Alfred Reed ‘Second Suite for Band (Latino Mexicana)’: Continental Winds

The inspiration for this blog stems from my ever-growing post-tour blues I have been feeling the past week. Last week I, along with Sheffield University Wind Orchestra (SUWO), went on our annual European tour, and this year it was in the incredible city of Amsterdam! Through rain and shine we shared some amazing experiences together, as well as playing in some brilliant concert venues and also being broadcast onto Dutch TV! But alas, all good fun must come to an end at some point, and I’m sure I’m not alone in missing the tour frivolities! This leads on to the topic of this blog, which is on Alfred Reed’s Second Suite for Band (Latino Mexicana) (1978), which is a suite of music that I have played in SUWO for the last three years, with it being one of the prominent features of our varied tour concert programmes.

Alfred Reed was born in New York, 1921 and he has written lots of music for a variety of ensembles including concert and wind bands, symphonic orchestras and choral groups. Throughout his long and prosperous lifetime, Reed travelled a lot of the world as a guest conductor for various ensembles, with South America, Asia and Europe all being extensively explored. This is perhaps one key reason as to why Reed is such a popular choice in wind band repertoire, with his Second Suite for Band being no exception!

Subtitled Latino Mexicana, this suite of music has four contrasting movements, all based on Latin-American dances with the movements playing as follows:

I. San Montuno

II. Tango (“Sargasso Serenade”)

III. Guaracha

IV. Paso Doble (“A La Corrida!”)

The first movement, entitled ‘San Montuno’ is an upbeat and energetic movement which is not only really enjoyable to play, but fun and exciting to listen to. There is a build up of texture as a small motif is heard at the beginning of the piece, and this leads into a Latino rhythmic section. The main melodic cells are passed around the band, which creates lots of different textures. Each section of the band is utilised within this movement, with the clarinets being at the forefront at the beginning of the movement, but then the upper brass begin leading the new melodic themes part-way through the movement. With a large proportion of Latin music, percussion is one of the cores throughout, and this movement does not stray from this. With many different exciting percussive instruments being used, it makes this movement true to Latino roots, as well as providing a clear rhythm for the rest of the ensemble.

The second movement, ‘Tango (‘Sargasso Serenade’)’ is a wonderful contrast to the previous movement as it is a slow and dream-like movement, which has a delicate Tango accompaniment. It begins with a whimsical clarinet solo, which leads in with the upper woodwinds playing a pulsating scalic passage, which is so very beautiful. After this, the trombones enter with the delicate Tango rhythm, which is a constant for the rest of the movement. The upper woodwinds then play a long and flowing melody that soars above the consistent rhythm beneath. Tuned percussion is also used to create that dream-like effect, with the glockenspiel perhaps being heard the most prominently within this movement. This is the only movement when upper brass are not heard all that much, with the exception to a couple of chords in the tutti section in the middle of the movement. After this section the band settle back into the comfortable Tango rhythm and a variation of the main melody is heard in the upper winds once more. I love this movement as I got to sit and listen to just how lovely it is! A wonderful contrast to all of the other sections within the collection.

‘Guaracha’ is the third movement and it starts with a poignant call and response motif from the percussion section, which sets the pacy tempo for this movement. Guaracha is a genre of popular music that originates from Cuba and its fast tempo is one of the most attractive features. This movement nicely contrasts from the nonchalant Tango previously heard, and the main theme is definitely one I was singing for most of tour week! First heard in the lower winds, this theme is passed around the ensemble until a fully orchestrated section is heard nearer the end of the movement. The movement is driven by various quaver-dominated cells of music, which come together throughout the movement to create a menagerie of different motifs. There is a slightly more lyrical motif within the middle sections, however underneath these melodies, the quaver patterns can be heard underneath which creates a subtle effect. The movement ends with offbeats that build up throughout the ensemble to end on a tonic chord at the end.

The final movement is a triumphant Paso Doble, and from the very beginning this movement is powerful, exciting and victorious. The start of the movement reveals the compelling musical abilities of various instruments of the ensemble. A typical Spanish fanfare motif is first heard in the trumpet (which I have been lucky enough to play this year!) and this is then preceded by a similar theme in the clarinet and then in the flute. The tempo then settles into a fast-paced march-like feel, which is typical of a paso doble. The duple-metre makes this movement provocative and the fast melodic passages heard in the upper winds are incredibly precise and exciting. These sections are interrupted by a brass fanfare, which, after the trumpets have sounded, the tempo and rhythm fit back into a driven section which is very march-like. The movement ends with a build up of the main fanfare, it then is completed by an octave drop on the tonic, which creates a very dramatic effect!

As aforementioned, I have a bad case of post-tour blues still even though its been nearly 2 weeks since we were all in the amazing city of Amsterdam. I want to take this opportunity to thank SUWO for the many smiles and performance opportunities it has given me and for letting me be its 2015/16 Vice-President/Inclusions Officer! Over the last three years in the band I have met and played with some insane musicians, whilst also growing as a musician myself. To all of the trumpeters I have had the pleasure of playing with – thank you, its been such a laugh hasn’t it?!

I mean I’m making it sound like I’m leaving next year…I’m thinking one more year is definitely on the cards after receiving my MA place just yesterday! Let’s be completely honest here, I won’t be able to let go just yet…save a seat for me SUWO I’m coming back!

This is for all my SUWO friends, past and present – you’re all blooming legends x

 

Recommended Recordings:

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ‘The Marriage of Figaro Overture’: High-Spirited Beginnings

Good afternoon readers! I apologise for how long this next blog has taken to surface – I’ve been trying to find the right piece and the right time to write it seems that today is the day! Therefore, this blog is going to be looking into the wonderful overture from Mozart’s comic opera The Marriage of Figaro (1786). This overture is very lively and its persistent driven tempo throughout makes this an incredibly thrilling piece of music that has been one of the most played orchestral works since its premiere in 1786. Typically an overture showcases some famous themes/melodies from the opera itself, however this work is an exception as Mozart does not let us preview any of the thematic material from the opera. Instead, he writes an overture that captures the pace and the atmosphere of the opera. The opera is in the category of ‘opera buffa’ which translated means ‘comic opera’ and thus a fast-paced, enthusiastic atmosphere is created with this overture.

The overture starts with a fast and precise quaver pattern, that is so quiet you may not even be aware that the overture has started! In a comical style, Mozart leads this motif into a loud rumpus which involves the whole ensemble. This is perhaps the most famous theme as it is the basis for the overture. This burst of colourful energy sets the pace and frivolity of the work, which is what makes such an exciting piece to listen to. The piece is in the bright key of D major, and this aides with the luminous effect and atmosphere that Mozart was aiming to create. This exciting overture is full of both comical and romantic themes that are passed around different areas of the orchestra. For instance, the opening theme is headed by the bassoon, whereas later on the oboes also join in with this theme in a tutti section. The work is light, bouncy and conveys a wonderful celebration of music, comedy and emotion. The are some really interesting interludes from the bassoon and upper strings throughout the work, however, there is a wonderfully romantic oboe solo halfway through the piece, which is such a joyous turn of emotion within the music.

This overture is perhaps one of the most played in concert repertoire, but it is also one of the most technically demanding due to the sheer speed it should be played at to create the playful and comedic effect. There is a lot of fast passage-work in the upper strings, which makes the overture even more gripping. I find this work is a marvellous celebration of music and its surprising twists and turns make it all the more striking and memorable.

A wonderful celebration indeed! This is the perfect piece to write about when good news arises  – thank you to all my readers its down to you all that I keep writing about this wonderful genre of music. With a recent surge in new readers (and of course you marvellous returning readers) I’ve reached 3000 readers in over 25 different countries – I am completely overwhelmed! Thank you one and all – happy reading!

 

Recommended Recordings:

Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra