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Category Archives: Commentaries & Critiques

Art of Time Ensemble

In early 2015, a spate of high quality concerts rarely seen in Toronto, began with the Art of Time Ensemble. On the stage of Harbourfront Centre Theatre, they presented music by Lou Reed, interpreted by some of Canada’s finest arrangers, instrumentalists and singers. Art of Time Ensemble is the creation of its artistic director, pianist Andrew Burashko, a passionate and informed communicator with a love for music that stretches far beyond the borders commonly thought to demarcate music categories.

Andrew’s programs are based on themes. For a 2013 programme titled Franz Schubert, Source and Inspiration, composers of Jazz and Art music were commissioned to arrange for voice and ensemble, a theme from Franz Shubert’s
Piano Trio No. 2 in Eb Major. The trio was played first and then the arrangements were performed by five singers, Carol Pope (Rough Trade), Andy Maize (Skydigers), Gregory Hoskins, John Southworth and Danny Michel.

Andrew often commissions Toronto arrangers, a diverse group of superlative musicians who, though relatively unknown to the general public, never fail to astonish audiences with their ability to bring fresh perspectives to popular war horses. Fortunately, Art of Time is recording many of their pearls.

An Art of Time programme titled What is Sacred, began with Arvo Part’s Stabat Mater, followed by three superb arrangements of songs with religious themes: Wayfaring Stranger, arranged by Gavin Bryars; Pilgrim; and You Are Not Alone. After intermission, Olivier Messiaen’s Louange A L’Eternite De Jesus from his Quartet for the End of Time, and a medley of African American spirituals and Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom were sung, revival style, by Jackie Richardson.

The evening closed with a beautifully subtle and complex interweaving of six female dancers, choreographed by David Earle to the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652).  The Miserere was hauntingly sung by Choir 21 as they stood like angels in the first balcony, sending heavenward Allegri’s plea. All this was much too sublime to be followed by anything else.

Attempts to merge art forms have been vulnerable to dismissal by purists or outright failure in the public marketplace. But Andrew does not merge art forms. He respects their individuallity and his classical discipline protects them from being mistreated. An idea must pass through a stringent artistic filter before it blossoms on an Art of Time stage.

In the twenty years from 1970 to 1990, a few elite ensembles, devoted to mostly white western art music, received the majority of government money. Toronto ensembles have favoured repertoire from one of roughly five established genres of westrn art music: opera, ballet, symphony, choral and chamber. They must submit mission statements in order to be eligible for government funding. These statements put them into a bureaucratic niche that can obligate them to a particular repertoire.

In the the 1990s government arts agencies began to realign their financial priorities in response to social and political pressures, gradually achieving more balanced funding by region and favouring emerging composers, pop music, First Nations musicians, and other minority groups. Each re-allocation made the financial pie  smaller, dramatically reducing art music budgets. The recent economic down turn exacerbated a feeling of uncertainty within the arts community. Some ensembles reduced the number and frequency of their concerts, limited or re-directed their programme choices, greatly reduced the fees paid to musicians and began exploring ways to work with other ensembles.

In conjunction with his many artistic friends, Andrew is creating fresh concert experiences for traditional Toronto audiences while attracting new concert goers, young and old, hip and staid. The effect this generational blend has on audiences is immediately apparent. As one takes a seat for an Art of Time concert, there is a frisson in the air rarely felt in other venues. So far Andrew has avoided the malady of uncertainty afflicting other Toronto arts organizations. His large and ever growing audience, aided by a group of faithful collaborators and sponsors, portends a long and healthy future. Andrew’s unique artistic love affair has captured the imaginations of artists and concert goers. Concerts by Art of Time Ensemble have become one of Toronto’s most popular sources of art entertainment.

I encourage readers of this article to visit Art of Time Ensemble web site for a complete list of its programmes, artists and videos.

http://artoftimeensemble.com

 

 

 

 

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Linda Catlin Smith, Sandy Baron, Rick Sacks and Array Space.

 

MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT.  [1.] Photo by Sandy Baron. Used with permission of the photographer.

MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY
SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT. [1.]
Photo by Sandy Baron. Used with permission of the photographer.

26 April, 2015

Last night I attended a memorable concert of new music. One work, a duet for violin and percussion by composer Linda Catlin Smith, titled Dirt Road, was performed by violinist Sandy Baron and percussionist Rick Sacks. Calgary born, Ms. Baron has played in the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra for 19 years. During the summer months she plays with the Santa Fe, New Mexico Opera Company and when not in the pit, she drives around New Mexico’s outback photographing desert landscapes intersected by the dirt roads she travels in her 1971 vintage Ford blue and white pick up. When Ms. Baron returns to Toronto, the pick up is left to winter in the south-west.

With Sandy to one side and Rick to the other, Dirt Road (2006-15) was performed in front of Array Music’s new, very large and very clear rear projection screen upon which Baron’s lonesome dirt road photographs appeared in and out in an approprately slow accompaniment to the music. Dirt Road was written in 15 movements, any number to be played in any order. It is one hour long and occasionally I began to fidgit. My lack of control aside, the work was mesmerizing. Linda’s Dirt Road is generally quiet and slow. It demands patience, nuanced control and a lyrical, expressive sound. [2.] All these were provided by Ms. Baron.

Rick Sacks played vibrphone, large gong, four cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel and bass drum. On the whole, these were played sparingly as accompaniments to the violin. The vibraphone part was difficult, frequently four mallets, closely voiced and not easily memorized. The solo percussion movement, placed about mid-way, was a highlight. Many non pitch percussion instruments produce short or unanalyzable sounds, or both. In order to bridge the inherent silences or distractions created by these anomalies, a listener must retain sounds in order to attach them to the next. Rick’s phrasing provided the necessary continuity and the movement hung in space. Ms. Baron’s solo violin movement was a melodic gift, elegant yet casually proffered. A judiciously rendered foil to the percussion sounds. For me, these two movements formed the works apex.

The concert was pretty well sold out and even with my poor peepers, I saw John Beckwith, Kathleen McMorrow, Henry Kucharzyk, Adele Armin, Beverley and Austin Clarkson.

 

Notes:

[1.] “MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY, SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT.  (southeast Utah)

The Mokee Dugway is located on Utah Route 261 just north of Mexican Hat, UT. It was constructed in 1958 by Texas Zinc, a mining company. The three miles of unpaved, switchbacks descend 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa from where the photograph above was taken.

The term “mokee” is derived from the Spanish word moqui, which was a general term used by the 18th century Spanish explorers and settlers in this region to describe the Pueblo Indians they encountered and the vanished culture which had left behind the numerous ruins they discovered during their travels.

Today the standard term used to describe these prehistoric Native Americans, who lived in this region more than 1000 years ago, is “ancestral Puebloans”. It is based on present day Puebloan tribes and archaeologists believe these people were the ancestors of the today’s Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Rio Grande region cultures. You may also see them commonly referred to as the “Anasazi”, a Navajo word meaning “enemy ancestors”. note by Sandy Baron, edited by R.E.


[2.] I hope one day a recording is made of Blue Sky (2006) a percussion quintet Linda wrote for Nexus.  In my opinion, percussion repertoire would be enhanced by its inclusion. It is an aesthetic experience percussionists have for too long been deprived.

 

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Armstrong and Bechet, a Precise Freedom.

My brother was an avid collector of early Dixieland Jazz recordings and I grew up with the sounds of great singers, the likes of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Lizzy Miles and King Oliver’s band, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, and the Original Dixeland Jazz Band. [1.] With incomparable panache these artists wrote and recorded some of America’s most expressive  music. Today, much of this legacy is available in digital format, though pureists may insist on listening to the original 78s and LPs.

In the 1950s Armstrong (1901-71) assembled his All Stars. Recently, I revisited two of my favourite Armstrong recordings from those years, Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy  and Ambassador Satch. The players were the same on both albums and long time Armstrong collaborators.  The band was Barney Bigard, clarinet; Arvell Shaw, bass;  Billy Kyle, piano; Trummy Young, trombone; Armstrong, trumpet; Barrett Deems, drums; and Velma Middleton, vocals.  Edmond Hall, clarinet, replaced Bigard on Ambassador Satch. [2.]

Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy was recorded in a studio under the supervision of the composer William Christopher Handy(1873-1958). The tunes on Ambassador Satch were recorded live during a European tour, with Edmond Hall’s lush clarinet tones and incomparably mellifluous lines, Arvel Shaw’s rock solid bass, Kyle’s tasty piano rhythms and sweet solos, Trummy Young’s rip saw Gut Bucket trombone, and Deems, “the Fastest Drummer in the World” tasty back ups and roisterous solos.

These guys played with a joy European fans had been waiting for years to experience. They were not disappointed. Within Europe’s music community, Armstrong and his All Stars were post World War II’s most appreciated ambassadors.

Note: To access audio files, go to my web site http://www.robinengelman.com

“Royal Garden Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

“Dardanella”, Edmond Hall, Clarinet on Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955.

“West End Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

In 1957, a high school teacher played me a recording of le Sacre du Printemps. Its fagotto castrato launched me into an adventure with Western Art Music that held my interest for Dixieland in abeyance for many years. I’ve since played le Sacre more than a few times and have about half a dozen LP and CD recordings by as many orchestras and conductors. During a conversation with Toru Takemitsu, I mentioned my love for early Dixieland. Toru replied, “Sidney Bechet”. Bechet (1897-1959) was familiar to me. Some years earlier I had purchased two recordings he’d made in France. [3.]  Unfortunately, their quality was very poor and I vowed to revisit his music.

Recently I purchased 115 Bechet recordings. As I made my way through this lode, I struck gold on almost every track. I was delighted by Bechet’s mastery of the soprano saxophone and his endlessly brilliant improvisations. There was one tune I had to include here. According to one aficionado, Shag is not only a prime example of Bechet’s art, it contains perhaps the greatest Jazz vocal, ever. That aside, this masterful example of Scat singing by Ernest Meyers offers an enlightening contrast to Louis Armstrong’s style. Shag was written by Bechet and this recording was made in New York City in 1932 with his band, New Orleans Feetwarmers. The Bechet Quintet performance of Summertime is ineffably beautiful.[4.]

“Shag”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano;  Wilson Myers, Bass;  Wilbert Kirk , drums. New York, 1943.

“Summertime”, Sidney Bechet Quintet: Meade Lux Lewis, piano; Teddy Bunn, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid (Big Sid) Catlett, drums. New York, 1939.

“After You’ve Gone”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano; Wilson Myers, bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. New York, 1943.

I  wrote an article titled Music Appreciation 101. It’s a tribute to Janis Joplan and her album Pearl, one of the alltime great rock albums. Now, Armstrong and Bechet et al are providing me with further hours of pleasure. Their amazingly precise freedom gives me endless “What have I been missing” moments. After listening to a couple of cuts in this article, fellow drummer Rick Sacks said, “In this music you can hear all the voices.”  So true.  Next, I might check out Eddie Condon. Edmond Hall played with Condon as did drummers Cliff Leeman and George Wettling; trombonist Cutty Cutshall; and trumpet fireball Wild Bill Davidson, father of Toronto harpist Sarah Davidson.

NOTES:

[1.]  Ironically, an all white band and the first to make a commercial Dixieland recording.

The band recorded two sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixie Jass Band One Step”, on February 26, 1917, for the Victor label. These titles were released as the sides of a 78 record on March 7, the first issued jazz record. The band records, first marketed simply as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz. (from Wikipedia)

[2.] I recommend exploring the biographies of these great players. The band members dates: Barney Bigard, clarinet (1906-80); Emond Hall, clarinet (1901-67);  Arvell Shaw, bass (1923-2002); Billy Kyle, piano (1914-66); Trummy Young, trombone (1912-84); Louis Armstrong, trumpet (1901-71); Barrett (the world’s fastest drummer) Deems (1914-98); and Velma Middleton, vocalist (1917-61). Velma died in Sierra Leone of a stroke or heart attack while touring with Armstrong. She can be heard on Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy. Though some critics considered her voice average and suggested Armstrong replace her with someone better, Louis refused, stating “she was family”.  On this tour, the All Stars were official representatives of the U.S. government, hence the album title Ambassador Satch.

[3.] Bechet was a Creole. He was born in New Orleans and died in Garches, France, the country where he made more than half his recordings. Both his birth and death occured on May 14, reminding me of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died on the same day, July 4, in the same year, 1826.

[4.] This reminds me of the late Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves on her CD Live at Blues Alley.

 

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New Creations Festival, Toronto, 2015

During the eight days from 28 February to 7 March, 2015, more contemporary music in the good to great category was heard in Roy Thompson Hall than in any previous season. The benefactor behind this musical munificence was the Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival (NCF), a yearly celebration of new music written for symphony orchestra.

The guest conductor and curator of this year’s festival was English composer and Cambridge University teacher, George Benjamin (b.1960). Benjamin selected the most substantive compositions and shared conducting duties with the Toronto Symphony’s resident conductor Peter Oundjian. Three of the festival’s five major compositions were chosen to accommodate the presence of soprano Barbara Hannigan. Ms. Hannigan has become an influential voice in new music. She has premiered more than 80 works, all written for her exceptional musicality, technique, her extremely high tessatura and her ability to memorize challenging scores. She has appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker on more occasions than any other soloist and had her first experience conducting when Sir Simon Rattle suggested she share the baton with him during performances of William Walton’s Facade in which Ms. Hannigan also sang.

Ms. Hannigan began her NCF labours of love with A Mind of Winter by George Benjamin. A Mind of Winter is no great test of Ms. Hannigan’s skills, but she sang from memory, as she did with all the works she performed. The work is a generally quiet, beautiful landscape allowing the soprano’s first note to appear through the orchestra’s haze like magic, beginning innaudibly and gradually swelling into an expressive blossom. She was in fine voice. It was also abundantly clear that Benjamin is a splendid composer and conductor.

The concert on 4 March opened with a premier of a Toronto Symphony Commission, Lieder und Arien by Chris Paul Harman (1970). I was not looking forward to this. Years ago, I can’t remember how many, I played a work by Chris during one of the early years of the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop, conducted by its founder Gary Kulesha. Chris’ antique cymbal part was a mess of notes. It looked to be a cadenza for an avant garde violin concerto. I explained to Chris the problems his writing posed for a percussionist, but wasn’t sure he was listening. The memory of that experience and subsequent hearings of Harman’s music, was greatly ameliorated by Lieder und Arien which contained some very fine moments of orchestration. Though Lieder und Arien is an arrangement of music by Bach, it sounded original at times and I was relieved to have my first experience with Harman’s music put behind me.

George Benjamin’s Duet for Piano and orchestra (2008) was next. It sounded to me very much as Benjamin described it, a challenging exercise for combining a piano with orchestra in some real duet form other than the typical concerto. This one left no impression on me.

However, the second half of the concert was given over to one work, Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you for Soprano and Orchestra (2012-13). Fortunately, Mr. Abrahamsen was not available for an interview. Considering the size of his  orchestra, Abrahamsen (b.1952) has created an intimate work, stunningly beautiful and complex. Written as a “dramatic monologue” with Barbara Hannigan “very much in mind”, let me tell you was commissioned and premiered by the Berliner Philharmoniker. The text for let me tell you is from Sir Paul Griffiths’ book of the same name and contains all the words spoken by Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But Abrahamsen’s Ophelia “uses those words in different ways and, certainly, to express herself differently”.

I heard Sir Simon Rattle conduct the premiere performance of this work via the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall which is beamed into my television set in real time from Germany. Then as now, Barbara sang from memory and unobtrusively floated above the accompanying cushion of sound. Mr. Griffiths’ wife and Ms Hannigan deserve our thanks for planting the seed that became let me tell you.  It is a moving work of art

The festival’s last concert was devoted entirely to George Benjamin’s opera, Written on Skin. I had heard its premier performance on YouTube, fully staged  and conducted by the composer with Ms. Hannigan singing the primary role of Agnes. But You Tube reproductions are excretions. The NCF concert brought the truth of this work home. The mistreatments of characters, physical and mental, and the brutal rape scene were left to one’s imagination. The singing was terrific, but baritone Christopher Purves must be singled out. He was first to sing the role of  Protector when Written on Skin was premiered at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. The libretto for Written on Skin was taken from a 13- century razo, literally reason or cause, prefacing a Troubadour’s poem.

Written on Skin never reverts to clichés, nor does it wander. Every twist and turn is new, maintaining one’s attention through the last note. It is, if you will, a perfectly compact work of genius. It reminded me of Dutilleux. Clusters of brilliant ever changing sounds, miniature compositions in their own right, weaving their way through the orchestra, each clear and precisely crafted. The orchestra players must have enjoyed themselves. The section players had material perfectly written for their instruments and they played them, especially the brass, winds and percussion, with sensitivity and assurance. The audience reception matched any I’ve heard in Roy Thompson Hall. I attended all the Concertgebouw Orchestra concerts and none of them received standing ovations as lengthy or filled with such palpable appreciation, as this one.

This year Toronto NCF audiences were blessed with music of rare quality and soloists of the first water.  I could not, nor would I, attempt to choose between them. Let’s hope T.S.O. management can entice curators and soloists of similar expertise and quality to grace Toronto for future New Creations Festivals.

The question arises, why are such dramatic experiences relegated to three concerts in mid-winter? And why, given Oundjian’s violin heritage, are the T.S.O strings in such dismal shape? One wag seated near me opined, “Most of the violinists appear to be women and they play like exhausted housewives”. I hope they are not, but somebody needs to get them excited about something and that’s the conductor’s job.

As I blissfully made my way towards the exit, someone nearby said, “They’re having an after concert talk”. Sure enough the cast and conductor had returned and were seated in a semi-circle mid stage. I sped up my retreat and had almost reached the exit when I heard Oundjian say to Benjamin, “That was fabulous. George, how did you do that?”. OMG.

Notes:

Mr. Oundjian was born in Toronto of Armenian and English parents. He studied in England and before he began conducting full time, was for fourteen years principal violinist of the Tokyo string Quartet. He’s a good talker with a pleasing and uncondescending haut British accent still beloved of many Toronto art patrons.  Now, if he’d just learn to stop talking. A request rumoured to be heard among Toronto Symphony players.

Barbara Hannigan studied vocal singing with Mary Morrison as an undergraduate at the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. During that period she performed with Nexus, singing ballads and sentimental songs from the early 20th-century. She studied in London, England and then moved to Amsterdam where she lives today. Though her “signature” piece is György Ligeti’s Mysterie of the Macabre, arranged by Elgar Howarth in 1979 from Ligeti’s Opera le Grand Macabre, written from 1974-97, she has always been devoted to contemporary music and has established herself in the forefront of 21st-century music performers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Swiss and Basel Drumming.

 Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Mss.h.h.I.3 Parchment · 472 ff. · 38 x 27.5–28 cm · Bern 1478-1483, Diebold Schilling, Amtliche Berner Chronik, vol. 3. Swiss Halberdiers and Pikemen approaching the Battle of Morat (Murten),1476. photo courtesy Markus Estermann, STPV. Click on photo to enlarge.

Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Mss.h.h.I.3
Parchment · 472 ff. · 38 x 27.5–28 cm · Bern 1478-1483,
Diebold Schilling, Amtliche Berner Chronik, vol. 3. Swiss Halberdiers and Pikemen approaching the Battle of Morat (Murten),1476. photo courtesy Markus Estermann, STPV.
Click on photo to enlarge.

 

Until recently I was unaware of the existence of more than one side drumming tradition in Switzerland. I had believed Dr. Fritz Berger to be the preerminent Swiss drummer who during the 1930’s consolidated disparate Swiss styles into one. The presence of his solo Rudimenter Good Luck (Basel-America Mixpickles), in the National Association of Rudimental Drummers book, America’s N.A.R.D. Drum Solos, a.k.a. The Green Book,  precipitated this belief. Later, the fame of Basel , Switzerland’s Fastnacht Festival and its drummers became well known to me and many other North American drummers.

Alfons Grieder of Basel, Switzerland was reputed to be Dr. Berger’s best student and disciple.  His early visits to North America and stunning performance with the American Basel ensemble Americlique during the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in 2002, further enforced my belief that Alfons’ drumming was the drumming of Switzerland.  I may have subconsciously wanted its unsettling bar line hesitations to be a national trait, uniquely Swiss as Scots drumming to Scotland and our straight forward anglo style of military drumming to North America.

And then in July of 2014, an e-mail arrived from Mr. Markus Estermann of the Swiss Fife and Drum Association intended to convince me that Swiss and Basel drumming were different entities. Below I reprint a few pertinent correspondences between Mr. Estermann and myself, all edited for clarity and continuity. As well as providing a context for this article, they contain information that may well be of interest to the general public and drummers in particular.

Finally I enclose an e-mail sent to me by Mark Reilly after he read this article.

26 August, 2014

Hello Robin

I studied your homepage. Under the chapter “snare drum notation” you wrote about Swiss notation. It is the hieroglyphs are used only in a few Basel drum and fife groups. The Swiss notation has nothing to do with hieroglyphs. You got from me all known Swiss military music scores actually known.
Alphons (sic) Grieder is unknown in the Swiss drum and fife association. (Italics by R.E.)

I hope we stay in contact.

Kind regards
Markus Estermann

26 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,

Thank you for your e-mail and notation downloads. I believe you refer to my postings titled “Examples of Snare Drum Notation” from 1589 to 1869 arranged chronologically. The example is the early Swiss drum notation you mention in your mail.

1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.

1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.

This score appears in your downloads as well as the booklet I referenced for my article, a booklet accompanying the three CD collection titled Trommeln und Pfeifen in Basel.

This collection, as well as the LP recording 100 Joor VKB were presented to me by Alfons after his appearance in the 2002 Drummers Heritage Concert in Columbus, Ohio, USA.

I have not been able to find an article of mine that uses the word hieroglyphs in connection with Swiss drumming notation.

Kind regards,

Robin Engelman

Dear Mr. Engelman

Thank you very much for your e-mail.

Unfortunately Alfons Grieder is not known in Switzerland and he has no influence to the Swiss drumming.

He was talking in the USA about Basel drumming not Swiss drumming.
Basel drumming is an element of Swiss drumming. So he put a lot of mythos in his publication. Georg Duthaler was historian and he has a correct view of the matter.

Swiss drummers used more than 200 years music scores and not hieroglyphs. Dr. Fritz Berger adapted the Swiss drummers music scores to the Basel-/French style. All typical Basel rudiments came from France.

I hope to give you some input and we can stay in contact.

Kind regards
Markus Estermann

Comment: Alfons passed away in 2003 and I don’t know the publication to which Mr. Esstermann referred. Nevertheless, it was now clear that Swiss Drumming, in a nutshell, is an altogether different discipline from Basel Drumming and had been long before Dr. Berger’s work.

While preparing this article I contacted some of my North American drumming colleagues and found they too had assumed Basel drumming to be Switzerland’s only military style of Drumming.

27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,

I am sorry to hear Alfons is unknown in Switzerland and among Swiss drummers. He was a gentleman of great dignity and an exceptionally gifted musician and performer.

Thank you for making the very important distinction between Basel and Swiss drumming, a distinction I was unaware of and misrepresented because of personal ignorance.

I appreciate you taking time to write me and I have begun searching my articles in order to correct any faults relating to this issue.

My sincere best wishes,

Robin Engelman

27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Engelman

Thank you for your e-mail. I am sure that we have a lot to exchange.

Kind regards
Markus Estermann

 

Mark Reilly’s clear and informative response to this article is reprinted below with his permission and my sincere gratitude.

Hey Robin,

Thank you for the email. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and a fantastic New Year. It is an honor for me to read through this. Markus is a good friend. We met a few years ago and spent time together here in DC this summer. I will see him again next month in Basel for Fasnacht.
As for the article, I believe this to be a beautiful write up delineating the two divided but connected drumming worlds present in Switzerland. There was one spelling error (Nark instead of Mark). I am also not sure if you would like to include some of the realities of this event regarding the Swiss trip this summer. The STV, now called the STPV only brought 60 members over for their US tour. I am not sure what the entire reason was for the smaller numbers.

When it comes to the differences between the Basel style and the “Swiss” style there are many differences that may seem subtle to our “American” ears but to those immersed within these cultures the differences are not only found within the music but also their customs.

The Basel style certainly became extremely popular around the world when Dr. Berger connected with the NARD in the 1930s and even more so when Alfons came to the States. The Basel style as it stands today certainly contains several localized dialects that vary from clique to clique, similarly to that of the Ancient fife and drum corps in the Northeastern portion of the United States.

The Swiss style that Markus refers to is also new to me as well. The research that Markus has shared focuses on the other fife and drum traditions prevalent in cities like Zürich, and the Wallis (Swiss Alps region), and Geneva. The Wallis fife and drum tradition is a very old tradition and still uses 6 hole wooden fifes with rope tension drums unlike the piccolos used in Basel.

I am not sure how far you would like to dive into this topic. It is expansive due to the depth of the cultural divide between Basel and the “other” parts of Switzerland. To compare it to American sports… The Basel / Zürich rivalry is similar to New York / Boston. A great example of this is Ivan Kym who is a Swiss national champion that lives outside of Basel and has begun to really push the envelope when it comes to technical demand of Rudimental drumming in Switzerland. He blends Basel drumming techniques with a myriad of other influences to include snare drum ensemble pieces that include several layered parts, comparable to the feel of a percussion ensemble.

It is my opinion that the shear number of drummers in Basel and the size of the Basel Fasnacht is a large reason why most of us have only heard of Basel when it come(s) to Switzerland’s drumming history.

I hope that this helps… Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.

Cheers and best regards
Mark

SFC J. Mark Reilly

Snare Drum Section Leader

3d U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”
Fife & Drum Corps

Official Ceremonial Unit and
Escort to the President of the United States

http://www.army.mil/fifeanddrum/

Comment: Mr. Estermann kindly provided me with  a recent example of Swiss drumming: Click on link to view:

Giubileo-USA14

 

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Seiji Ozawa in Toronto

The Japan Foundation of Toronto recently held a celebratory event honouring the 50th anniversary of Seiji Ozawa’s arrival in Toronto as conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toshi Aoyagi, the Foundation’s director of Japanese projects, displayed a large and interesting variety of photos from those early years, including a photograph of Seiji looking astonishingly young, and a giant black and white photo showing all the players, easily identifiable, on the stage of Massey Hall, its performance venue until 1982. Toshi also prepared sushi, sashimi and California rolls for 50 guests. In attendance were members of Toronto’s arts community including  the Symphony’s long time manager Walter Homberger who had played an important role in bringing Ozawa to Toronto. Also included among the guests were current and former members of the T.S.O.

åSome of the veteran players who were asked to speak briefly about their early experiences with Seiji were principal flutist Robert Aittken; principal harpist Judy Loman; myself, principal percussion; cellist Richard Armin and double bassist Ruth Budd. We had not known beforehand we’d be called upon so our comments were a bit skittish, even disjointed, but it was clear to all that Seiji  had been a respected and in some cases, a beloved maestro.

in the earliest days of Seiji’s tenure, he had some difficulty with the English language. Though we became rather close, as close as a conductor and player could or should be, he was never able to pronounce my first name Robin, because of the R. So he always called me Engelman. Of course given the Japanese order of names, correctly Ozawa Seiji, he was perfectly correct to call me Engelman, particularly when we were in Japan. Judy Loman told a wonderful story from those days. Seiji introduced her as  Mary Loman, harpist and when the orchestra laughed, Seiji turned to someone and said, “She plays harp doesn’t she?”.

I was always impressed by the acuity of Seiji’s ears and told two stories. We were rehearsing one of the Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suites down on the lake under an open tent. There were thousands of seagulls squawking and swooping and dropping bombs, young children laughing, screaming and running around, airplanes taking off and landing at the small nearby airport, tour boats blaring music for parties and the ferryboats back and forth between the mainland and the islands. An impossible acoustic situation with the Ravel beginning so quietly. I couldn’t hear the contra basses to the left of me and the orchestra pianist Patricia Krueger, playing celeste, was only about 20 feet to my right. After less than two bars Seiji stopped and said, “Patty, put the pedal down”.

After Toronto, Seiji conducted in San Francisco and then the Boston Symphony. Karel Ancerl succeeded him in Toronto and when Ancerll died in mid season, Seiji came back to conduct a concert or two to fill in while the Toronto Symphony management scramble to fill their seasons concerts with conductors. Seiji programmed music from his first concert in Toronto in 1965. One of the works was Sergei Prokoffiev’s Fifth Symphony, at times densly orchestrated. Seiji was back among friends and obviously wanted to show us how he had progressed. He leaped onto the podium and after a friendly hello began conducting. After the break Seiji came back to the podium and waved to Johnny Cowell the second trumpet, “Johnny, 3 bars before H, don’t breathe after fourth beat. Take breath after second beat next measure”.

One of the things I always liked about Seiji was the fact that he rarely talked in rehearsal. Some players didn’t like this. They wanted to be told how to play, but Seiji said, “I conduct, you play”. Seiji believed questions of ensemble and string bowings were the provenance if principal players. Another collegial aspect was his willingness to share the act of re-creating music with the players.

After he programmed Ives’ 4th Symphony, Seiji asked me, “How shall we do last movement?”  The percussion section must play a quiet, nine bar ostinato, holding a steady tempo during the entire movement while the rest of the orchestra winds its way through a number of tempo changes and dynamics. As the orchestra finishes, the percussion section plays one cycle in diminuendo, ending the movement. Seiji wanted to know if the percussion section wanted him to  conduct them or ignore them. No decision had been made by the time Seiji walked on stage. As the audience applauded, he stopped by my side and said, “Well?”.  I said. “Conduct the orchestra.” “Okay” Seiji replied.  As we had earlier discussed, the percussion section, by Ives’ calculations, would ideally have 9 measures remaining after the orchestra finished. Otherwise, if we concentrated and kept track, the farthest afield we’d drift would probably be in the range of 10 or 12 measures. We were just about dead on.

Seiji conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for twenty nine years. He wanted to break Serge Koussevitzkyi’s record of twenty five years. Vic Firth, Seiji’s close friend and timpanist of the B.S.O. told me when Seiji heard he was going to retire, Seiji called and said, “Vic, don’t retire now, stay until you make 50 years!”. Vic made it.

Toronto was Seiji’s first job as conductor and music director.  Since then he has become a national treasure in Japan. I’ve always thought that Seiji did his best work with contemporary music. I heard, but cannot confirm that his management dissuaded him from conducting contemporary music. However, a composer friend told me he’d overheard a conversation wherein Seiji was told by his manager not to conduct my friend’s music anymore. And so he seemed to do.

My first year in the orchestra we played Charles Ives Symphony No. 4, the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, Iannis Xenakis’ Pithoprakta, (conducted byJames Levine, no less) for 46 string instruments, two trombones, xylophone, and woodblock, about a half a dozen works by Takemitsu, a recording of Takemitsu’s music, Gunther Schuller’s 7 Studies on Themes of  Paul Klee and a number of other works I cannot now remember.  I missed playing Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony by one year. The excitement was palpable every time Seiji conducted. I was working with a conductor only two years older than myself – one who genuinely enjoyed new music and made audiences enjoy it as well.

During Seiji’s tenure, I looked forward to rehearsals and performances. He was a conductor I never had to watch. Simply by listening, I knew where the music was going. If a player extended a note a bit longer then usual, Seiji would accept that and the piece would change.

Seijii Ozawa, Toronto, 1969

Seijii Ozawa, Toronto, 1969

Seiji Ozawa, 2011.

Seiji Ozawa, 2012.

 

 

 

 

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Current Events: An Email to a Friend.

Dear Ed,

For too long your numerous emails have begged a response from me. Therefore, this one will be a bit lengthy.

Firstly: I possess an 1840 edition of writings by Benjamin Franklin in 10 volumes, collected by Jared Sparks and published in Boston by Hilliard, Gray, and Company.  Attracted by their antique, leather bound look, a friend casually selected a volume and randomly opened it to a page containing a letter from Franklin to a friend in which he made a series of points, consecutively headed  “Firstly, Secondly,Thirdly, Fourthly” and so on until “Fourteenthly”. I think that’s pretty neat and it explains the Frankliness format of these responses to you.

Secondly: The New Yorker comes to my iPad every week, but it is in a somewhat reduced version. Only the major articles, the Talk of the Town and film reviews are in the audio version. There are no cartoons or satires such as your guy Borowitz, so I appreciate receiving them. (Flash: Eleanor just told me, McConnell and Boehmer have invited Netanyahu to criticize Obama’s foreign policy decisions in a speech before Congress. (If true, the State Department should refuse him a Visa.)

Thirdly:  A multitude of thanks for sending me Barry Levinson’s The Band That Wouldn’t Die. Nostalgia heaven, what a rush. I’m thinking of writing an appreciation to him. I don’t know how you found this, but it made my year!!!!!!. As you may know, I posted it on my web site as an addendum to an earlier posting about the NCAA final, final college football championship of the year. Moving on –

Fourthly: When I hear “Tea baggers” speak about the health of our republic, I have minor metabolic seizures and am tempted to overdose on my daily meds. Ingesting this recipe, I’d be dead within a day or two, but as each new blasphemy occurs, i’m beginning to believe death to be an acceptable alternative to life amongst the idiots now out screaming any reasonable vision of life in their United States.

Fifthly: I chortled while reading about the Alabama politicians who deeded their town to God. Actually, that’s perfect. If a liberal biblical scholar could be found anywhere in the Confederacy, they could shout chapter and verse before or after every new municipal Bylaw, proclaiming it in line with or contradictory to the word of God. Southern Christian seminaries might develop a course called Directing Civic Administrations with God’s Word. Of course, everyone would be expected to know which God was speaking. I don’t think that would pose a problem, at least for now.

Sixthly:  Thank you also for Borowitz on the continued accumulation of wealth by the sub atomic number of oligarchs and their complaints about not having enough. You must see the Daily Show from this past Wednesday. It may be on You Tube. His take on the State of the Union speech is priceless. The night before was also classic. John Stewart took on Mike Huckabee, Poor Schmuck.

Seventhly: Thanks also for the documentary about the Guantanamo prisoner. The rational behind political decisions is beyond me. What is it that puts enough fear, and insecurity in them to eradicate any sense of humanity or justice? A while back, during the most intense flare up over Gitmo, a small town in Michigan with an empty prison, offered to take in all the Gitmo prisoners, thus substantially boosting their town’s economy by providing jobs for locals. Obviously, they were not at all afraid of having suspected or confirmed terrorists in their midst, but their casual attitude did nothing to diminish paranoia in the nation’s capital.

Eighthly: Then I heard about the Davos economic summit and the 1,700 private jets the delegates used to avoid travel fatigue to Switzerland. Davos has been a coming out party for the oligarchs. I would never have thought to hear such honest expressions of greed and ego, on camera, from an otherwise secretive clan of monarchists. Perhaps the continuing show of strength from the Tea Party has given them a sense of security. If memory serves, all the televised Republican Party responses to the State of the Union Address were delivered by Tea Party cohorts.

Supporters of unfettered capitalism have managed,  without fear of reprisal, a public unveiling of the depth and breadth of their contempt for honest wage earners of the United States.

Perhaps our world no longer requires a middle class. Perhaps it needs only a few oligarchs to manage a global store, employing and discarding people as needs be. In Davos, James (Jamie) Dimon, current chairman, president and chief executive officer of  JPMorgan Chase, one of the four largest banks in America, looked benignly into the camera and said, “You need us”. I reject his thesis, but do not doubt his sincerity.

See: Andro Linklater: Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership, Bloomsbury, 2013, 496pp., $20

Ever hopeful, ever older. I remain

Robin

 
 

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