The UGA Wind Symphony and MOD[ular] Ensemble will present a joint concert on Wednesday, March 22, at 8PM in Hodgson Concert Hall. Students in MUSI 8130 (Seminar: “Innovating the Ensemble”) have studied the works—written by UGA-affiliated composers—to be performed by MOD[ular] Ensemble and provided the observations below:
Impressions on Antifragility: More Than Just Resilience (by Andres R. Luz)
Cody Brookshire’s Antifragility for chamber ensemble begins with some hesitation. There is no pulse or catchy melody to grasp onto. There is a long-held, somewhat low tone in the violin, a cascading figure from the piano, insistent utterances from the percussion, followed by some sliding gestures from the violin and trombone. Short musical fragments seem to randomly appear from the ensemble. Finally, after a number of repetitions some musical ideas become recognizable. What is happening is an interplay between fast running notes contrasted with long, sustained tones, and unpredictable fragments appearing from out of the blue. As the work proceeds, what earlier sounded like a random mash-up of disconnected musical elements have become established ideas coalescing over time.
According to the composer, Antifragility was composed as a response to a philosophical/phenomenological concept made by researcher Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, Antifragile. Taleb contends that “some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors, and love, adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” Antifragility, is therefore Brookshire’s essay on the evolution of some thing, whatever it may be—an entity, an object, a state of consciousness—that undergoes trauma and persists, but then emerges in a changed state from what it was before. I imagine, in physical terms, that this could be like the conversion of graphite into a diamond through the application of high heat and pressure within Earth’s massive geological formations; or the production of an industrial alloy, made stronger and sturdier than its constituent materials in a large-scale purification process; or maybe even the growth of a muscle, as a biological response to repeated contractions and increased stimulation, along with the unpleasant twitches and spasms it must endure as it develops. Whatever the case may be, Brookshire seems to be musically depicting the spurts and strains of a metamorphosis effected by a sustained force before our ears. The music’s shifting beats and rhythmic momentum barrels forward from the middle of the work toward its end: gathering, dissipating, and regathering sonic energy, and imparting a sense of increasing anticipation along the way.
At the end, we, the audience, are left in some suspense—a cliffhanger, perhaps? The piece seems to ask a question: If there is a protagonist, how does our protagonist end up? Is this triumph? Is this tragedy? Providing no concrete resolution either way, Brookshire’s piece is made more universal as it centers only on the journey and not the outcome. The subject is neither transcendence, nor tragedy, but the singular act of a dynamic transformation.
An Homage Transcending Time: The Athens Concerto (by Lourenço de Nardin Budó)
From near the snowy lakeshore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, comes a profound homage to Athens, Georgia. No, there is no hockey, no football, nor a friendly white English bulldog involved. Yes, there is high level of performance, though!
The composer John Hennecken, a professor at Saint Norbert College (Wisconsin) and former doctoral student of UGA, has recently written a large scale work titled The Athens Concerto. This piece is a result of a commission made by University of Georgia Wind Symphony, directed by Jaclyn Hartenberger, the MOD[ular] Ensemble, and a consortium of university wind ensembles.
The compositional style time-travels. It dialogues with the old Baroque genre of concerto grosso and classical sonata form, as well as incorporates modern and post-modern orchestration and developments. Similarly to the scoring immortalized in concertos by Corelli, Händel, and even by Bach in his Brandenburg set, Hennecken sought a texture providing a conversation between a group of soloists and a larger ensemble. Strikingly in contrast with the “old” style, the orchestration here features the members of the MOD[ular] Ensemble (namely, clarinet, alto sax, trombone, piano, timpani, marimba, and multi-percussion setup) as soloists, who play along with an entire wind symphony orchestra. Also, the audience should expect a wide variety of timbres, textures, and feelings, as well as more complex and freer harmonic treatment, escaping the limits of more predictable chord progressions of the “tonal music” from the Baroque masters.
The composer has given us hints of the sentiment that he holds for his experience in Athens. When interviewed during a seminar regarding The Athens Concerto at UGA, Hennecken showed much enthusiasm talking about his work to colleagues at his former school and did not retain praise to the UGA’s ensembles. Even some time after his graduation and living hundreds of miles away, time and space are relativized as he refers to the ensembles until nowadays as “ours.” Nonetheless, the concerto has not been premiered yet and it is difficult to imagine exactly what the sonorities that will be presented in Hodgson Hall in a few days shall express. How must a concerto for Athens sound?
Combining Forces in John Hennecken’s Athens Concerto (by Ben Robichaux)
In viewing the score for Athens Concerto, it is reasonable to say that John Hennecken’s progression as a composer has led him to this grandiose work. Knowing John both personally and professionally has led me to this conclusion for a number of reasons.
The up-and-coming composer has seen great success in the field of composition including orchestral performances by the Takarazuka City Orchestra in Japan and Symphony Orchestra Augusta. His success as a young composer garnered the attention of Connie Frigo and Josh Bynum of the MOD[ular] ensemble who eventually made him a composer in residence. As far as the world of wind ensemble music is concerned, his dissertation that put an exclamation point on his degree at UGA was a substantial piece for wind ensemble simply titled Symphony.
Athens Concerto utilizes the MOD[ular] ensemble as the virtuosic leaders of the entire concerto with the wind symphony accompanying them. The ensemble has rhythmic and gestural materials that are more complex than those given to the wind symphony. When asked about the wind symphony’s capabilities at the school and if it hindered his compositional approach, John explained that they were “perfect” for what he was after. He cited them as the ideal accompanists to the MOD[ular] ensemble pointing out that the Hodgson Wind Ensemble is a collection of professional caliber soloists and that their virtuosity might overshadow that of the MOD[ular] ensemble. This helped to further inform his musical decisions as far as clearly separating the virtuosity present in the MOD[ular] ensemble’s parts and the wind symphony’s parts.
A structural element worth noting, as a result of his compositional past playing a role in his compositional present, is his use of traditional formal elements. In speaking with John about the layout of the piece he frequently mentioned the use of expositional, developmental and recapitulational sections. While the piece does not follow the jagged outlines of a traditional sonata, the work’s developmental pace is certainly informed by these structures. Hennecken has seen great success with the use of these structures before in his sonatas for both trumpet and piano, works that have been performed both at UGA and beyond.
I’ve concluded that John’s success has been a culmination of compositional tools that he has gathered throughout his career as a composer. No one element has led him to where he is now, which is why the combination of forces in the Athens Concerto is worth your time.