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“Grainger, Grieg, and Greg”: A Conversation with the Conductor and Guest Artist

CKCB poster May 2017

There is an interconnection between the two composers, Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg, being featured at the Central
Kentucky Concert Band’s next concert this Sunday, May 7, 3 PM at the Lexington Opera House—they were contemporaries and appreciated each other’s musical gifts.

Percy Grainger is noted for collecting folk melodies—using wax cylinder-based recording devices which were state of the art for the turn of the 20th century—and incorporating them into his music. Dr. Ben Hawkins, conductor for the band notes the professional relationship between Grainger and Grieg, and the former’s usage of folk melodies in his compositions.

Says Dr. Hawkins, “Grieg and Grainger first met in 1906. This was not long before Grieg’s death, and very shortly after Norway had finally achieved genuine national independence. Like many 19th-century composers from other countries (Smetana, Dvorak, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Albeniz, etc.) Grieg’s love of folk tunes, and the folk influence on his original music (including the Piano Concerto) was almost certainly motivated by patriotic feelings. Grainger loved folk music, too, both that of his native Australia and of its colonial ruler, Great Britain.”

Grainger’s love for new technology assisted his composing, as was already noted.

Says Dr. Hawkins on Grainger’s fondness for the nouveau, “Grainger was brilliant, original and eccentric, and therefore inclined by nature to embrace the new and unfamiliar. His zealous advocacy for the saxophone, a very young instrument in his time, is another example of this impulse.”

Musicians enjoy the physical sensation of locking in a chord, and the successes of playing—communicating, really—a passage to the audience. Conductors do not get to play with the band, but there are rewards.

Of these rewards found in conducting Grainger, specifically, Dr. Hawkins says, “Well, the melodies are great, and [Grainger] understood the idiomatic characteristics of the individual wind instruments, and especially of the band as an aggregation of those instruments, as well as anyone of his time or after. I love his quirky interpolations and embellishments, too.”

Rehearsing the Grainger selections has involved much effort by the band and by the conductor.

Dr. Hawkins notes the effort by saying, “I think the hardest part of performing [Grainger’s] band music is also related to orchestration: his voicing and doubling is quite unconventional. He often begins a line with a certain combination of instruments, then, in the middle of a phrase, one instrument will wander off to an accompanying part, to be replaced by yet another instrument. Also, his penchant for using several different dynamic markings to try to achieve balance and greater variety of color makes for great complexity. This renders the music hard to rehearse!”

There is a lot of heavy-lifting conducting to be done at this concert. Les Anderson, the assistant conductor of CKCB and the soul of the trombone section, will give Dr. Hawkins a break and conduct several Grainger selections with his own sensitive and expressive flair.

Piano Keys

The band is thrilled to have as special guest artist, Dr. Gregory Partain, Professor of Music at Transylvania University, performing Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor.

Dr. Partain is very upbeat in performing the Piano Concerto with the band.

“The Grieg is one, of the two concertos, that has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager (and I’ve already performed the other!). For my taste, it’s simply one of the most satisfying concertos ever composed. Specifically, I find the melodies and gently dissonant harmonies extremely evocative and expressive; also, I would place Grieg among the best of 19th-century piano composers for his ability to draw marvelous sounds out of the instrument. This is virtuosic piano writing, in the grand, hyper-Romantic tradition, but the virtuosity always serves a rhetorical purpose. In all ways, I find this to be emotionally honest music—not bad for a 24-year-old composer!”

Grieg’s piece is certainly celebrated in today’s society. It could be assumed, without risk of being wrong, that the majority of Americans, at least, are familiar with the theme of the first movement. But how did Grieg’s contemporaries receive it?

Says Dr. Partain, “I cannot speak with authority about the concerto’s early reception, though I believe it was performed multiple times even in its first years of existence and, in 1909, it was the first piano concerto ever to be recorded. It was not a ground-breaking work when it premiered in 1869, one year after Grieg completed the original version. It’s more accurate to say that it beautifully exemplified an ideal of what a Romantic piano concerto was supposed to be. The originality in it derives more from Grieg’s personal melodic and harmonic language—so suggestive of Norwegian folk music, but without quoting actual folk tunes.”

It should be noted that the Piano Concerto is in three movements, but only the first exists as a wind band arrangement/accompaniment. CKCB’s very own conductor has personally arranged the last two movements especially for the band. Says Dr. Partain, “CKCB will premiere an orchestration—or transcription or translation—written by our conductor, Ben Hawkins. It’s hot off the press, and I am particularly excited to hear it.”

Says Dr. Partain of performing with the band, “I’m looking forward to this experience very much! For many, many years, I’ve listened to CKCB rehearsing in the band room next door to my office, and I’ve attended occasional concerts, too. I’ve always been struck by the players’ obvious dedication and commitment and sense of community. They are not obligated to participate in this ensemble—it’s purely out of love for the music and for making music together. That’s inspiring to me, and I feel honored to be invited into this community, if only for a few weeks!”

The band rehearsed the Piano Concerto with Dr. Partain for the first time the other evening (pictures can be found on the band’s Facebook page), and the band was quite moved by the virtuosity of Dr. Partain and the beauty of the Piano Concerto. For an insider tip, even as well-loved as the main theme is in the first movement, there are many moments of beauty in the other two. Grieg’s composition yet has a freshness to it.

There is no admission fee for the concert, and no tickets are required.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in News

 
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Grainger, Grieg and Greg (Partain)

CKCB poster May 2017.jpg

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in News

 

Grainger, Grieg, and Greg (Partain)

By Don Schabel

The next concert presented by the Central Kentucky Concert Band, “Grainger, Grieg, and Greg (Partain),” will be on Sunday, May 7, 2017, at 3 PM in the Lexington Opera House.

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Dr. Gregory Partain

The concert will feature Edvard Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor with Dr. Gregory Partain Playing the solo piano. Dr. Partain has been on the faculty of Transylvania University since 1991. He studied piano performance at the University of Washington. During his 24 years on the concert stage, he has performed throughout the United States and overseas in Germany, Poland, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Russia, and Greece.

Grainger pic

Percy Grainger (Center)

Unless one is familiar with wind band compositions, the name “Percy Grainger“ may not immediately have meaning. Grainger, a native of Australia, became a U.S. citizen living in New York and enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces becoming a bandsman of the 15th Band of the Coast Guard Artillery Corps when the United States entered World War I.

Interestingly, Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg, two of the concert title’s namesakes, were contemporaries and
friends. Grainger met Grieg in 1906 in London. Grieg was impressed with Grainger’s piano playing (Grainger was a celebrated concert pianist) and invited him to his home. The following year Grainger joined Grieg at his home in Norway where he prepared Grieg’s piano concerto for performance at the Leeds Festival in England which Grieg was to conduct. Unfortunately, Grieg passed away before the festival took place.

Grieg pic

Edvard Grieg

While the band won’t be able to perform in England, it can at least transport the audience there through Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy—one of the several Grainger works the band will present. This six movement composition is based on English folk songs that the composer collected during 1905 and 1906 using the newly invented wax cylinder phonograph. Eventually Grainger collected around 30 folk songs.  Lincolnshirewas originally composed for band. Grainger’s love for the wind band and its sound is evident in this composition. The composition was composed by Grainger for the 1937 American Bandmasters Association convention. That very group held its 2017 convention in Lexington, Kentucky, the home of the CKCB, earlier this year.

Please come and enjoy the music of Percy Grainger and Edvard Grieg as presented in this free concert by the band and special guest artist, Dr. Gregory Partain.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2017 in News

 
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Frankfort Concert April 2017 Poster

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2017 in News

 

ANGER, RAGE AND MUSIC

There is more to be said about Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 then there was time for at the recent CKCB concert. The piece represents in musical terms an expression of total anger and rage. These are emotions the full expression of which are generally frowned upon in general society as they often lead to destructive outbursts. Nonetheless, it is socially acceptable to express them through the arts. Among graphic arts one has to look no farther than Picasso’s Guernica, or much of Goya’s output to find powerful examples of outrage. With music we have fewer but still powerful examples. In the 1960s Krzysztof Penderecki gave us some powerful examples. Following the death of Josef Stalin and it became relatively safer to do so, nearly every note of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich is suffused with anguished rage over the suffering of the Russian people. Such music is powerful, but it certainly isn’t pretty in the conventional sense, nor is it intended to be.

It should interest those associated with great music for the wind band to know that Music for Prague 1968 is not Mr. Husa’s only composition of this nature. Two years later he expressed his strong feeling about the earth’s impending environmental/nuclear catastrophe with his Apotheosis of this Earth. This is a three-movement composition in which he depicts the destruction of the planet in the second movement followed by sorrowful postscript. I’ve played the piece and as doing so, sitting in the midst of the second-movement’s tumult, I was thinking that if the world’s leaders could be sitting where I was, they’d soon mend their ways. Once in conversation with Mr. Husa about the piece I commented on his extreme pessimism. He told me that I was overlooking the return of the piccolo bird’s song in the final measures of the postscript movement.

–Lee Patrick

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2017 in News

 
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March 5, 2017

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Posted by on March 1, 2017 in News

 

Music for Prague 1968: A Personal Perspective

 

By Dr. Ben Hawkins, CKCB Conductor

As a high school student away at band camp in August 1968, I awoke one morning and set out for the dining hall for breakfast. Passing the reception desk, I noticed the unusually bold headline on the front page of the Washington Post on top of the stack of newspapers there. I paused to look more closely at the accompanying photo of Soviet tanks in the streets of Prague. Even among the myriad of shocking events that characterized that tumultuous year, the brutal extermination of the blossoming of freedom known as the “Prague Spring” was, and remains, among my foremost memories of that time.

As a native Czech, American composer Karel Husa was much more deeply affected than I. Fortunately for us, Husa channeled his pain and outrage into the creation of the great work of art that constitutes the centerpiece of our March concert, War and Remembrance.

As befits the gravity of its subject, Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968 seeks not to entertain, but rather to provoke our anger at the ruthlessness of the Russian invasion and our empathy for the suffering of the Czech people. It challenges both performers and listeners to enter into and to reflect upon the human cost of such a cataclysm. Drawing its musical inspiration from a 15th-century Huttite war song and from the composer’s memory of the bells resounding from Prague’s hundreds of steeples, Music for Prague 1968  takes us on an emotional journey from the initial idyllic birdsong through the stages of shock, sadness and confusion to a final statement of resolute defiance.

Born in Prague in 1921, Karel Husa died in December, 2016. A recipient of many major awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Husa spent most of his adulthood on the faculty of Cornell University. About 20 years ago, I had the great good fortune to meet him and to watch him rehearse and perform Music for Prague 1968 with the Kentucky Intercollegiate Band. The experience remains indelibly imprinted in my memory, and I remember the man himself as the epitome of kindness, graciousness and humility, whose eyes alternately sparkled and burned with intelligence and passion. For me, sharing music like this with my friends in the band, and in turn with our audience, is just about as good as it gets. I invite you to share it with us.


Want to experience Music for Prague 1968, and such other stirring selections as The Symphonic Suite from Band of Brothers, Colonel Bogey, and Milhaud’s Suite Francaise for Band? Join the band at 3PM on Sunday, March 5th at Transylvania University’s Mitchell Fine Arts Center. There is no charge for admission.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2017 in News