Band on the run: Youth Wind Ensemble to take European tour

By TIMOTHY MANGAN
Writer-in-residence

Gregory X. Whitmore is a band guy through and through, a protege of the legendary bandsman H. Robert Reynolds, a former drum major of the Michigan Marching Band, able to rattle off the history of the “Washington Post March” at a moment’s notice. He’s also just finished his third season as music director of Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble, which has just finished its 10th. To celebrate the ensemble’s milestone, Whitmore is taking it on its first tour this summer — to Vienna, no less. The band will compete in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in July there.

“This just felt right,” Whitmore said recently, speaking of the festival over a cup of coffee. Not only is it held in Vienna, “the home of Western music,” filled with sites for musical pilgrims, “but more than that, the chance to have a concert in the Musikverein, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic, the chance to also play at the Vienna Konzerthaus” — where the Pacific Symphony culminated its own European tour in 2006 — “and the chance to play at the MuTh, the home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, just was an exclamation point on what is going to be a superb tour.”

Though many orchestras support their own youth orchestras these days, few make room for youth wind ensembles as well. “That really is a testament to the vision of Mr. St.Clair and feeling very strongly about having a youth ensembles family that makes artistry and education a really tandem experience,” Whitmore said. Wind ensembles, or bands, have a rich history in the United States, and a rich repertoire. In the late 19th century, it was estimated that there were some 10,000 bands in the country, professional, military and amateur.

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Pianist Gloria Cheng to visit ‘Sonic Kitchen’

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Pianist Gloria Cheng will be driving down the freeway (we’re guessing the 5) from her home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington next week to take part in the Pacific Symphony’s second and final “Sonic Kitchen” concert of the season. Cheng is one of the foremost contemporary music pianists in the world — Pierre Boulez once faxed her a piece in the middle of the night; she’s won a Grammy — and she’s being brought in to perform in a demanding program of new music which will include pieces by Frederic Rzewski, Philip Glass, George Crumb and others.

The concert is a musical supplement to the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art’s “Art as Protest,” an exhibit featuring a provocative array of visual artworks that aim to “afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.” Given the times, it is inevitably political.

To which music can quite naturally contribute, Cheng said by phone recently.

“So much music is political, whether the message is overt or not,” she said. “I mean even a Brahms symphony is political. I’m reminded of something that my husband said. My husband’s not a musician, and he really dislikes a lot of 19th century orchestral repertoire. Because he hears militarism in it, he hears class conflict in it.

“And I said, ‘Really, you hear all that?’ And he enlightened me to that; it’s absolutely there. It is. Listen to a Tchaikovsky symphony, so much is about marches and a militaristic kind of world view. And that existed, that’s there. So, I’m a musician and the politics, they’re embedded in any work of art. Sometimes you just have to delve a little deeper for it, but it’s always there.”

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Neglected Symphony: Symphony No. 3, ‘Sinfonia Sacra,’ by Andrzej Panufnik (1963)

I ran across this piece the other day and feel that I have to share it. Listeners, or many of them at least, are unnecessarily afraid of contemporary classical music (and in classical music, 1963 counts as contemporary). “Unnecessarily” afraid not because contemporary music is easy. Much, though by no means all, of it is quite difficult. At least at first.

No, listeners are unnecessarily afraid because they don’t trust their ears and mind to make sense of a particular piece of music if they just give them a chance to. Listen to a new piece closely, listen to a new piece more than once, and more often than not it will come into focus and you’ll get what’s going on. And when you get it, you’ll find enjoyment in it.

At any rate, here’s the Third Symphony of Polish composer and conductor Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991). The piece was composed, the composer said, “as a tribute to Poland’s Millennium of Christianity and Statehood, and as an expression of my religious and patriotic feelings.” (The rest of his fascinating program note is here.) It’s a gorgeous piece with some craggy bits to be sure, but the Grand Canyon is craggy too and everyone likes that. Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony in this live performance.

The Making of a YouTube video

Here’s an article that I wrote for our affiliated organization, the community arts school OC Music& Dance. Singer Alex Boye came to town to make a music video with the musicians of OCMD and it was my job and delight to capture the process.

The Making of a YouTube video: Alex Boye and OC Music and Dance. Classical Life, June 19, 2017.

Upcoming concerts

‘Tis the season between seasons, but there are still a few things to listen to.

Acclaimed contemporary music pianist Gloria Cheng will make a guest appearance on the next “Sonic Kitchen” concert (8 p.m. June 29 at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art). Cheng joins members of the Pacific Symphony in a program to include music by George Crumb (the “Vox Balaenae”); Michael Daugherty, Philip Glass, Mohammed Fairouz and Frederic Rzewski (selections from “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!”).The concert is part of the Center’s current exhibit “Art as Protest” and will be performed in the galleries. Pre-concert events begin at 7:15; attendees can view the exhibit and purchase craft beers and wines at this time. Tickets are $20. Visit pacificsymphony.org or call (714) 755-5799.

At 7 p.m. on June 30, conductor Gregory X. Whitmore will lead the Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble in a preview of the tour programs that they will take to Vienna in July. Whitmore will select items from the touring repertoire by Bach, Ticheli, Whitacre, J. Strauss II, Sousa, Basler and Perrine. At the Claire Trevor Theatre, UCI. Tickets are free.

The official opener of the orchestra’s summer season is again July 4, but this year it’s held at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, the group’s new outdoor home. Pops conductor Richard Kaufman directs a program of film and patriotic music and is joined by Matt Ryan & The American dream for a set of “Symphonic Springsteen.” With Fireworks. Tickets start at $25; military comes free. 8 p.m.

We also recommend, the 37th annual Baroque Music Festival, Corona del Mar, June 18-25. Artistic director and violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock calls this year’s agenda a “Festival of Novelties,” and among other offerings it will include a fencing demonstration set to Baroque music; a program devoted to music for four violas da gamba; and a “Music from Monticello” concert. Sunday’s closer (June 25), featuring the stereophonic music that Monteverdi and Gabrieli wrote St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, looks particularly attractive. For info here.