Upcoming Performance: Crystal Kaleidoscope for Horn and Vibraphone by Ken Davies

IMG_20190320_141315964In addition to the Dana Wilson song cycle performance mentioned in my earlier post, I’ll be performing another brand new work in April at the Society of Composers, Inc. Region VI Conference at Texas A&M University—Commerce. The composition is by Ken Davies, and is entitled Crystal Kaleidoscope for horn and vibraphone. My colleague Mel Mobley and I commissioned it with assistance from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. This is a fantastic initiative by the IHS, and well worth applying for and supporting! As of this writing, the fund is on hiatus from January 2019 through December 2019. Be on the lookout, however, for future funding opportunities.

Getting back to Crystal Kaleidoscope, Ken Davies is a very fine composer, and the works I’ve performed by him have been interesting and rewarding to play. The horn and vibraphone combination is pretty unique, and there are only a handful of other works in the repertoire for horn and mallet percussion, let alone this specific instrumentation. The first one that comes to mind is HornVibes: Three Duos for Horn and Vibraphone, by Verne Reynolds. For more information on this and other works for horn and mallet percussion, refer to Dr. Casey N. Maltese’s A Performance Guide of Selected Works for Horn and Mallet Percussion, D.M.A dissertation, the University of Miami, 2011. In my estimation, Crystal Kaleidoscope holds up very well when compared to the Reynolds, though it is quite different. Here is the composer’s note:

Look into the kaleidoscope. See the variously shaped colored crystals, their reflections producing continuous changing patterns. Each crystal has a unique structure, shape, and color—its own symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional aggregation of atoms or molecules.

As the title suggests, this work is based on “crystals.” Though the sectional sub-titles may be whimsically named for gemstones, the musical crystals are pitch sets consisting of a few notes which are spun out into transformed patterns of melodic and harmonic variety. While the theorist/musicologist may want to delve into set analysis, I hope that others may simply enjoy the aural ride along the surface, letting the notes, chords, and timbres provide a worthy repeatable listening experience.

The writing is fun and challenging, but not unreasonably so, with lots of rhythmic and melodic interplay between horn and vibraphone. As the composer implies in his preface, there are some complex compositional operations at work, but the melodies and timbres are interesting enough in and of themselves without deep analysis. As I’ve found in other works by him, Ken likes to throw in periodic references to other styles such as funk and jazz. For instance, this short line for the horn in the final movement, “Crystal Collage,” has a pretty fun groove to it. Tempo is quarter note=92-104 or faster.

Davies Excerpt

If this post has piqued your interest in the music of Ken Davies, take a look at his website for a complete list of his many works. Here is a short list of works with horn, taken from his website.

  • Brain Fantasies for horn and two-channel audio
  • Sensuous Images for horn and pre-recorded soundscape
  • Waterscape for horn and digital media
  • Loose Connections – horn alone
  • Three Roads Diverged – brass trio – tpt, hrn, tbn
  • Concert Piece for Brass Quintet and Organ
  • Bayou Sketches – soprano, French horn, piano
  • Veiled Places for Woodwind Quintet
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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.

Gearing up for the Southeast Horn Workshop

This weekend I’ll be heading to my old stomping ground of Boone, NC for the 2011 Southeast Horn Workshop, which is being held on the campus of Appalachian State University.  I’m looking forward to catching up with colleagues and former teachers, as well as hearing some fabulous horn playing by guest artists John Ericson, David Jolley, and Gail Williams.  As always, I plan to peruse the music and other publications, and I will definitely be picking up copies of John Ericson’s new low horn and technique books.   As far as these topics go, I feel that you can never have enough good resources in your library.  I’ll admit it, I’m an etude junkie!

For my part I’ll be involved in several different activities at this year’s SEHW.  On Friday I’ll be judging a portion of the College Solo Competition with Skip Snead, Professor of Horn at the University of Alabama, presenting a session called “Teaching Younger Horn Players,” and possibly teaching several 20-minute mini lessons to prospective students.  To my knowledge this hasn’t been done in a long time, if ever, at this particular regional workshop.  It should be very interesting to see what we can do in such a short time.

On Saturday I’ll be performing a brand new work for solo horn by a former college classmate, William Withem.  The work is titled Agamemnon, and is really a well-written piece, very idiomatic and fun to play.  Here are some program notes on the piece, quoted from Bill’s website.  Many thanks to Bill for taking the time and care to produce a very fine new work for horn.

In Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, the character of Agamemnon (Elektra’s father) was murdered upon his return home from the Trojan War. The opera focuses on Elektra’s plot to exact revenge against Agamemnon’s murderers. Strauss represents Agamemnon with an ominous three-note theme that outlines a D minor chord. It first appears at the very beginning of the score, and is heard in various forms throughout the remainder of the opera. As a hypothetical question, one may wander what becomes of the memory of Agamemnon? Was he despised enough to be murdered, or should he be celebrated as a victorious commander of war? That question, plus Strauss’ motive for Agamemnon, serve as the point of inspiration for this piece; a character and thematic exploration of the Trojan War commander. The motive is treated in various forms of altered rhythms and tonal qualities, set in contrasting sections.  Each section relates to various aspects of the character: an opening call to summon his soldiers, a war march, a song to lament departing from one’s family in wartime, and a murderous dance of death.

If you happen to be in the area this weekend, I encourage you to check out the Southeast Horn Workshop.  There will be plenty of horn-related concerts, presentations, and master classes for everyone.

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