Windworks concert features explosiveness exploration of war
Presidents and generals look at war in terms of objectives and firepower. When a 20th century composer like Daniel Bukvich tackles the subject of war, he also looks at firepower. But it comes in the form of thundering drums, clashing gongs and crescendoing voices.
In a world obsessed by thoughts of war, Bukvich’s “Symphony No. 1 In Memoriam Dresden 1945” – featured at Purdue University Bands’ Windworks concert on Feb. 22 - has an eerie timeliness.
Varsity Band performs the symphony at the concert that also features University Concert and Collegiate Bands. It is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Long Center, 111 N. Sixth St. Admission is free.
To underscore the intense feeling Bukvich wants musicians to project in the symphony’s final “Fire-Storm” movement, the composer left one section of the musicians’ score void of notes. Instead, there’s zigzags, dramatic crescendo markings, lots of looping, swirling lines and a picture of Dresden going up in flames during World War II. The unusual markings elicit strong reactions which is exactly the composer’s intent.
Bukvich demands that musicians react emotionally to his pieces, and when they become totally immersed in the piece it creates a magnetism that can’t help but involve the audience, says Pamela J. Nave, director of Varsity Band, and a fan of Bukvich’s works.
“He breaks out of the box of concert music. He goes beyond horns in your face playing melody. You couldn’t do ‘Fire-Storm’ on horns,” she says. To create the explosive mood needed for “Fire-Storm,” Bukvich has musicians separate their mouthpieces from their instruments and blow through the mouthpieces. He instructs flutes in sobbing techniques, adds extra percussion and a chorus of voices chanting German words that begin as whispers and become screams.
Two years ago, Varsity Band did another Bukvich piece, “Dinosaurs” which also employed unusual techniques and sounds to paint vivid pictures of the prehistoric creatures. With his explosive “Symphony No. 1,” Bukvich’s subject is the horror of war. “His music makes a lot of sense, but a lot of conductors don’t like to do it because you have to go all the way with it, or it sounds weak,” says Nave.
In other words, when the music crescendos and the composer call for screams, the screams have to be full out. Getting instrumental musicians to let loose vocally isn’t the biggest challenge. “It’s hard to do the crescendo correctly. (Whispers gradually elevating to mumbles, then normal speech, shouts and finally screams). The peak is not the problem, it’s getting to it,” Nave says.
Tackling composers like Bukvich “can be scary because you don’t know if the kids are going to get into it,” says Nave. They look at a piece of music with squiggles and drawings of a town on fire and say “What is it?” and “What do we do?”
But she’s found that Purdue musicians respond well to Bukvich’s unusual demands.
“It puts them on their toes. It’s exciting because it’s new and different. They connect with it because it is different,” she says. “And when you get the kids excited then it projects (to the audience) very well.”
Although Bukvich’s “Symphony” provides immediacy to Purdue Bands’ “Windworks” concert, the program contains a wide variety of musical moods from Sousa marches to English dances, as well as a special “Salute to Richard Rodgers.” In collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein, composer Richard Rodgers wrote some of the most popular Broadway theater music of all time. Collegiate Band, under the direction or William D. Kisinger, will perform Rodgers’ Broadway medley. The band will also perform Robert Sheldon’s “Southwest Saga,” John Philip Sousa’s “Sabre and Spurs March” and Gustav Holst’s “First Suite in E Flat.”
Among the pieces performed by University Concert Band, under the direction of David A. Leppla, are Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody,” Malcolm Arnold’s “English Dances” and Percy Grainger’s “Colonial Song.”
Purdue Bands’ three concert bands will next appear as part of the Purdue Bands Showcase in April. They will perform at an 8 p.m. concert on Saturday, April 26, at the Long Center, 111 N. Sixth Street. Admission is free.