In Auxiliary Input, Andrew Anderson, a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library, reviews classical and opera recordings, including by local organizations. We hope to tie them to local performances by guest artists with various orchestras and chamber music organizations.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at email@example.com.
Shine: Works by Julie Giroux
UNT Symphonic Band, conducted by Dennis Fisher
Klavier Records K11221
Released April 20, 2018
Band music is the reason I’m a musician and the reason I’m a sucker for any recording by wind groups. But I didn’t start in my high school’s top ensemble. So as I progressed, I played music of every style, skill level and quality. That’s why I was especially interested in the University of North Texas Symphonic Band’s latest issue (available here), a recording devoted entirely to the music of Julie Giroux (video of the concert is above). Since the early 2000s, Ms. Giroux has been filling the wind repertoire with the most enjoyable music of the highest quality.
The composer started as a staff orchestrator in Bill Conti’s studio, and she worked on most of the Academy Award shows in the late 80s and 90s, as well as some high-profile scores for film and television. You can find out more about her background in her autobiographical chapter of Mark Camphouse’s book Composers on Composing for Band, Vol. 2. It’s edited with a light touch, meaning her Louisiana background really shows through. And she often illustrates her points with stories.
Stories are especially important to her, which is why I first listened to this disc without reading the accompanying booklet. Whatever story I brought to it was whatever I gleaned from the title of the work, which meant in some cases I fared pretty well by making an educated guess (Opa!); in some, I made up my own story which was wrong but otherwise unproblematic (Dragon Sky); in others, I didn’t have a clue (J); and in still others, I brought in something completely wrong (Shine). Wrong though I might have been about Shine, I still thought it was great on the first listening. There’s a section that sounds like a weird paraphrase of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City,” and it’s a blast.
However wrong my assumptions about their meanings, the pieces hold up admirably, partly on the considerable strength of conductor Dennis Fisher’s management of the UNT Symphonic Band’s forces—more than one player on a part, in some cases—is perfect for this music, and he leads the group through some multilayered passages that could easily have become a sloppy mess. On this recording, everything comes through with the utmost clarity.
Three times I listened before reading the booklet, and I’m glad I did. Had I read it first, I might have been scared off. The disc is curiously packaged with an altered photo featuring the composer and an associate wielding a shotgun and banjo, respectively, standing in front of what turns out to be barrels of moonshine—curious marketing, to say the least. The descriptions of the individual works are often helpful in clarifying the program of a work or the reason for its curious title (or the cover photo!). In other respects, the notes are confusing: sometimes we are addressed by the composer, at other times we sense someone is putting words in her mouth. But if you’ll read her chapter in the Camphouse book mentioned above, you’ll see that she doesn’t need anyone else’s words, although she probably benefits from an editor—but don’t we all?
I’m glad her music doesn’t have to pass an editor. I’m glad, at least, I’m not responsible for editing her music. I’d ruin it. My first task would be to scale back her use of the xylophone, which would stifle an important aspect of her voice. Often when listening to band music the sound of a xylophone prompts me to think “sure, give the mallet player something to do.” In Giroux’s music, not so. She has thoroughly integrated it into her characteristic palette of sounds so that it never sounds utilitarian.
When I was in college, I entered a band composition contest. I won. I received the prize money with a note stating that the judges had deemed the work “tedious to rehearse and perform” and recommended that the scheduled performance be scrapped, which it was. (they spared me the ignominy of declaring it tedious to listen to, for which I’m grateful). Julie Giroux’s music is just the opposite: it’s fun to listen to, and ensembles love rehearsing and performing her works; furthermore, it sounds like it was fun to write.
You have a chance to hear Fisher and the UNT Symphonic Band soon, on Thursday, Sept. 20 (2018), in fact. The performance is in the Winspear Performance Hall, located in the Murchison Performing Arts Center at 2100 S. Interstate 35-E, Denton. Learn more about it here.
They won’t have any Giroux on the program this time, but they’re performing a couple of killer transcriptions (Shostakovich and Glinka) as well as a U.S. premiere. And if the Shostakovich movement is the one I think it is, it has a xylophone—but I’ll still be there.
Soundspinning: Music of Ann Southam
Christina Petrowska-Quilico, Pianist
Centrediscs CMC CMCCD 26018
Release date: Aug. 24, 2018
Ann Southam cut her compositional teeth making electronic music, back in the 60's when it was called "tape music," and by 1966 she was teaching electroacoustic composition. You'd think the gap between those days and when I was taking electronic composition courses would have been enough time for the academic music world to assimilate her contribution so that she'd at least have rated a mention of her name in my classes. Maybe my teachers overlooked her because she was Canadian.
Whatever their reasons for neglecting her—and I hope they weren't the reasons that I'm sure they are—the acoustic music she devoted herself to from the 1970's until the end of her life in 2010 should have earned her a mention in at least one of my classes, electronic or otherwise. But no sense crying over milk not even poured. Recently, though—substantially, through the efforts of one particular pianist, about whom more later--Southam has received exposure closer to what she should have been afforded while she was alive (she was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010 when she was too ill to attend the ceremony).
The most recent recording of her music, Soundspinning (available here) provides a perfect introduction to her music: it includes works from the late 70's, when she was pursuing her own brand of minimalism; from the 60's, when she was still electro-acoustically active; one work which I haven't yet been able to date, written when she was pursuing her personal version of 12-tone music; some blues works (not "bluesy"--more about that shortly), and one comparatively late work written in a distinctly postminimalist vein.
Each of these works is delightful. The two minimalist cycles, both called Stitches in Time (subtitled Sonocycles and Soundspinning, respectively), exhibit a minimalist aesthetic that I've not heard elsewhere: frustratingly brief, almost simple, each with its own harmonic profile. They are miniatures that could have been—would have been, in other hands--spun out to ten times their length with no effort at all, except on the part of the audience. Almost minimalist appetizers, each of these gems leaves me wishing I could have it as a main course, and the only consolation is that there eleven of them (few of which stray past the one-minute mark).
The 12-tone suite, Slow Music, the possibly 12-tone Where, and the impressionistic but also possibly 12-tone Altitude Lake bring to mind Ravel more than Schoenberg; the German, to my ear, isn't even in town for these works (although Schoenberg's pupil Anton Webern, the King of the Atonal Miniatures, may be there in spirit). Most significantly, in the "blue" works—3 In Blue, 5 Shades of Blue, and Red Hot, Cool Blue—Southam forges her own personal and appealing idiom, a blues style distinctly her own. As cute as William Bolcom's Ghost Rags is, it adopts the language, form, clothing, hairstyle and investment portfolio of Scott Joplin, whose music, great as it may be, consists mostly of perfect squares. Southam's blues works are 100 percent hers. Not a square among them, they employ blues language and form in ways that ought to inspire their own imitations.
Speaking of imitation, the album's terminal track, Remembering Schubert (from 1993, the latest work on this disc), turns Schubertian accompaniment patterns into thematic material for a one-of-a-kind rondo that sounds like it could go on forever. Alas, it only lasts nine minutes.
The recording's pianist, Christina Petrowska-Quilico (lauded by CBC Music as one of Canada's Best Classical Pianists of 2015) has been associated with the music of Southam since the 1970's and, to all appearances, she never misses an opportunity to this day to promote it (this disc is a case in point). She knows exactly how to handle this composer's pianistic requirements, no matter from which style period it originates, and we should be grateful that this music has been championed by her talented hands. Moreover, I'm personally grateful: listening to this recording makes me want to write music. But—wouldn't you know it?—listening to what I've written makes me want to listen to this recording again.
Ruth Gipps, Symphonies 2 and 4, Song for Orchestra, Knight in Armour
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba, Conductor
Chandos CHAN 20078
Release date: Sept. 2018
Ruth Gipps: there's a household name. Surely you remember the brilliant prodigy whose career as a soloist was halted by a hand injury when she was 33; who was also oboist with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; the composer whose Symphony No. 1 was premiered—she was performing in the oboe section for that work—at the concert in which she performed as soloist in Glazunov's First Piano Concerto. What? You don't remember the aspiring conductor who, out of frustration with the British musical establishment of the 1940's and 50's, decided to start her own orchestras? Plural?
Don't feel bad. It's sad how few households know her name. But now, thanks to Chandos' issue (available here) of a recording of two of her five symphonies—along with a couple of tone poems, including Knight in Armour, the work that first brought her what little prominence she received in her lifetime--households can start lining up.
First in line, no doubt, will be the households who dig composers of mid-century British orchestral music: composers such as Holst, Vaughan-Williams, Walton, Bliss, Bax, Rubbra, Finzi (honestly, there are dozens of them, and most are worth the time it takes to get to know them). I didn't include Elgar in that roster, not because I don't like him, but because he seems cut from different cloth from the others. To my ears, his is the booming voice of a great orator who knows he's a great orator.
I'm not sure Ruth Gipps ever knew how great she was, but she did regard her orchestral music, particularly her symphonies, as her most significant musical contribution. Now she's waiting for someone to write a full-blown biography of her—not something cursory like the 10-page effort that appeared in a 1993 British music journal, but a killer read that the pictures in the disc's accompanying booklet imply her life would have produced.
These recordings of her Second and Fourth Symphonies make me (a) wish that Chandos would come right out and say that they're planning to release recordings of the other three, and (b) wish that she had written more than five. The discouraging mid-century British music fact that I keep bumping into is that Edmund Rubbra, who wrote 11 symphonies, still has a tough time persuading anyone to perform his, let alone record them, even though he's long deceased.
Nevertheless, this recording is a superb introduction to Gipps' orchestral compositions. Certainly, there are sections of Knight in Armour that sound a little like Vaughan-Williams or Gordon Jacob (both of whom were her composition teachers in her student days), but the three recording premieres (the Chandos website's declaration that the recording of the 2nd Symphony is a premiere is probably based on a misreading of Lewis Foreman's valuable notes in the booklet) highlight different aspects of her unique compositional voice, a strong voice that is as unmistakably British as it is individual.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales has done a beautiful job committing these works to recording. The ensemble's double reed section deserves special recognition, since oboes, English horns and bassoons are always crucial orchestrational factors for Gipps. Furthermore, Maestro Gamba's tempos seem perfect for these works (in fact, judging from an online gripedevoted to a previous recording of Gipps's Symphony No. 2, he may have hit the symphonic nail on the head).
Anyone who has anything from a soft spot to a fervent love for mid-century British orchestral music will very likely devour this recording—while at the same time wondering why Gipps has been deprived of musical exposure for so long. Oh, come on, who am I kidding? We all know why it was withheld; Ruth certainly knew why.
» Andrew Anderson is a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. He holds a bachelor's degree in music composition from Baylor University, a Master's degree in music composition, and a Ph. D in music theory from the University of North Texas, and an MLS from Texas Woman's University.
» Auxiliary Input appears on the third Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones.
PREVIOUSLY IN AUXILIARY INPUT
- February: A recording by composer Adam Schoenberg; and a Fort Worth Symphony recording from 2016 of works by Lutoslawski and Brahms, the latter arranged by the other Schoenberg
- March: Two volumes of a set of Wagner music transcribed for solo piano by Peruvian pianist Juan Guillermo Vizcarra; and two albums of songs by Fauré and Flegíer, both featuring bass Jared Schwartz
- April: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
- May: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
- June: Houston Symphony's March release of works by Dvořák; the Fort Worth Symphony's 2016 recording with pianist Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev's Concerto Nos. 2 and 5; and two 2015 recordings of pianist Alessandro Deljavan on works by Chopin
- July: A 2015 recording from Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal featuring a piece by composer Sam Moussa, which the Dallas Symphony will perform in September; the second volume of Alexandre Tansman piano music played by Danny Zelibor; and the much-talked about The Lost Songs of St. Kilda.
- August: Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
- September: A release by local outfit Ensemble75; a 2015 release of early music called Love & Lust; and a new recording by the North Texas Wind Ensemble of the University of North Texas in Denton.
- October: A recording of Liszt songs featuring Jared Schwartz, bass, and Mary Dibbern, piano; harp music by Emily Levin of the Dallas Symphony; and a Finnish recording of works by Sibelius, featuring conductor Hannu Lintu
- November: A DVD recording of Mark Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus at the Dallas Opera in 2015; Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera in 2016; and the 2016 performance of Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel's Bone.
- December: A Lithuanian recording of Verdi's Rigoletto featuring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nadine Sierra; a stellar recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring; and pianist Peter Froundjian's Christmas Piano Music.
- January: A themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů
- February: Anderson listens to the live recording from the Dallas Opera's world premiere of Great Scott, a recording of early orchestral works by Martinů, and Morton Feldman's For John Cage (1982).
- March: Menahem Pressler plays works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel; The Dallas Chamber Choir has a new album out; and Dallas Symphony Principal Bassoon Ted Soluri has recorded transcriptions of opera arias, with help from pianist Valerie M. Trujillo.
- April: No column
- May: The Hong Kong Philharmonic's Siegfried, conducted by Jaap van Zweden; Jacob Nydegger plays Hendrik Andriessen; and Kyle Gann's microtonal compositions.
- June: Two UNT music professors perform Anton Eberl; the JACK Quartet playing John Luther Adams
- July: A new recording of music by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, and a look at composers Frank Martin and William Grant Still.
- August: Carl Nielsen works featuring clarinetist David Shifrin; a reissue of Stewart Goodyear's Complete Beethoven Sonatas.