Recording Reviews: Richard Deane; Steven Cohen

I seldom post recording reviews on this site, but every once in a while I either receive a complimentary album in the mail, or hear about a project that piques my interest. To close out a series of reviews from this summer, here are two horn recordings that are well worth your time.

Mid-Century Sonatas for Horn and PianoRichard Deane, horn; Timothy Whitehead, piano

  • Halsey Stevens, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1953)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Althorn in Es und Klavier (1943/1956)
  • Bernard Heiden, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1939)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Horn und Klavier (1939)
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These sonatas for horn and piano by Halsey Stevens, Paul Hindemith, and Bernard Heiden are staples in the repertoire. Deane is Associate Principal Horn in the New York Philharmonic, and served as Acting Principal for the 2017-18 season. He was previously a member of the Atlanta Symphony for many years. Though the repertoire is conventional, the extremely high caliber of the performances makes this recording special. Deane plays with a huge but focused sound. To my ear the “New York sound” has changed over the years, partially due to changes in equipment, I’m sure, but also probably as a response to the ever increasing demands of the job. Whitehead’s piano playing is equally impressive – especially in the final movement of the Hindemith E-flat Sonata – and is a fitting musical counterpart to the horn in these works.  There is not much in the way of liner notes, but there is a very nice video on YouTube with background about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP-kJf8xiJM  One other interesting note about this album is that Whitehead not only performed on piano, but did all of the recording, producing, editing, and mixing – not a small feat! The recording is both vibrant and clear, and for those who might be interested the recording equipment is listed in the liner notes.

Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers – Steven Cohen, horn; Jed Moss, piano; Scott Shinbara, percussion; Amanda Sealock, percussion

  • James Naigus, Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Jenni Brandon, Dawn for Horn in F and Piano
  • Adam Wolf, Cruise Control for Horn, Piano and Percussion
  • Wayne Lu, Pranayama
  • Gina Gillie, Sonata for Horn and Piano
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Cruise Control is a contrasting but equally interesting album by New York City freelancer Steven Cohen, and features world premiere recordings by several up and coming American composers. This project was sponsored by Siegfried’s Call, with a significant portion of the funding generated through an Indiegogo campaign. Be sure to check out the Indiegogo link for more information about the project and the commissioning process.

The music on this disc is fun and fresh, and showcases what I think the horn does best: play beautiful melodies and exhibit a variety of timbres. Cohen navigates the full range of the horn with ease and expression (using similar equipment to Richard Deane, a triple horn by Engelbert Schmid). Stylistically there is a bit of everything on this recording, from Neo-romanticism in the Sonatas by James Naigus and Gina Gillie to Minimalism and Rock in Cruise Control by Adam Wolf, and avant garde extended techniques in the works by Jenni Brandon and Wayne Lu. This recording is a musical and technical tour de force, and serves as a great resource for anyone interested in new music for the horn.

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Brass Trio Recording Update

When I last posted about our brass trio album, we had just wrapped up a three-day recording session in January (you can read that post here). The project is moving forward, and I’m anticipating a release sometime in the fall of 2018. The tentative title is Scenes from the Bayou, which is the same title as one of the works we commissioned for this recording, composed by Gina Gillie. Here is a complete list of what will be on the disc.

Although the actual recording was a major part of the process, there are still many steps to complete before the album is ready to go.

Step 1: Sift through all of the material from our recording session and select those takes to be used in the first edit. After three days of recording, we had roughly 4.5 gigs of wav files, over 650 tracks! For those who might be interested, these were rough 16-bit mixes, not what things will sound like after final editing and mastering. Sometimes the recording producer and/or engineer will assemble a first edit for the client, depending on their contract, but in this case I was the one going through and providing the take list. Luckily, our producer Gina Gillie took great session notes. These notes helped me group our takes into three broad categories: usable, possibly usable for a spot or two in a given set of measures, and not usable. Lots of these decisions were arbitrary, but I feel good about the choices made for the first edit. From there, the take list was sent off to our engineer, Dave St. Onge.

Step 2: Dave worked incredibly fast (but very accurately) and put together a complete first edit within a matter of days. The first edit sounds very good, and I think the album is going to be an enjoyable listen – high quality, lots of variety, and musically interesting. But, there is still some work to be done. One of my summer projects (already in progress) will be going through the first edit with an even more critical ear to find any issues that need to be addressed for the second (or possibly third) edit. Things like small intonation concerns, precision of attacks (a few cases), and any other rough spots missed during the first edit will be the priorities. Unlike the first edit, I won’t be listening for long stretches of usable material, but instead trying to find small bits and pieces which can be dropped in to address a specific issue. For example, a 16-bar take might be great except for a single chipped note or other small imperfection. I tried to account for these when choosing takes for the first edit, of course, but I’ve already found a few things that slipped through the cracks the first time.

Step 3: Mastering will include tweaking the balance of all three voices to arrive at the final sound of our recording. Again, a very subjective process!

From here there are lots of production-related items to discuss with Mark Custom Recording Service, who will be manufacturing and distributing the album. These include:

  • Mechanical licenses (mostly handled at this point)
  • Package design, cover and interior art (in progress)
  • Liner notes (another summer task)

It’s exciting to see another recording project take shape. Stay tuned for more updates!

Performance Videos: 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference

As promised, here are some videos of our faculty brass trio’s performance this past summer at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference at Rowan University. Thanks to Dr. Amy Bliss for making this recording available! The videos below are of the most substantial work we performed, Scenes from the Bayou, which we commissioned from Dr. Gina Gillie. It is an energetic and accessible new work for brass trio, and I am pleased to announce that we will be recording it – along with several other recent compositions for brass trio – in early 2018. Enjoy! NB: There is a small typo in the title screen for movement 4 – it should read “Cypress Trees.”

Conference Report: 2017 IWBC

Photo Credit: Cavitt Productions

I recently returned from the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, hosted by Dr. Amy Schumaker Bliss at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. It was a fantastic four days, full of great performances and presentations. Congratulations and thank-you to the IWBC and Rowan University for hosting a terrific event! While I didn’t attend everything – it simply isn’t possible at these type of conferences – I did make it to multiple concerts and presentations, and also ran an exhibit booth for Mountain Peak Music.

Black Bayou Brass performed on the first day of the conference, and our program of new music for brass trio by women composers was very well received. It was once again our pleasure to perform Gina Gillie’s Scenes from the Bayou, as well as other works by Gillie and Adriana Figueroa Mañas. We shared the recital with a faculty horn/tuba/piano trio from Youngstown State University: Stacie Mickens (horn, and fellow UW-Madison alum), Brian Kiser (tuba), and Caroline Oltmanns (piano). They performed two works by  James Wilding,  Distill for horn and piano, and Melencolia for horn, tuba, and piano. Both pieces were really interesting, and expertly performed. Wilding’s music was new to me, and it is certainly worthy of further study. On first listening I found his use of various colors in all three instruments particularly noteworthy.

After the brass trio performance, I spent some time setting up the Mountain Peak Music display, and rehearsing with Gina Gillie, Sarah Gillespie, and Stacie Mickens for our Saturday performance of Gina’s Horn Quartet No. 1. This challenging, multi-movement piece is a substantial addition to the repertoire, and is published by Veritas Musica Publications. Check out the YouTube demo recording, you won’t be disappointed!

Photo Credit: Cavitt Productions

We put the entire 18-minute work together in only three rehearsals, and the Saturday performance went very well. On a personal note it was great fun getting to rehearse and catch up with my former UW-Madison classmates.

My time on Thursday and Friday was spent in quartet rehearsals, at the exhibit booth, and at presentations and concerts. Here are a few highlights.

New Music: One of my favorite parts of any conference is hearing new music. Although I heard (and performed) several new works at the 2017 IWBC, one that stood out was Imaginings, by Dorothy Gates. This single-movement composition for horn and piano was composed for and premiered by Michelle Baker, recently retired 2nd horn of the Metropolitan Opera. Ms. Baker sounded fantastic, displaying great agility and expressiveness throughout the three-octave range the piece requires. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy for myself and am planning to program it on an upcoming recital this fall. Be on the lookout for this work in the future, I think it’s going to get played a lot!

Presentations: There was quite an array of interesting topics at this conference, ranging from practice and teaching strategies to discussions about auditions, gender, and race. I particularly enjoyed Dr. Stacie Mickens’ presentation on “Positive Practice Strategies” and a panel on Entrepreneurship with Mary Bowden (trumpet soloist, founding member of Seraph Brass), Beth Mitchell (freelance tubist and teacher in Los Angeles), Michael Parker (tubist with Monumental Brass Quintet, owner of Parker Mouthpieces), and Anna Skrupky (Director of Rowan Prep program, horn performer and teacher and UW-Madison alum). Dr. Mickens is Associate Professor of Horn at Youngstown State University, and presented some very solid strategies for effective practicing. I was not familiar with one of the sources she referenced, Bruce Kaplan’s Practicing for Artistic Success: The Musician’s Guide to Self-Empowerment, but will definitely be reading it in the future. Kaplan’s book lays out a unique, thorough, and systematic approach to practicing. 

The Entrepreneurship panel was equally informative, and each person brought a unique perspective to the topic. Here are some of the common threads I heard in their remarks:

  • Don’t be afraid to pursue your artistic and professional goals.
  • Stand up for yourself, but be nice! You will continue to run into former colleagues, classmates, etc. throughout your career.
  • Familiarize yourself with a variety of technology in order to stay organized and promote your career. These can include: websites, audio/video recording and editing, social media, and more.

Exhibits: I didn’t have the opportunity to visit many of the other exhibits, but based on talking with visitors to the Mountain Peak Music table there were a number of big and small companies represented at the conference. Horn exhibitors included Balu Musik, Siegfried’s Call, Baltimore Brass, Patterson Hornworks, Houghton Horns, and “big-box” companies Conn-Selmer and Yamaha. I really wanted to try the new Geyer model horns from Patterson, but alas I did not get the chance. Maybe next time! One issue that I noticed, and also heard mentioned by other exhibitors, was location. Most of us were tucked away in individual rooms, somewhat removed from the flow of traffic. As I heard one exhibitor put it, conference attendees “did not have to walk past our booth to get to anything.”  To some extent this was not entirely within the control of the conference hosts. One generally cannot alter the layout of a building. However, it would have been nice if the exhibits could have been more centrally located. On a positive note, one really great idea was the use of “Gift Coupons” for competition winners. These gift cards were issued by the IWBC to the winners, and could only be used at the exhibit booths. At the end of the conference, the IWBC reimbursed exhibitors for the coupons spent at their booths. This is a fantastic idea because it encourages participation in the competitions, and drives traffic to the exhibit booths – a win for everyone! I have not seen this concept employed at other conferences, but it is something to think about for other similar events.

In closing I think the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference was a great success, and I encourage any and all brass players to consider attending the next one!

Upcoming Performances Part 2: International Women’s Brass Conference

Shortly after the New Music on the Bayou Festival, my colleagues and I will be traveling to Glassboro, New Jersey for the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference, hosted by Dr. Amy Schumaker Bliss at Rowan University. If you haven’t had a chance to attend an IWBC, it’s a wonderful conference, with lots of great performances, presentations, and exhibitors. Of particular interest to horn players is Featured Artist Michelle Baker, Second Horn of the MET Orchestra (she recently announced her retirement after 27 years with the orchestra). I had the opportunity to work with her for a brief time at the Round Top Festival Institute. She’s a fantastic performer and teacher, and an all-around nice person! For more information about Baker’s career, see Barbara Jöstlein Currie’s interview with her in the May 2017 issue of The Horn Call.

At this year’s IWBC I’ll be involved in two performances, as well as running an exhibit table for Mountain Peak Music.  The first performance will feature Black Bayou Brass in performances of music by Gina Gillie and Adriana Figueroa Mañas. Here’s our program:

Trio for Brass, Gina Gillie (b. 1981)

  1. Fanfare and Chorale

Triad, Adriana Isabel Figueroa Mañas (b. 1966)

  1. Magic Dreams

Scenes from The Bayou, Gina Gillie

The first work by Gina Gillie is one of our favorites in the repertoire, and makes a great opener. It’s published by Veritas Musica Publications. If you’re looking for a fun, challenging, and musically rewarding work for brass trio be sure to check it out.

Adriana Mañas has composed some very fine works for brass trio, including her Three Chorals and Triad. Magic Dreams, the final movement of Triad, is notable for the variety of timbres and articulations it employs. It makes for a nice contrast with the opening work on our program.

We’re especially excited about performing the newly-commissioned Scenes from the Bayou. We premiered this work locally back in March, and are looking forward to sharing it with a larger audience. This commission was funded in part by the Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Program of the International Horn Society, and is a substantial addition to the repertoire. Here is a video compilation of several excerpts from the premiere.

On the last day of the conference I’ll be collaborating with several University of Wisconsin-Madison alums (Gina Gillie, Sarah Gillespie, Stacie Mickens) for a performance of Gina Gillie’s Horn Quartet No. 1. Like her brass trio compositions, Gillie’s horn quartet is a really strong work with lots of great writing for all four parts. Like Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Four Horns, the final movement of Gillie’s quartet is a set of variations on Ich schell’ mein Horn. Here’s a recording of the piece with the following performers: Gina Gillie, Mark Robbins, Gustavo Camacho and Becky Miller.

If you’re planning to attend the conference, we’d love to see you at either (or both) of the above performances, or at the Mountain Peak Music booth. I’ll also be posting regular reports to this site during the conference. If you won’t be attending the 2017 IWBC , I hope you’ll consider attending some kind of a conference or festival this summer. They are wonderful opportunities to hear great performances, and to network and connect with friends and colleagues.

Upcoming Projects, Part 1: Performances and Premieres

For various reasons, I fell so far behind on writing my customary Semester Preview post this year that I decided to forgo it entirely. In lieu of that single post, I decided to write individual “blurbs” about  my upcoming activities.

Our faculty brass trio, Black Bayou Brass, recently commissioned two  new multi-movement works, which we’ll be premiering this spring and summer. The first piece is Inventions, by Sy Brandon. Commissioned through a consortium with several other brass ensembles, this substantial five-movement work is accessible and challenging (though not prohibitively so). In the composer’s words:

The title “Inventions’ has a double meaning as a musical invention is a short contrapuntal composition that is usually based on a single theme. The second meaning is that each movement represents a significant invention.

During the composition process Dr. Brandon provided sound samples and ample descriptions of each movement, and allowed us to provide feedback as each movement took shape. Follow the links below for more information and a sound sample of each movement.

  1. The Wheel
  2. The Metronome
  3. The Periscope
  4. Morse Code
  5. The Airplane

For anyone interested in commissioning a new work, a consortium is a very effective way to generate funding. The fee for Inventions was very reasonable, and we are looking forward to performing it on our March 14 faculty recital.

In June we’ll travel to the International Women’s Brass Conference  to premiere a new work by Dr. Gina Gillie, Associate Professor of Horn at Pacific Lutheran University. Gillie has published a handful of compositions, and is quickly making a name for herself. Her music is tuneful, engaging, and very fun to play. We were fortunate to be awarded funding for this commission from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund.  The Meir Rimon Fund is a fantastic program, and well-worth exploring. Gillie’s new work is entitled Scenes from Black Bayou,  and was inspired by the beautiful natural scenery at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge (see image above). Black Bayou is, of course, what our trio is named after, and is located a few miles north of the ULM campus. We’ve begun rehearsing the trio, and are having a great time with it. If you’ll be attending this year’s IWBC at Rowan University in New Jersey, we’d love to see you at our performance.

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