Tag Archives: Chris Brubeck

Arts

Scene&Heard: LexPhil abuzz

The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra is about halfway through their 2017-2018 season, and the halfway point for the Lexington Philharmonic is unique.

Like any classical orchestra, each concert has an entirely different repertoire, and classical music is notoriously technically difficult to play, even for professionals. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Maestro Scott Terrell assembled a concert that had the most adventurous and audacious program yet presented this season. It’s a testament to the skill and artistry of the Philharmonic that the concert was a jubilant experience.

LexPhil music director and conductor Scott Terrell

The first piece of the evening at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts was a standard in the repertoire of any orchestra: Giacomo Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. As Daniel Chetel notes in his program notes for the Philharmonic, this piece is likely familiar to anyone, classical aficionado or no, as the score to the Looney Tunes’ “Rabbit of Seville” cartoon.

Rossini wrote in the full Italian style, emphasizing easily singable (or hum-able) melodies that work their way into the ear and stay there. The key to a good performance of Rossini, then, is to make the sound as clear and clean as possible. This was no challenge to Terrell and the Philharmonic, who obviously enjoy playing the piece.

It’s still a remarkable sight, no matter how many orchestral performances you see, to watch nearly twenty violinists move their bows in absolute unison. It’s a mix of technical precision and passionate artistry that’s quite peculiar to orchestra concerts.

That doesn’t mean that there’s no cutting loose, though. At one point towards the end of the overture, Terrell turned to the side of the podium facing the violist and—and I really can only use this word—boogied with him, while still marking time for the rest of the orchestra.

The main piece for the first half of the evening was a suite of music drawn from Igor Stravinsky’s 1920 ballet Pulcinella. Stravinsky, unquestionably the foremost composer of the 20th Century and possibly the greatest single composer since Beethoven, wrote this piece in the early part of his neo-classical period. After an early career in the 1910’s redefining the sound of not just ballet but the entirety of classical music with pieces like Le Sacre du Printemps and Petrushka, Stravinsky spent much of the next few decades attempting to turn back the musical clock. His neo-classical style looked back to the Baroque period, with delicate counterpoint and strict dance forms, as a basis for containing the seemingly infinite musical options available to the composer.

Igor Stravinsky | Portrait by Arnold Newman – 1946

Even within the supposedly restrictive forms used in the suite, Stravinsky created a sound world all his own. He spins from one musical idea to the next, never settling on one path for too long, but circling back to explore all the options available. Through just one moment of the suite, the orchestra goes from a delicate but cheery violin solo (performed both passionately and expertly by concertmaster Daniel Mason) to a booming thundering clamor from the bass instruments, and then right into a lush orchestral swell under a resumed violin solo; this all happens within perhaps fifteen or twenty seconds of music.

It takes a titanic effort simply to keep everyone together during those moments, and it’s obvious that not just Terrell but the entire orchestra are listening intently to each other.

Stravinsky’s music is always its own sound world— the melodies always sound half familiar, but still distinctly unlike anything that you would think of humming to yourself as you wash the dishes. Towards the end the trombonist and a bassist juggled a short set of phrases back and forth between them, only fully joining into one voice as the whole beast roared into a fanfare for the finale, creating an effect that is both predictable and surprising all at once.

There are plenty of traps for players in Stravinsky’s music— sudden stops for the stings, an out-of-nowhere flute solo that has to soar above the whole rest of the sound and glide gracefully back down— and lesser orchestras often trip up on these moments. Not the Philharmonic. When the violins drop out, they drop out as one, and when they return, it’s as though each bow is connected to the same hand.

The neoclassical style can sometimes sound simplistic or reductive, but Stravinsky orchestrates in an extravagant manner, and the Philharmonic was able to accentuate each part of the whole in such a way that the listener could observe not only the entire effect but the way that every component contributed to the entire experience.

After an intermission, the Philharmonic returned with Vaughan Williams‘ Overture to The Wasps.

Vaughn Williams conducts The Eastman School Symphony Orchestra | Photo courtesy of the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

Williams wrote a whole set of music to play with a production of Aristophanes’ ancient play, but the overture has found a second life among orchestras. It’s obvious why the Philharmonic was attracted to the piece—it has a style that overflows the bounds of the hall, filling the air with thick and overwhelmingly pleasant harmonies.

Williams’ overture runs about nine minutes, and it’s an excellent example of what classical composers can do within that time frame. Whereas pop music tends to be shorter in length and quite focused in terms of form and aesthetic, classical composers often feel free to roam about and wander through their material. Williams offers an example of this—there are no moments of quick change or unexpected leaps to new sections, only a continuous unfolding of transition upon transition. In the capable hands of Terrell, the music flows in an almost out-of-time manner.

The main event of the evening, however, was last.

In his time at the Philharmonic, Terrell has been a champion of new music. In his comments to the audience before the last piece, he said that he believed that orchestras have an obligation to present the “voices of today” to audiences. To accomplish that, the Lexington Philharmonic commissioned a new concerto from renowned composer Chris Brubeck, to be played by the world-famous Canadian Brass.

The concerto, entitled No Borders, was an unequivocal triumph for both composer and orchestra. Brubeck has a style that’s reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein, with lots of irregular meters that shout this is genuine American music, and a relentless and optimistic rhythmic drive that throws the piece constantly forward. The Canadian Brass played not just spectacularly, but in magnificent combination with the orchestra—totally in sync, and the whole feeling was one of camaraderie and unity of purpose.

Brubeck’s jazz-influenced style moves effortlessly between a kind of joyous wailing and winging about and moments of passionate harmony that seem suspended in time. He comes by that influence honestly as the son of the great jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. As the piece moved from a rollicking opening movement that brought to mind West Side Story and big band standards to a suave slow second movement, Canadian Brass and the orchestra, with seemingly no effort, demonstrated a graceful and subtle exchange between instruments that’s a hallmark of the highest level of playing in both jazz and classical music.

Canadian Brass performing with LexPhil

The final movement was like a tour of the Alps, moving from one glorious peak to another. With a rhythmic swing that bounces the head up and down and rolls the sound of trumpets and trombones (and tubas and horns) out into the seats and steps of the hall, a raucous and ecstatic energy carried the piece to a close and the audience to its feet.

Canadian Brass member and Lexington native Caleb Hudson

After a standing ovation that lasted for three separate bows, the Canadian Brass returned to offer two encores. The first encore featured Canadian Brass member and Lexington native Caleb Hudson showing off the infamously tricky trumpet solos of The Beatles’ Penny Lane. Canadian Brass also demonstrated exactly how fast their fingers could move with a second encore, featuring The Flight of the Bumblebee in an all-brass arrangement.

The final notes shot by at such a rapid clip that the audience had to give another standing ovation just to capture them as they flew by. 

Many left the hall that night buzzing with excitement over what they had just experienced.

Arts

LexPhil Explores American Soundscapes

Following strong success in September with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the Lexington Philharmonic is at it again. The next adventure is slated for 7:30pm, October 23rd at the Singletary Center for the Arts: American Soundscapes, an evening of (you guessed it!) American composers. LexPhil will open with the more familiar: Aaron Copland’s Our Town, taken from Thornton Wilder’s play of the same title, and George Gershwin’s Catfish Row Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess. But then, the program looks to present and future with a performance of Travels in Time for Three, a newer work by American composer and musician Chris Brubeck.

Maestro Scott Terrell spoke to us recently about the upcoming concert, the musicians involved, and his bold vision for our symphony.

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CS: Time for Three: Zach DePue on violin, Nick Kendall on violin and Ranaan Meyer on double bass.

ST: Yes. Plus they’ll have a drummer with them that night.

CS: How did this develop?

ST: Four years ago we introduced them here which is a huge undertaking, as they have become their own genre. The audience was blown away by their virtuosity when they were here before.

CS: And this was an opportunity to have them back.

ST: Yes. They are an ensemble that has opened a lot of people’s eyes and brought audiences a different sound. They relax the concert experience as well. When we had them here a few years ago, they did a series of pieces written for them and by them. Since then composers have taken on writing pieces for them, such as Chris Brubeck and  Jennifer Higdon.

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Chris Brubeck

CS: Brubeck is the composer of Travels in Time for Three, correct? Nice play on the group name.

ST: He was a good choice for someone to write a piece with such an unusual group. Chris composes concert music and is a great trombone player and jazz player. He has pedigree with his father.

CS: Dave Brubeck.

ST: Right. Chris had a one-of-a-kind musical education growing up and he has come into his own as a composer. Chris is deeply trained in Jazz, but this concerto is so broad in its variety of styles. This is his first big piece on our programming. When we had Time for Three here last time, they said Chris had written this piece for them, it was really dynamic and they would like to present this here.

CS: Tell me more about the piece itself.

ST: At times the piece is very baroque, while at other times you might hear a Jimi Hendrix-style sound. Travels debuted in 2010, and calls for the three guys, plus a drummer.

CS: This seems quite a bit different than the other two pieces: Our Town and Porgy and Bess.

ST: Gershwin was able to absorb the environment and create an opera that is definitely American, but is distinctly Gershwin in character. The honkytonk piano, the hurricane music with the ship bells, etc. All three composers had to adapt to their environment to create something new and fresh. There is also the sense of pushing boundaries away from the already-established.

CS: So, each of the pieces adapts to its times and perhaps pushes then-established boundaries, is that correct?

ST: Definitely. We forget that Copland was a big part of films and TV. Our Town was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s lesser- known Copland, but definitely his sound and color. It’s a lovely piece that doesn’t get performed very much; he adapted to his environment in the same way Gershwin did with Porgy and Bess. One would think Gershwin would not take on this subject-matter, being a composer from New York with so much ability and the experiences of the North. But, once again, we have that stepping-out-of-the-norm mentality, which is a trait that makes all three great.

CS: The pieces complement thematically as well as being new and older Americana.

ST: In all three of the pieces, you get a real sense of honesty. The intention of all three is very clear. They go together very well.

CS: And strongly American.

ST: American music is still Gershwin and Copland and in a newer, still-forming way, Chris. There’s a definite character in the sound world they create. They’re different, but American in their approach. Of course, Copland’s life and his output were tremendous: ballet, film scores, theatre, the versatility is unbelievable. He was also a product of his environment with his pieces for movies, which is where many composers found work and patronage. All three draw the best out of the orchestra. Genres gradually blur in these pieces. Today, Gershwin and Copland sound usual, because everyone has heard them and they have been labeled “The American Sound,” but they were daring in their day, just as Chris’s music is daring and expanding presently.

Below: Technical Sergeant Matthew C. Erickson performs Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra with the NEC Symphonic Winds conducted by William Drury. Recorded live in NEC’s Jordan Hall on March 6, 2014.

Brubeck is coming to Lexington later this season on New Year’s Eve to perform with his quartet. He’s written a lot of wonderful pieces, including one composed with his father concerning the photographer Ansel Adams.

CS: Travels in Time for Three. A new and different piece, I trust?

ST: The piece is 35-minutes, so it’s decent-sized. It traverses all of these musical styles that are emblematic of the American musical scene. Time for Three started out as students doing their own thing and have spiraled into composers seeking them out and writing for them..

CS: What is so appealing to you about this group?

ST: They’re a very versatile group that is capable of taking the audience through the many genres and the music Chris has created. It’s extremely virtuosic and interesting. You’d be surprised if you saw the three of them in a nightclub without a drum set. They’re all highly-trained musicians, world-class players in their own right. and they defy expectations and they’re committed to the music they perform. This community heard them a few years ago, but I wanted to bring them back for a more substantial collaboration. I like what they stand for. They can jam with anybody. They are comfortable representations of what’s happening in music now.

Here’s a clip of Time for Three at the Heartland Music Festival:

(Note: After 15 years with the trio, Zach DePue, has decided to depart Time for Three in order to to dedicate 100 percent of himself to his role concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Zach’s successor is acclaimed solo violinist Nikki Chooi. According to the Time for Three website, “Nikki is appearing on selected dates with Time for Three during the 2015-16 season, fulfilling his schedule of international concert dates while starting to play as a full time member of the band. In coordination with his duties at the Indianapolis Symphony, Zach will intersperse appearances with TF3 throughout and until the end of the same season, helping Ranaan and Nick make the seamless transition. Nikki will take over fully beginning with the 2016-2017 season.” LexPhil confirms that Zach will be performing with the group in Lexington.)

CS: Can you tell us about other concerts that Time for Three will be performing while in Lexington?

ST: Right. It’s not just the average “drop-in and do the show” visit. They have the ability to connect with people in a very formal way, but also in a very grass-roots way. They are doing four pop-up concerts. One is the National Anthem at Keeneland on October 22. Another will be in the lobby atrium at UK Healthcare’s Chandler Hospital, and then another at Ethereal Brewing. They’re also performing our educational Discovery concert, currently sold-out with over 1400 students at Singletary. These students will experience how interactive and exciting Time for Three is to watch in action. And on Friday, October 23, the day of our concert, UK School of Music will host a Music Entrepreneurship Assembly with Time for Three. So, the Friday night concert is the culmination of many activities and partnerships that take place throughout the week.

CS: LexPhil partnered with UK HealthCare and the Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation for this concert.

ST: Yes, we’ve combined forces on a number of projects. It is really amazing, the connection between music and healing, and UK Healthcare recognizes the power of music and has worked with us for several years to bring live music into the healthcare environment. One of Time for Three’s appearances will be at Eastern State Hospital. The Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation is a supporter for this partnership as well as our bi-annual Composer-in-Residence program which will take place in April. We’re fortunate to have partners who have a deep appreciation for the arts in this community.

CS: It seems to be growing, getting stronger.

ST: We’re fortunate.

CS: Absolutely. Thanks again for your time and efforts, Scott.

ST: My pleasure.

American Soundscapes is October 23, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. For the schedule of events and ticket info, please visit www.lexphil.org, phone (859) 233-4226 or email tickets@lexphil.org.