About this Recording
8.573446 - Wind Band Music - PUTS, K. / BRITTEN, B. / MAHLER, G. / BRYANT, S. (Network) (Ohio State University Wind Symphony, Mikkelson)
English 

Network: Music for Wind Band
Kevin Puts • Benjamin Britten • Gustav Mahler • Steven Bryant

 

Kevin Puts (b. 1972): Network (1997/2013)

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for the opera Silent Night, Kevin Puts has been hailed as one of the most important composers of his generation. His work has been commissioned and performed by leading orchestras in the United States and abroad, including the New York Philharmonic, the Tonhalle Orchestër (Zurich), the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Atlanta, Colorado, Houston, Fort Worth, Utah, St. Louis, the Boston Pops, and the Minnesota Orchestra which commissioned his Sinfonia Concertante, and by leading chamber ensembles such as the Mirò Quartet, the Eroica Trio, eighth blackbird, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Puts received his bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, his master’s degree from Yale University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts at the Eastman School of Music.

About Network, the composer writes:

Network was written while I was a student at the Eastman School of Music in 1997. I was interested in writing an explosive concert opener in which all the material of the piece came out of a frantic eight-voice canon. Composed of a line of continuous sixteenth notes which is “stacked” on top of itself eight times at quarter-note intervals, it is this incessant canon to which the title refers. This network or grid of melodic lines, lasting eight beats, repeats itself constantly as the piece progresses although only parts of the network are heard at any given moment.

Flats and sharps added to the canon cause the overall soundworld to ‘change color,’ and I decided to let these colour changes determine the shape and orchestrations of the piece before me. For example, the last section of the piece is in a key which is celebratory and optimistic, and I therefore chose to use bright, staccato chords in the brass. This section serves as a contrast to the previous one in which the underlying canon emphasizes a whole-tone scale (the mode often associated with Impressionist composers such as Debussy). This rather ambiguous soundworld suggested muted brass swells and metallic washes of sound provided by cymbals and tam-tams of various sizes.

This system of working—of drawing music from a pre-composed grid of notes—provided many challenges, not the least of them creating a flowing and engaging musical narrative out of material which is essentially unchanging and repetitive. In spite of the compositional approach I had chosen, my primary aim was to write music which was energetic, driving, and immensely extroverted.

Benjamin Britten (1913–1976): The Sword in the Stone (1939)

Benjamin Britten composed the incidental music for a BBC radio ‘Children’s Hour’ six-part dramatization of T.H. White’s Arthurian story in the spring of 1939. He provided fifteen numbers: Introduction, Boys’ Tunes, Merlyn’s Tune, Merlyn’s Spell, Lullaby, Water Theme, Jousting Music, Jousting Song, Bird Music, Bird’s Song I, Bird’s Song II, Witch Tune, Witch’s Song, Tree Music and End Music. Oliver Knussen and Colin Matthews compiled this suite for a performance at the 1983 Aldeburgh Festival, using ten of the numbers with a minimum of editorial change, but linking them to form four separate movements.

Britten was unable to supervise the recording of the music, which was broadcast in June and July 1939, as by then he was in Canada. But the manuscript score (in private possession) contains detailed instructions to the producer and conductor as to how this ‘deep and subtle music’, as the composer describes it, was to be performed.

Colin Matthews

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911): Um Mitternacht (1901)

The German Romantic poet Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866), was one of Gustav Mahler’s favourite poets, and he set a number of his poems to music, including the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). Mahler composed four of the five Rückert-Lieder in 1901, initially with piano accompaniment, but immediately orchestrated them. Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder do not form a cycle and there is no conventional order in which they are to be sung. Each song is distinct from the others in subject matter, structure and orchestration. Although the musical form is strongly conditioned by the poetic structure, Mahler uses different ways to vary the traditional strophic organization.

Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) recounts the poet’s battle with darkness (in both its literal and figurative sense) until he finally gives up his search and commends himself into the hands of God. Three central instrumental motives are introduced in the opening bars and form the foundation for much of the song: a three-note dotted figure in the clarinets; a rising and falling dotted figure in the flute and an even descending scale in the horns, mirrored by an ascending scale in the voice. While the poem has five regular six-line stanzas (the first and last line of each are “Um Mitternacht”), Mahler sets each of them to different music. In musical imitation of the poet’s persistent striving, he sets each stanza with new music. The final stanza, the transcendent moment in which he finds his answer through surrender to the “Lord of death and life,” concludes with triumphant brass fanfares, harp glissandi and a resounding plagal cadence.

Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn

Steven Bryant (b. 1972): Concerto for Wind Ensemble (2007–2010)

My Concerto for Wind Ensemble came into existence in two stages, separated by three years. The first movement came about in 2006, when Commander Donald Schofield (then director of the USAF Band of Mid-America) requested a new work that would showcase the band’s considerable skill and viscerally demonstrate their commitment to excellence as representatives of the United States Air Force. From the outset, I decided against an outright depiction of flight, instead opting to create a work that requires, and celebrates, virtuosity. Initial discussions with Commander Schofield centred on a concerto grosso concept, and from this the idea evolved into one of surrounding the audience with three groups of players, as if the concertino group had expanded to encompass the audience. These three antiphonal groups, along with the onstage ensemble, form the shape of a diamond which, not coincidentally, is a core formation for the USAF Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron. As a further analog, I’ve placed trumpet 5 and clarinet 5 in the back of the hall, serving as an ‘inversion’ of the ensemble onstage, which mirrors the role of the No. 5 pilot who spends the majority of the show flying inverted. The musical material consists of a five-note ascending scale-wise motive and a repeated chord progression (first introduced in the vibraphone about 2’30” into the work). The rhythm of this chord progression (inspired by a Radiohead song) informs the rhythmic makeup of the remainder of the movement.

As the piece took shape, I realized I wanted to write much more than the “five to seven minutes” specified in the original commission, so I intentionally left the end of the work “open,” knowing I would someday expand it when the opportunity presented itself. That chance came in 2009, thanks to Jerry Junkin: shortly after his fantastic 2009 performance of Ecstatic Waters at the College Band Directors National Association conference in Austin, we discussed my desire to write more movements, and he graciously agreed to lead a consortium to commission the project.

In expanding the work, I planned to reuse the same few musical elements across all five movements. “Economy of materials” is a guiding principle of my approach to composing, and I set out to tie this work together as tightly as possible. The original ascending five-note motive from Movement I returns often (in fact, the number 5 insinuates itself into both the melodic and rhythmic fabric of the entire work).

In Movement II, this scalar passage is stretched vertically, so that its total interval now covers a minor seventh instead of a perfect fifth. The F# Phrygian harmony eventually resolves upward to G major, acting as a five-minute expansion of the F#–G trills introduced in the clarinets at the beginning of Movement I. The second movement exploits the antiphonal instruments for formal purposes, as the music gradually moves from the stage to the surrounding instruments. Extended flute solos permeate the movement.

Movement III is bright, rhythmically incessant, and veers toward jazz in a manner that surprised me as it unfolded. The accompaniment patterns revisit the vibraphone rhythm from Movement I, which various scalar threads swirl around the ensemble. The melodic material for this movement comes from a trumpet solo my father played years ago, and which I transcribed in 2006, while composing the first movement. I knew from the beginning that this would end up in the work, though my original plan was to set it “in toto” in the fourth movement. Instead, it wound up in the much brighter third movement, and led the music into a completely unexpected direction.

Movement IV’s weighty character, then, comes from that initial plan to set my father’s solo. However, I realized it wasn’t going to sound as I had anticipated—I had envisioned something similar to Ives’ The Unanswered Question, but it simply wasn’t working. Once I let go of the solo and focused on the surrounding sonic landscape, the music formed quickly, recalling various fragments from earlier in the piece. The movement also pays homage to Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra (elements of which appear in other movements), and John Corigliano’s score to the film Altered States. Both of these have been early, powerful, lasting influences on my compositional choices.

Movement V returns to the opening motive of the entire work, this time with a simmering vitality that burns inexorably to a no-holds-barred climax. Where the first four movements of the work only occasionally coalesce into tutti ensemble passages, here, the entire band is finally unleashed.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Jerry Junkin and the consortium members for allowing me the opportunity to create this work—all 54,210 notes of it.

Steven Bryant


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