06 March 2009

Chugach Brass: Chamber Music for Sugpiaq (‘Real Persons’)

 Chugach Mountains, view from Anchorage, AK, in 1930/32, photo: Walter Hodge, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks
T he Chugach Brass Ensemble delivered a wonderful performance at University of Alaska Anchorage on Thursday evening to an enthusiastic audience. About 120 people braved the cold, the thick snowfall, and the icy roads to attend.

 Chugach Brass: Sweeney, Weeda, Pierce, Epperson

  • Christopher Sweeney, trombone
  • Linn Weeda, trumpet
  • Cheryl Pierce, french horn
  • Dean Epperson, piano (guest)
T he program was widely-varied, including early music, Weeda’s arrangement of Bach’s Contrapunctus 16, a romantic piece by Debussy’s colleague Paul Dukas, and several new compositions.
  • A Philharmonic Fanfare (2003)….Eric Ewazen
  • Be My Love, A Suite of 16th Century French Chansons (2000)…. arr. Linn Weeda
         Tru, tru, tru avant il fault boire!....Jean Richafort
         Au joly boys je rencontray m’amye….Clemens (non Papa)
         Jouyssance vous donneray….Antonine Gardane
         Baises moy tant, tant….Adrian Willaert
  • Folksong (1972)….Bruce Broughton
  • Trio for Brass (1961)….Robert Sanders
  • Villanelle (1906)….Paul Dukas
  • Recreation for Trumpet, Horn, Trombone and Piano (1958)…. Pierre Gabaye
  • Contrapunctus XVI (inversus), Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080 (1745)….J.S. Bach (arr. Weeda)
  • Sonata for Trombone and Piano (1951)….George Frederick McKay
  • Fumeux fume (ca. 1380)……..Solage (arr. Weeda)
  • Trio for Brass (1996)….Anthony Plog
T he Ewazen ‘Fanfare’ is predominantly consonant triads interspersed with more dissonant harmonies (Copland-esque). The overall quality is assertive, gregarious, and extroverted—not frivolous, but intensely convivial. Very ‘brass-like’ in idiom.

W eeda’s beautiful 5-minute-long arrangement of French chansons illustrated the diversity of brass orchestration and textures. Also, a wide range in composerly ‘stance’—from the ribald ‘Tru, tru, trut’, to the tender ‘Au joly boys’ with Weeda’s mellow flugelhorn, to the exuberant horn-trombone duet ‘Jouyssance’, to the high-tessitura ‘Baises moy tant’ with Weeda’s brilliant piccolo trumpet. The brightness of the ensemble timbre is made even more dramatic by adding the piccolo trumpet on the top end. It lends a paradoxical impression of yet-wider harmonies—the as-written intervals do not have such wide spreads.

T he Broughton ‘Folksong’ was rendered with great empathy—lyrical and legato articulation without sentimental excess. Copland-esque. Sharp staccato trumpet stabs moderate the dark tones of the piano part. Weeda’s control of extended diminuendos was masterful and delicious.

O ne of the other salient musical features of this work include the frequent inclusions of slurred passages. Slurs throughout the work are used in two ways: 1) to move from one clear chord/pitch to another or 2) to move to indeterminate pitches as a gesture. In the simplest sense, slurs and legato playing provide a kinesthetic indication of fluidity within the work.

T he several Weeda arrangements showed off Weeda’s skill in orchestrating nuances that differ between the instruments. Low fifths thicken the sound.When the trumpet could otherwise be too strident, he softens the effect with the horn and trombone. Very nicely written and performed.

T hemes in much brass literature tend to maintain consistent relationships between pitches, often arranged in ascending or descending patterns. Both linear and vertical dimensions exist, of course, but can have different functions in brass works, compared to string ensemble lit. In the linear dimension, a theme is repeated, and the melodic contour varies according to the registral placements. Sometimes it is presented as an ostinato figure with a consistently repeated ascending contour and a recurring rhythmic pattern. This theme can also be combined with other elements to form a longer melodic line. Weeda handles these aspects with great skill.

T he other pieces were also new to me and interesting as a ‘casebook’ of recent writing for small chamber brass ensemble. Harmonies that are, in many places, ‘choral’ in texture.

I n the Sanders piece, the cadential formulae arise mostly from modern added-tone extensions beyond the tonic scale. Some modal intervals of fourths and fifths. By placing the “chorale material”, Sanders creates a sense of latent energy, even during the Adagio. Since we are expecting 8th note groupings in 4 (and the quarter-note pulse), the irregular feel of the rhythm in this movement gives a disruptive energy.

I n all, it was a wonderful evening—an intriguing sampling of recent chamber compositions for brass, and a fine introduction to Weeda’s abilities as an arranger. Wonderful, too, to experience such cultural diversity in the depths of winter in Anchorage.

T he ensemble takes its name from the Chugach (‘sugpiaq’) tribe that is indigenous to the Prince William sound area. Besides their roles teaching at University of Alaska Anchorage and playing with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, each of the performers is involved with local outreach and community music education efforts.

B esides his position as Principal Trumpet with ASO, Weeda is Music Director of the Anchorage Youth Symphony. His M.M. was from Boston University. Pierce received her M.M. from Temple University and performed French horn for 15 years in the U.S. Air Force prior to her current role in the horn section with ASO. Sweeney has M.M. and Ph.D. Mus. Ed. degrees from University of Miami and is currently Asst. Prof. of Music at UAA. Epperson was honored in 2005 as an MTNA Foundation Fellow, in recognition of distinguished service to music teaching. He has performed with Anchorage Chamber Symphony and Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.

T    he incisiveness [of the bright timbre] must be used advisedly. However, this property can be used to make a theme salient. The attack can have an equally pointed, even dissonant, effect. One sees the extent to which the problem of balance is complex and difficult...”
  —  Charles Koechlin, ‘The balance of sonorities’, in Mathews, ed., Orchestration, p.142.

T    he following five values operate through and with texts:
  • Will-to-Image: includes, at a minimum, images of past events and selves, as well as the inclination to move between several disparate worlds, what exists and what does not exist; what is real and what is not real... ;
  • Will-to-Improvise: includes not only how to invent in connection to the kairotic moment, but also how to confront failure and play within the dark spaces of the unknown, the unuttered, the ineffable;
  • Will-to-Intuit: the ability to disregard Reason, encouraging the role of emotions and feeling; the basis for inquiry and investigation; the curiosity-maker; the hunter; the willful accident;
  • Will-to-Juxtapose: the ability to contrast images and thoughts with one another, let them interact, cause them to conflict; the Bakhtininan 'centripetal force of language’; the power of metaphor;
  • Will-to-Integrate: includes synthesis, connection, parallelism, coherence; the beginning of transition to discourse; the Bakhtinian ‘centrifugal force of language’.”
  —  Joddy Murray, Non-Discursive Rhetoric, p. 140 [viz., the ‘assertiveness’ of brass players].
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