes of this project ? I would be interested to hear brand new pieces from them for the same line-up, eventually, if only to hear how their compositional voices have changed over the last 20 years or so.
The whole project could not have happened without the generous support of numerous individuals and organisations, all listed in the booklet ? it is heartening to know that, although not all the money was found via crowdfunding, it certainly showed that the desired result could be achieved ? I mentioned the lack of women in the creative process, but there is certainly no shortage of women willing to show their financial support, which is nevertheless encouraging.
It remains for me to spend a few lines on the piece that started this all, Hussey’s eponymous ‘Twisted Skyscape’, a maelstrom of energy originally written for amateur musicians to accompany Matthew Kemp’s short film ‘Flux’ and premiered in London in 2008, both music and images the result of national arts funding ? again, money makes things happen (I often wish it wasn’t like that). The growling, snarling, sinewy textures of this work are manifest brilliantly by the professional ensemble (I don’t want to be drawn into an argument about amateur vs. professional, thanks) and kept in control by Shea throughout. In a way, as absolute music, it’s a bit repetitive, but there is much for an audience to latch on to, particularly a handful of really infectious rhythms that pervade the second movement (‘The Human Footprint’) ? I can almost imagine this piece working well for dance and having even further interpretations in the future (a new ‘Rite of Spring’, perhaps?)
Driven by the combined energies of Shea and Chris, they have heralded the arrival of the woodwind orchestra and it is now up to us to embrace it, compose for it, perform it, publicise it and get people talking about it ? there are instrumental ensembles that exist independently of each other (choirs of clarinet, saxophone, etc.) but, please, now it’s arrived, let’s do what we can to keep things together; programme creatively, experiment and give things a twist.