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Duration: c. 17:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown
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None discovered thus far.
When I was planning the anniversary year—2019–20—with Bill Drury and then acting President Tom Novak, we knew that the cornerstone of that celebration would be a premiere of an important new work. Commissioning and premiering new music have been foundational to the NEC [New England Conservatory] Wind Ensemble, and composers from Colgrass to Rands, Schuller to Tippet, had their voices heard through the NECWE commissioning legacy. Who to commission for this milestone? Should it be someone from the classical world as had been done before?
Or should we look at this as a chance to celebrate the wind ensemble, one of the premier ensembles of its kind, as part of the NEC vision of a wide musical world? That seemed the right thing. How exactly does one celebrate NEC? Maybe through the something created here -- the idea of “third stream” music. Schuller coined the phrase as the confluence of classical and jazz composition, but he later disowned the term as having been used to describe works with facile layering -- ‘jazz works with strings” or classical works with raucous saxophones and “swinging” syncopations. To create a truly third-stream work required someone with a mind and proven pen for classical devices but with a genuine heart and ear for jazz. That cuts the list down considerably. One name rises up -- Christopher Brubeck -- a composer who has established himself as someone with a sophisticated style, a sure hand at orchestration and the ability to write, to explore, with confidence. Chris has threaded the third-stream needle so finely. The fugue, the ubiquitous other counterpoint, the sense of architecture all bows to the classical tradition, while the extended harmonies, the jazz gestures and the improvisatory middle are children of jazz parents. We could not have chosen a more fitting person to create a celebration of the NECWE 50th. - Program Note by Charles Peltz
From its incisive opening thunder, Fifty establishes its self-assurance. Over its seventeen minutes, it dances along the musical highway with feet on either side of the center line. Scored for the orchestral wind section in threes, but including rhythm section and jazz improvisers, it synthesizes the best of the classical and jazz traditions. Fifty is set in ten sections organically connected either by the smoothest transitions or powerful gear shifting. If not truly a palindrome, it unfolds in an architecture of ABCDBA. As and Bs return show their organic growth: mature simplicity in the case of B and increased fire in the case of A. Its overriding organic device is its use of meters “in 5” found in sections from the coolest to the hottest. Coming from a Brubeck, that five-ness is in the DNA, but its adroit employment here is no familial cliché, it is fresh and innovative.
In the first section we are introduced to the interval set of a fourth and third and a second. This set begets the rest of the pitches, as if a set of variations on the interval “theme”. Each section has its own personality: from the fire of the opening to the “West Coast cool” of the main theme, to that extended fugue (!) complete with 16-foot cantus firmus at its close, to the improvised choruses, to the carousel waltzes, to the return of a more contemplative west coast, and fiery finale.
What makes Fifty so remarkable is the harmonic language -- it is the language of jazz, flavored with 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths, flatted this and sharp that. It is a rainbow of harmony, shifting from floating gentleness to spicily bold. NEC patron saint Gunther Schuller admitted that discovering a true third stream required a diviner’s fork of inspiration. How appropriate Chris Brubeck discovered it at NEC in his Fifty.
- Program Note from New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble concert program, 28 April 2022
I was honored to have been asked by Charles Peltz to compose this piece for the formidable New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble NECWE]. The title, Fifty, is in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the NECWE. The number “5” saturated my brain as I contemplated how to approach composing this work. The “fiveness” of things led me to writing something in the time signature of 5/8. The meters 5/8 and 5/4 are deep in my musical blood after having spent decades performing as bass player and trombonist with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. For my personal tastes, 5/8 possesses some built-in “action” and moves forward with its own swagger and swing, which is also the kind of thing that the New England Conservatory has been doing for decades going back to its Gunther Schuller roots. He envisioned a place where jazz and classical influences could swim in the third stream together. To further tie the magic number 5 together, imagine my surprise when a couple years after my father, Dave Brubeck, passed on, I got a call from the legendary Gunther Schuller. He remembered a Sanders Theater concert with my father improvising over his signature tune Take Five, and Schuller was so taken by it that he wanted to track down this performance, study it, and use it as the basis for a new piece he intended to write inspired by my father’s improvisation. Gunther Schuller called it From Here to There, and Charles Peltz conducted the premiere. I have the same good fortune, as Maestro Peltz will be leading the forces when my piece makes its debut.
The timpani kicks off the proceedings, and you can hear the brass play the figure that sounds like the rhythm of the words “Fif-ty” “Fif-ty,” “Fif-ty!” This little rhythmic cell keeps popping up in the piece. After the intro the ensemble eventually gets into a lilting 5/8 samba-like groove with layers of counterpoint weaving through the texture. Eventually this music dissolves into a floating chorale with jazzy voicings played by the woodwinds. A new eight-bar theme is established in 4/4, and a fugato section unfolds. The brass rips off the straight-jacket after 56 bars and gets playful with quick little dance-like moves in 3/8 and 7/8. There is a section that sounds like a real funky calliope, syncopated and kicking off of a basic 3/4-time signature. Eventually, everything falls into a 4/4 groove with a Latin feel. This becomes the bed for soloists with improvisational skills to play over with spontaneity and freedom. The jazz solos bring things to boil and then the brass explodes, flies over the landscape, and lands on a merry-go-round for a short ride. A bass clarinet solo signals that the fantasy ride is winding down to an end.
To wrap up the work there is some compressed recapitulations of the opening themes, which are presented in half time and reharmonized, reappearing in towering, stacked monolithic chords. For symmetry the opening timpani lick, in 5/8, kicks the ensemble into the end zone.
I know this music will be challenging for these young musicians, but I have every confidence that these exceptional players have the skills and leadership to play an exciting performance.
- Program Note by composer
None discovered thus far.
None discovered thus far.
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- New England Conservatory (Boston, Mass.) Wind Ensemble (Charles Peltz, conductor) - 28 April 2022 *Premiere Performance"
Works for Winds by this Composer
- Concerto for Bass Trombone (arr. Henderson) (1991)
- Fifty (2020)
- Ghost Walk (2009/2017)
- On the Threshold of Liberty
- Quiet Heroes
- Chris Brubeck website – Accessed 28 April 2022