January 24, 2013

New music out of old forms

Ensemble to perform classical, neo-classical works from Mozart, Stravinsky


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Two sets of eight chamber-music players in different instrumental configurations set the tone for the Adirondack Wind Ensemble’s upcoming “Classical and Neo-Classical” program.

The ensemble will perform two concerts this weekend. The first is Saturday at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, and the second is Sunday at the E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium at SUNY Plattsburgh.

After the ensemble’s 10th anniversary blowout last year, conductor Daniel Gordon downsized the winter concert with small-ensemble repertoire this season.

“We did a chamber-music concert four years ago, and it was quite successful,” Gordon said. “The last four years, I did large-ensemble stuff.”

The program features Mozart’s “Serenade No. 11, K.375” and Stravinsky’s “Octet for Wind Instruments.”

Gordon deemed Stravinsky’s “Octet” too difficult to manage previously with other works.

“Stravinsky is a very influential composer,” Gordon said. “He went through a number of stylistic periods. He’s best known for the post-romantic, Russian large-scale works … the Russian ballets, ‘The Rite of Spring’ and ‘The Firebird.’ Those were in the 1910s. A decade later, he wrote the ‘Octet.’”

By then, Stravinsky completely changed styles and came up with the idea of neo-classicism by mirroring classicism’s form, instrumentation and tonality.

“In the earlier parts of the 20th century, composers experimented in abandoning parameters of traditional music like melody, harmony and rhythm,” Gordon said. “That’s when they came up with atonality, dodecaphonic music (12 tones) — an extension of atonal music. It’s a codified way of treating all 12 notes in the chromatic scale equally and various other aspects of serial music.”

An independent musician, Stravinsky was fortunate to support himself financially through his compositions, performances and royalties. Many patrons were not fans of this newfangled music, and he combined classical elements to connect with his audience.

“It was very influential. The ‘Octet’ is one of the earliest neo-classical works. Once I decided to do that piece, I got the idea to do classical and neo-classical,” Gordon said. 

“Stravinsky borrowed ideas from the classical period. To have a starting point he was working from, I took the most standard classical composition: Mozart’s serenade for wind instruments. We’re playing the second one. We start the program with that, and that’s our point of departure.”

Wind ensembles — pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons and French horn — were popular during the classical period. Mozart dubbed it “Harmonie Musik.”

“First of all, (wind ensembles) have a lot of color for a limited number of players,” Gordon said. “The instruments were portable, and they have a very wide, dynamic range for the small ensemble.”

Wind ensembles were used frequently in social occasions, such as balls and soirees, as illustrated in the film “Amadeus.”

In “Serenade,” Mozart added an extra minute, creating a five-movement work instead of the standard four.

“It’s about 25 minutes long. It follows standard, classical form. What a 20th century composer does with that idea, we get to Stravinsky. The first thing a composer starts to think about is what musical medium I can write that will bring out this idea of form.”

Stravinsky was convinced a wind ensemble could bring out the clarity of form.

“Because wind instruments have a clarity, precision and richness of color and range that brought out the clarity he was after in this piece as opposed to the string instruments that were less cold and more vague. He wrote in these poetic terms. He considered the wind instruments to be cool and precise, and that was what he was after,” Gordon said

Stravinsky’s ensemble was comprised of a flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets and two trombones. An unusual instrumental combination by any standard, this instrumentation came to him in a dream. In his 20th century twist on classicism, he played around with meter.

Mozart and Stravinsky, back to back, is a very interesting and rare pairing.

“I’m amazed how quickly it came together,” Gordon said. “I thank the players for the hard work they put into getting it ready. It’s a famous piece (Stravinsky) they don’t get to play that often. They did what they were supposed to do. All I had to do is turn the knobs and wave the stick around a little bit.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Classical and Neo-Classical" presented by the Adirondack Wind Ensemble. WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Drive, Lake Placid; 2 p.m. Sunday, E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, Hawkins Hall, SUNY Plattsburgh. TICKETS: $10 general admission. Students are free.