Kodan Quintet

Program Notes

Amy Beach

Amy Beach: Pastorale (1941)

She was fond of nature and often chose to work near parks and woodland. This landscape is reflected in the Pastorale, originally composed for wind quintet in 1941 at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. 

The piece is developed from earlier sketches, including a 1921 version in D for solo cello with flute and piano. A second version for cello and organ was published in a collection of five pieces for cello and piano. The music for the quintet version is written in a relatively conservative style, and Beach reworks the original sketches in a contrapuntal texture. The piece is written in the form of a sicilienne in ABA form and is Beach’s only work for woodwind quintet.

Jon Deak

Jon Deak: The Bremen Town Musicians (1985)

From the composer:

“I have always loved fairy tales with their wild flights of fancy and their directness of expression. I distinctly remembered my mother reading The Bremen Town Musicians to me at age 5 or 6. I loved its absurdity and felt so sad — then excited — for the 4 animals who, being cast out by their cruel masters, decided to band together as musicians and wind up driving a den of thieves from their hideout.

As I stared writing the music, the characters sprang into a vividness for me that reading and re-reading the 3-page story as an adult never accomplished — at least on the conscious level. Of the 4 musicians, the donkey seemed to emerge as a sort of moral leader: the sacrificing humble beast-of-burden who rises to wisdom. The hound I thought of as a broken-down playboy, dreaming of past glories of the hunt: he become the donkey’s knight in armor. The cat, sensual and lazy, just can’t understand how her mistress had the nerve! to drive her out: but as a musician she learn to use her grace and cunning to the group’s benefit. The cock, a prima donna, whom we first meet crowing at the top of his voice to hear himself one last time before the ax falls, is rather hard to shut up once they join the group, but unquestionably adds great value with their virtuosity.

Not only the protagonists, but their respective masters began to take life: the one a greasy, whining, squat sort of boss; the next a stuffed shirt — a wealthy degenerate who takes all the credit for the work of his hounds do; another is a spindly, repetitive, frustrated Hausfrau with a knife-like tongue; and the last — a buxom, complaining social climber, a sort of chubby Emma Bovary. All these villainous characters, later combined in the thieves, are delineated by the oboe.

Reading in some depth about the genesis of these tales was also helpful to me; at first I was going to be liberal in changing words and even events to suit myself, but I learned that the texts of these tales were taken quite seriously in their day. Handed down verbally from the women, mainly, of one generation to another, they were painstakingly memorized word for word (before they were finally faithfully transcribed by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm around 1806). We really do denigrate them in our country and consign them to children only. Even the term “fairy tales” denotes this, and is not really a good translation of the German Märchen, which is closer to a “fantastic story” or simply “story”.

How, then, to convey this story by 5 musicians on a stage? I wanted to do more than just “set” a text to the accompaniment of the music. Just as common speech contains music — pitch, dynamics, articulation and rhythm — so music conveys meaning, even literal meaning. I love to mix up the two — to imbed one into the other, as it were. Thus, the musicians and their instruments tell the story, and conversely, the rhythm of the story’s text on all its various levels becomes the music.

I am particularly delighted to be able to work on this project with the New York Woodwind Quintet. I’ve worked with several of their members on other works of mine and am always impressed with the group’s ability — even beyond their unquestioned pre-eminence in the musical world — to put themselves, fingers, embouchures and soul into a performance in all senses of that word.

Finally, I would like to express gratitude to John Steinmetz, the bassoonist-composer who encouraged me in this particular project.”

— Jon Deak

William Grant Still

William Grant Still: Miniatures (1948; arranged for Wind Quintet by Adam Lesnick in 1963)

This little suite of five miniatures is based on folk songs of the Americas, and is a souvenir of the visit to America of the eminent conductor, Sir John Barbirolli, and his wife, Lady Evelyn Barbirolli.

The five movements in the collection includes:

  • I Ride an Old Paint (USA)
  • Adolorido (Mexico)
  • Jesus is a Rock in the Weary Land (USA)
  • Yaravi (Peru)
  • A Frog Went A-Courtin’ (USA)
Valerie Coleman

Valerie Coleman: Tzigane (2011)

Valerie Coleman is a Grammy-nominated flutist, composer, teacher, and advocate. Recently named Performance Today’s 2020 Classical Woman of the Year, she is the founder, and former flutist of the Imani Winds, a wind quintet whose history is now represented in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Coleman’s music is performed by ensembles and musicians in every state in the nation. Her work embraces the full range of humanity: from tragedy and triumph. She has works that celebrate the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, that pay tribute to the life of Muhammed Ali, that cry with pain after the death of Eric Garner.

Tzigane journeys through Eastern Europe. Our guides for the trip are the Romani people, historically referred to as “gypsies,” a pejorative term. Coleman was also inspired by her collaboration with a Palestinian virtuoso on the oud, a short-necked lute played across the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.

The music, inspired by Middle Eastern scales and gestures, buzzes with a wild, free spirit. Bold, virtuoso solos for every instrument alternate, some coy, some show-off-y, some filled with passion.