Courtesy of WindSync, edited by Prof. John Baron
Miguel del Aguila: Wind Quintet No. 2
Wind Quintet No. 2 was written in 1994 and premiered the same year in Santa Barbara by the Bach Camerata. In 1995 it was awarded a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for excellence in chamber music composition. The four movements are held together by an undisclosed program that takes the listener through four different places (movements), as would the four acts of a play. We will hear two of the movements.
Back in Time has a primitive, ritualistic character. The flute, accompanied by chant, plays a simple, modal theme. The simple musical structure and melodic material are retained as the movement progresses.
In Heaven is a delicate, relaxed and stylized Caribbean dance. Extensive new performance techniques and effects are used in this movement, which at times makes the quintet sound like a delicate, distant percussion ensemble.
Vienna Teng (Cynthia Yih Shih): The Hymn of Acxiom
Cynthia Yih Shih, better known by her stage name Vienna Teng, is an American pianist and singer-songwriter who was based in Detroit, Michigan and now lives in Washington, DC. She was born in Saratoga, CA, and was educated at the University of Michigan and Stanford University. The Hymn was released as a song in 2013.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quintet in E-flat Major Op. 4
In 1792, Beethoven composed his wind octet for pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns. The piece would be assigned the relatively high opus number of 103 upon publication, but at the time of its writing, Beethoven was still a young student of composer Joseph Haydn. Beethoven wrote the piece in Bonn for the woodwind ensemble at the court of Prince Elector Maximilian Franz, a highly skilled group that performed music for social events.
Clearly, Beethoven was taken by the experience of writing the wind octet. For one, he added the direction “in a concert” to the score, indicating that he wanted the music to have a life as a concert work rather than as mere background music. More telling, he recomposed the music for strings. The resulting piece, the Quintet in E-flat Major Op. 4 for 2 violins, 2 violas, and cello, mostly retains the original writing of the Op. 103 octet but adds new themes to the last three movements.
While Beethoven did not compose a wind quintet, the Op. 4 string quintet is the closest proxy we have. This transcription by Israeli bassoonist Mordechai Rechtman preserves as much of Beethoven’s orchestration from the Op. 103 wind octet as possible, leaving us a preview of the masterful wind writing to come in the great composer’s symphonies.
Akshaya Avril Tucker: Hold Sacred
“The goal of the piece is to soothe.
To hold something sacred to us is soothing; to remember it is soothing.
I mean to hold sacredness literally. Make ‘hold’ the verb that it is. Hold sacred, as you would a baby chick, a tiny plant, a memory, or someone’s hand. The gentleness comes from the desire to protect this dear object, to stay in this comfort for a while…
With the task of meditating on the concept of ‘sacredness,’ for WindSync’s ‘Sacred and Profane’ program, I had to ask what was sacred to me personally. The answer, especially during this pandemic, is ‘touch and feel’ things. Repotting plants. Kneading bread dough. (Giving a hug!) Fewer think-y things...It is touching that keeps me going. It soothes anxiety; a magical antidote, special serotonin.
We may only create a few moments of soothing sounds together, and then...we will go right back to the way things were. But maybe just for a moment, we can hold this feeling in our hands.
‘Hold Sacred’ features a blend of abstracted raga-inspired fragments that swirl through unusual harmonies and (hopefully) invite a meditation on whatever is most soothing to the listener.”
— Akshaya Avril Tucker, 2020
Maurice Ravel: Bolero
In 1928, Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubenstein commissioned Ravel to arrange Iberia, a piano suite by Isaac Albeniz, for full orchestra. After discovering that another composer had already beaten him to the task, Ravel decided instead to compose original music with a similar flavor. Ravel had a taste for Spanish dance forms, and he first experimented with the idea of a fandango before settling on the bolero, which features a driving triplet on the second beat of each measure.
Ravel intentionally wrote his Bolero without any development, challenging himself to see how long he could repeat material and keep it fresh. The academic nature of this compositional process left Ravel quite critical of his own work and bewildered by its success. WindSync is challenged to apply similar rigor to their performance of Bolero--to make it sound like “one very long, gradual crescendo,” as Ravel put it. Each instrument passes the solo, then plays in combination with the instruments around it, allowing the audience to focus on the individual timbres of the wind quintet. While the accompaniment of a Spanish bolero is traditionally covered by castanets, WindSync uses Ravel’s choice of a snare drum.