I wanted to take a quick minute today to run through the repertoire that I programmed for my first two concerts with the Intermediate Concert Orchestra here at Interlochen this summer. My hope is that this post will give parents of ICO students some insight into what their children have done this summer and some of my values as a conductor. I am also hopeful that perhaps colleagues will find some of this to be helpful as they plan their repertoire for the upcoming year with similar ensembles at their schools or youth orchestras.
The ensemble that I conduct is a string orchestra with students ranging from 12 to 15 years old. The playing level is quite diverse with the top students auditioning on intermediate repertoire such as Mozart Concerti, Accolay Violin Concerto, and other similar appropriate solos and possessing a good deal of range and musical background. Other students are significantly less experienced and it is always a challenge to bring the group together in a way that challenges and inspires all students, without leaving the less experienced folks in the dust. This concert cycle, the group is quite evenly matched and that has been less of an issue that some other years.
For each concert, I always try to select a diverse program that includes something traditional and something more contemporary; something very technically challenging and something that doesn’t take as long to learn the notes and rhythms, something lyrical and something fast and rhythmic; and something that features a guest artist or extended instrumentation. I think that we achieved all of those goals for this concert cycle.
We began our first concert with Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla, by Glinka, Arr. McCashin (Pub FJH). This is a wonderful arrangement of the original for string orchestra that really challenges a young orchestra. We were able to work this up to tempo and do some really great things with ensemble and listening across the orchestra. The celli and violas get a beautiful lyrical section in the middle and everyone gets the opportunity to play “high, fast, and loud” as part of the fun. It was a great concert opener and I think it really surprised our audience. I always like Bob McCashin’s arrangements because he keeps the pieces very true to the original and always challenges the player. This is listed as a Grade V piece.
Next we did Serenade for Strings, Mvts I, II, IV, by Robert Washburn. This gem has been around for many years and I hadn’t conducted it for at least 13 years or so. Dr. Washburn was Professor of Music at The State University of New York in Potsdam for many years and just passed away in November, 2013, at the age of 85. I had conducted this piece in 1997 with the Maryland Junior All State Orchestra and Dr. Washburn stopped in to hear about two hours of my rehearsal. He took some time to speak with the students and with me afterwards and it was really the thrill of a lifetime. His affirmation of my work and encouragement went a long way for me in the early part of my career. The first movement is in ABA form and is very lyrical, requiring all players to listen carefully to the inner rhythm of the work. The second movement is in “3” and reminds me of a lullaby. Again in ABA form, the B section is very warm and “orchestral” in nature. It is simply gorgeous. The forth movement is more rhythmic and driving. To my ear, there is a Native American flavor to it. Each section gets a feature in this movement and it ends the Serenade with a bang! This piece is usually listed as a Grade IV work.
We ended our first concert with Cascade, by Bert Ligon. The piece is in a pop style and calls for a piano and drum set in addition to the string orchestra. I thought it needed guitar as well, so I called Bert up and asked if he might be able to help us out with a guitar chart. He graciously agreed and I had guitar charts for the piece within about 48 hours!! (Thanks, Bert!!) This piece is great for teaching a pop style and the importance of syncopation in contrast with non-syncopated figures. It is also fantastic for teaching and reinforcing dynamics and direction of line. Every section gets a feature in this piece. It is listed as a Grade 3.5, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it with a much more advanced group. Bert’s music is always so well-written and it feels good to play. I intend to do with my NCSSM group this fall.
So that was our first concert. I will write about our 2nd concert in the next post. I hope this was helpful!!