Posts tagged #Modern Wind Symphony

Into the Universe with Composer Anthony Barfield

By Alyssa Pry

Composer Anthony Barfield has his head in the stars.

“We all come from the same place, we’re all one - the question is, where do we come from?” he mused about his piece Red Sky, one of two pieces the MMC will be performing at Modern Wind Symphony on Sunday, March 19th.

Both Red Sky and North Star draw from Barfield’s fascination with what exists both around and above us.

“When I got into music and started traveling, I started seeing there were different religions and everyone believed that was their truth. I sort of had a big question mark in my life for, what is spiritualism to me? Where do we come from?” Barfield said. “That big question mark put me on a quest to find what the best meaning was for me. So by studying that, I became fascinated by the creation of us.”  

Aside from this deep exploration and introspection, Barfield finds himself firmly planted in this world as both an accomplished musician and talented composer. As a child growing up in Mississippi, it was a music teacher who pulled him aside after recognizing his talents.

“I always knew I could hear things a certain way. It was just sort of a gift,” he said. “So one day they called me in and said, Anthony, what is this note right here? And I told them, and they said, ‘Well you have what’s called perfect pitch.’ So that was cool to define.”  

His fascination and talent for music lead him to Juilliard, where he began studying trombone performance. But once he was there, he decided to focus on composition instead, a change he says happened organically.

“When you’re in a place like Juilliard, I never thought about it as, ‘Ok, it’s a really difficult school, I’m going to get through it and then quit [playing],’” he said. “It was a situation of being in the moment, living in the moment, soaking up as much as I could, regardless if it was trombone or composition, just as much art as I could, and running with it.”

For Barfield, this attitude has seeped into the way he approaches composition.

“I consider myself to be a creator,” he said. “I consider myself to be an emotional composer. So the organic part of it is that I try to make sure I’m attached to the piece emotionally.”

Grand Street Community Band will be performing Red Sky with trombone soloist Jon Whitaker, Professor of Trombone at the University of Alabama. The piece is based on the concept of the Big Bang Theory, and Barfield explained his process for how he wrapped his head around such a vast idea.

“I tried to get into the true feelings - the piece is about the creation of life as we know it,” he said. “So to get into it, I did a lot of meditation to steal the sense of creation. And then from there, I write down aural notes - [for example] the word ‘bang’ - something that will spark an idea. Then I come up with the chord structures and the melody comes from the chords.”

“That’s the most important thing for me - making sure I can stay true to who I am with my music.”

Barfield drew on similar inspiration when composing North Star, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing with soloists Joe Alessi, the principal trombonist with the New York Philharmonic, and Chris Coletti, the principal trumpeter with Canadian Brass.  The piece is based on the journey through the Underground Railroad and the way African Americans used the night sky to guide them to freedom.

“African Americans, because they could not read, would learn the patterns of the North Star and use those patterns in the sky from the Big Dipper as a way to follow the path,” he said. “They travelled at night and they basically used nature and the universe to help them escape.”

Barfield said North Star holds another, more current, political message, and says it was the first piece where he made a conscious choice to make a political statement with his music.

“It’s a time where there is a lot of police brutality going on, and we need a modern underground railroad for people who are being shot by police. I felt a strong connection with that,” he said.

For Barfield, the message and the music need to ring true to who he is.

“That’s the most important thing for me--making sure I can stay true to who I am with my music.”

Barfield says he’s been lucky to work with collaborators who respect his vision and give him the freedom to explore his ideas without restriction.

“Every piece, I just want to make sure I stay true to myself. I do appreciate that people give me flexibility, because that’s the only way that I will make a voice for myself.”

A Look Inside "Tetelestai" – Talking to Andrew Boss

By Alyssa Pry

These are classic music questions: How should a piece of music be interpreted? What should the listener feel? And who is responsible for shaping that experience? Composer Andrew Boss is purposefully leaving those questions unanswered with his symphony Tetelestai, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing at MMC’s March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony.

“I take an interpretive approach [to composing],” Boss said. “I’m very fascinated by interpretation and the cognitive experience behind music.”

The 27-year-old composer burst on the wind-band scene with the premiere of his 2014 symphony Tetelestai, which was performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, where he is also pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition.

The symphony is framed around the biblical account of the death, fall and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But instead of retelling the story, Boss wanted to interpret the images and emotions he felt through music.

Boss also looked to the meaning behind the word “Tetelestai,” which is Greek for “It is finished” and is supposedly the last word spoken by Jesus before his death.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by religion, and I would call myself religious, with a few reservations,” he said. “But what was more fascinating to me was the story line, and the word “Teleo,” which implies that something has been done that can’t be reversed." 

Boss had already completed the first movement of the symphony and planned to have it performed as a stand-alone piece. But it was his collaboration with renowned conductor Jerry Junkin that introduced the idea of expanding it into something larger. 

“I knew if there was anyone I wanted to perform this, whatever it would become, it would be Jerry Junkin,” Boss said. “And the piece was read and it was great, and I thought, well this is going to be a bigger piece.”

Junkin then commissioned Boss to create a new work for him, after listening to some of Boss's other work. 

“That was certainly a huge impetus in my desire to make this a bigger piece,” Boss said. “And after the first movement and before I completed the next two, I decided to bring in the religious component.”

"Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it."

Boss turned to the biblical tale to frame the three movements of his symphony. 

“I tried to clarify the three movements as the crucifixion, the battle [of life and death] and the resurrection,” Boss said.

Regardless of religious beliefs or a person’s understanding of religion, Boss wanted the listener to go on a journey--their experience with the piece shaped by their own personal connections to the music.

“Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it,” he said. “[And] how they experience it will impact what they feel about it and the images they see or feel,” Boss said. 

Boss portrayed the death of Jesus for the first movement, Homage, and was moved by feelings of betrayal, despair, suffering and death. The symphony begins with a clanging of percussion, and then introduces a distant and melancholy horn solo. The movement ebbs and flows—full bursts of sound giving way to exposed solo lines; an ominous low brass line building to a bombastic climax; before returning again to the haunting and lingering notes of the french horn. 

“[In the first movement] I portrayed the death [of Jesus] — which really gives a powerful set of feelings,” Boss said. “If you’re not religious, it’s symbolizing hardship or suffering—things that are very real in society today.”

The second movement, Tocatta, is Boss’s interpretation of the war between heaven and sin, during the three days between the death and resurrection. For Boss, it’s a conflict between two opposing forces—the rhythmic introduction to the 2nd movement swells to a frantic flurry of instrumentation, a thrilling battle cry. The movement is a constant push and pull between moments of intensity and relief.

“The second movement was about war in those three days between death and resurrection,” Boss explained. “It could symbolize an obstacle that you’re trying to overcome.” 

The symphony’s final movement, Interlude and Finale, is Boss’s portrayal of the resurrection, and he looked towards feelings related to victory and rebirth. The reflective interlude at the beginning of the movement transitions to the symphony’s soaring finale, a powerful and unrelenting crescendo leading to the final ringing notes.

“For the final movement, obviously I felt I needed to portray the resurrection. And whether that was a personal rebirth or a depiction of the resurrection—it eventually brings its way to a catharsis,” Boss said.

“[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion...and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

The 25-minute symphony caught the ear of Brooklyn Wind Symphony conductor Jeff Ball, who was immediately drawn to the originality of the work.

“It’s a piece that has such a unique voice to it—there are parts that really don’t sound like anything else for the genre,” Ball said. “I really respect someone that can make the wind band sound different.”

Ball said the experience of listening to Boss’s piece epitomizes the beauty of wind band music, and for musicians, captures the joy of playing within an ensemble.

“The goal of music and the reason why we’re all here in these community ensembles is that we all at some point in our life became addicted to that feeling,” Ball said. “[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion and it becomes power and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

For Boss, working with the wind band community has allowed him the freedom to explore and challenge himself as a composer. 

“Because of the friendliness and support of the wind ensemble medium, that was a huge boost to my career,” Boss said. “They’re very open to doing different things.”

Boss will be sitting in the audience at Sunday’s concert; an experience Ball says is a unique and thrilling part of the wind band community.

“It’s been amazing working with him because he’s been extremely accessible. A lot of these [composers] in the wind band world are, [which is] something we’re fortunate to have,” Ball said. “It’s really amazing; that our composers are living and they’re excited we’re doing their work. We’re literally contributing to the future of classical music.” 

Solo Spotlight: Laurel Stinson Gives It Another Go

This week, we're checking in with Grand Street Community Band soloists Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson! They're preparing solos for two pieces on the GSCB concert program at MMC's March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony

In Part 2 of Solo Spotlight, we hear from Laurel Stinson, clarinetist and Assistant Conductor of Grand Street Community Band! Laurel has been performing with the MMC for the last four seasons, made her Carnegie Hall conducting debut last June with the Grand Street Community Band, and plays with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. She's also a music educator at Grand Street High School! 

Whew! With such a full musical schedule, Laurel shared how she's preparing for her performance, what she loves Blue Shades, and her very special good luck charm. 

Click here for Part 1 of Solo Spotlight where Lena Barsky talks about her part in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Yes. We meet again..." I played the solo with the Ithaca College Symphonic Band about 8 years ago. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

The bends in the jazzy style of Blue Shades are simply fun to play. I'm able to express the music freely. 

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

I usually have my back to the ensemble as assistant conductor [of GSCB] so I'm looking forward to facing the other direction. I'll be able to perform for the audience rather than expressing the music to the musicians through gesture while the audience only gets half of the musical picture. 

What’s your practice regimen?

I am a music teacher at the Grand Street Campus so my job enables me to play my instrument. I warm up and play the solo while my students are warming up for class or after the school day is done. In a way it motivates the students because they can see what is possible through efficient practice. I only play for 20 minutes on days I don't have rehearsal. I play in various rehearsals for six hours a week including Monday nights. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

Science! I eat a banana. A college professor told me the potassium helps with anxiety.

Any good luck charms?  

I always wear a ring that belonged to my mother, may she rest in peace. I play for her and the memory of her warm and inspirational spirit. She spent her last days at Grand Street listening to the music of the Metropolitan Music Community--she never missed one concert throughout the 15 years I've been playing the clarinet. 

Solo Spotlight: Lena Barsky's Wild Ride

Grand Street Community Band is tackling a roster of demanding works for MMC's March 20th concert Modern Wind SymphonyTwo pieces this cycle feature huge (and hugely challenging!) clarinet solos, and GSCB musicians Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson have boldly stepped up to the music stand!  


First up, Lena Barsky, who will be performing the wild and wacky clarinet solo in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. Lena is a relative newcomer to GSCB--she joined the group in September after moving to New York last May. Her first foray with the MMC was band camp at French Woods, which she says she attended "on a bit of a whim."

"I'm a huge band nerd, which means that seeing an email with the phrase, "Do you want to go to band camp?" filled my heart with joy," she said. "And I'm so glad that I did, because everyone was so welcoming and so talented! Joining GSCB has probably been The Highlight of my Very Special First Year in NYC." 

Lena has dived right in, tackling the lengthy and enormously technical clarinet solo in Asphalt Cocktail. She shared her thoughts on the part, her practice regimen and how she keeps those nerves at bay!

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Ohhhhh geeze" and then, after a second, "OHHHHHH NOOOOO, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO PLAY THIS IN FRONT OF PEOPLE." I mean, this is far and away the hardest solo I've ever had to play, including the pieces I performed at my college senior recital! It's hyper-exposed, really fast, and filled with accidentals that aren't exactly easy to play in succession, so I was pretty intimidated. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

There's this really great part at measure 89, fairly early on into the solo, where Mackey takes the original theme of "da-da-DAT-da-da-DAT-DAT-DAT" (it'll make sense when you hear it, I promise!) and riffs on it, then the part gets really schmeary with several long glissandos, almost like that classic Benny Goodman sound or the opening clarinet lick from Rhapsody in Blue. Getting to play around with my sound in such an unregulated, over-the-top way -- the part literally reads "Dramatic Sighs" -- is REALLY FUN and is something that you don't really find in more traditional wind band music.

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

*dramatic hair flip* Getting to SHOW OFF how GREAT I sound, OBVIOUSLY. No, no, no, I'm totally kidding. I'm not really sure! This Asphalt Cocktail solo is actually giving me a fair amount of stress because the rest of the band is working so hard and playing their hearts out on a song that's supremely difficult, and I don't want to let anybody down. Given that, I think what's great is similar to what I said above -- that I get to have fun with this part for a few lines and kind of jam out on my own. 

What’s your practice regimen?

Definitely rehearsing every day! Otherwise there's no way my fingers would have all the wacky accidentals down. When I first found out I'd be playing the solo I went home and listened to those specific measures of Asphalt Cocktail several times, to really cement the timing and pacing and to understand what the rest of the band is doing while I'm fighting to hold on to such a wild part. I like the old standby of "run a really tough part a bunch of times slowly, then gradually up the tempo." My college clarinet teacher was also really big on using different rhythms to cement the notes in long runs, which for this solo (and Asphalt Cocktail as a whole) is crucial. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

CROSS MY FINGERS AND HOPE EVERYTHING WORKS OUT! No, again, kidding... kind of. ;) I take a lot of deep breaths, drink a lot of water, review the hardest passages slowly, check the really high notes to make sure my reed is working, and then visualize myself KICKING BUTT. I've also been known to sing a lot of Queen to pump myself up. 

Any good luck charms?  

I wear the same set of necklaces and rings on a day-to-day basis, so I make sure that I'm wearing them for the solo, too. It's as if the magic of the solo has been embedded in the jewelry! And usually over the course of practicing for the solo I've figured out my ~*~Magic Lucky Solo Reed*~*, so I make sure that I use that reed during the concert.  

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

MMC Artist Series: Jill Austen's Floral Symphony

We're fast approaching the third concert of the 2015-16 season, Modern Wind Symphony, a joint program with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony and Grand Street Community Band. GSCB's program will feature music inspired by "the third stream," a fusion of classical and jazz-influenced works including Blue Shades by Frank Ticheli and Asphalt Cocktail by John Mackey; and BKWS will be performing Andrew Boss's 2014 work, Tetelestai- A Symphony for Wind Ensemble, among other contemporary selections.  

Tasked with combining and interpreting such a varied concert program was artist and musician Jill Austen. Jill is a flutist with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony and has been playing with the Metropolitan Music Community since their very first rehearsal! As an accomplished music educator, musician and artist, Jill has worked and taught around the US, Mexico and the Caribbean and currently has some of her art work displayed at Columbia University.

Jill describes her paintings as "quirky and whimsical, and always colorful." Her painting, titled Metaphoric Wind Ensemble, is a combination of both ensembles' concert themes, and incorporates Jill's love of nature and floral motifs. Read on to hear about the challenges Jill experienced creating this piece and where she finds inspiration for her art, and see her process and more of her work in the slideshow below! 

Finding a common thread...

"At first it seemed an impossible commission. Both programs, although extremely creative, had little in common. On the GSCB side, wonderful representational possibilities lie in the classical/jazz fusion of their third stream music line-up. However, the BKWS program, which features the extended complexities of a new symphony (Tetelestai), was not so artistically straightforward. I did not want to focus on a single piece or musical style at the exclusion of others. Visual metaphor seemed the way to go."

Getting Started...

"First, I listened to recordings of the music and jotted down ideas in the form of pencil sketches. While I played around with several ideas, I kept coming back to the flowers in small bottles. [Then] I did a preliminary study in watercolor. Satisfied I had worked out the composition, I sketched the final version in charcoal over a peach-toned underpainting. I began by focusing on the individual blooms and adjusted for color hue and intensity as the work progressed. Next, I concentrated on achieving "believable" transparent bottles - always a fun challenge - and finally, I heightened the contrast of the bright light and purple shadows."

A Floral Symphony...

"Flowers in small bottles are arranged like the rows of a musical ensemble. Single blooms indicate the individuality of performers within the group, but work together in a larger, cohesive composition, like musical collaboration. Bell-shaped lilies in the last row stand in for brass instruments: the single white lily is a reference to the biblical theme of the [Tetelestai] symphony. Overall, bright colors evoke the many shades of jazz and the contemporary sonorities of both GSCB and BKWS programs."

Staying Inspired...

"I'm never at a loss for projects, especially if they involve collaboration and travel. I am fascinated by the interconnectedness of music, art and and poetry. On December 31, 2015, I completed a challenging year-long project, The 365 Series, for which I completed a painting a day. I find inspiration for painting in traditional subjects--landscape, seascape, still life, floral. Nature is fond of sculptural beauty and unexpected juxtapositions of form and color. I simply strive to interpret those which I find most lyrical."

See much more of Jill's work on her website,