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Q & A: Wind groups will take listeners on musical journey

Sunday, February 23, 2014
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Robert Hansbrough conducts the College of St. Rose wind ensemble at the Massry Center for Arts.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Robert Hansbrough conducts the College of St. Rose wind ensemble at the Massry Center for Arts.

Robert Hansbrough will be working on Thursday night with few strings attached.

Hansbrough, professor of music at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, will conduct the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s Wind Orchestra and the Saint Rose Wind Ensemble during a 90-minute concert at the Massry Center for the Arts on the Saint Rose campus.

He’s been rehearsing the orchestra, a musical team of middle- and high-school kids, and the ensemble’s college instrumentalists for the past month. He thinks people are going to enjoy the sounds of woodwind and brass — no violins allowed in wind groups — during the 7:30 p.m. show.

Q: What are people going to hear on Thursday?

A: They’ll hear flute, oboe, bassoon, three kinds of saxophones, trumpet, French horn, trombone, euphonium — that’s a small tuba-like instrument — tuba and a variety of percussion. Also in there will be electric bass, string bass, harp and piano. The wind orchestra is basically wind instruments extracted from the orchestra . . . the wind ensemble is the same concept.

Q: How will the show be set up?

A: The first part of the program will be just the ESYO Wind Orchestra, they’ll do about a 25-minute concert. Then Saint Rose will come on stage and do a 20-minute concert. And then we will combine the two groups on stage together to play one selection, “March and Cortege of Bacchus.”

Q: How about the individual play lists?

A: The wind orchestra will be playing a piece called “Songs of Old Kentucky,” it’s a two-movement work, and another new work called “Mountain Thyme,” lots of Irish sounds in there. Then they’ll be doing three movements of a work by Alfred Reed called “Othello,” right from Shakespeare.

The ensemble will be doing one piece called “Duende,” it’s a 20-minute work and it’s in four movements. It’s really neat because it has improvisation, it has electric bass guitar, it has a flamenco box, which is like an amplified drum that has different sounds.

Q: What’s it like conducting two separate musical groups?

A: I really enjoy it, absolutely. I look forward to every rehearsal and every performance. Each one is a journey, and a musical journey. Now the only difference between the high school kids in the ESYO and the college kids is not the quality of the literature, it’s sometimes just the difficulty. You still have really high-quality music that is not always the most difficult music.

Q: How do the younger players interact musically the more experienced college players?

A: It’s kind of neat because they rehearse their parts and the college kids rehearse their parts and we never really know what it’s going to sound like combined until I get the downbeat at the concert. There’s no rehearsing with both of them at the same time.

Q: Can wind orchestras or ensembles play pieces better than an orchestra might play them?

A: Nobody plays a march better than a band. The best orchestra in the world can’t make a march sound the way a band can make a march sound. It doesn’t have that wind-driven sound that a march requires. It still sounds good because they’re good pieces. On the converse side of that, a lot of wind bands and wind orchestras play orchestral literature that has been transcribed for them, so it works both ways.

Q: Should wind groups perhaps not attempt some pieces written for full orchestras?

A: Classical symphonies of Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart, transcribing them is not always as successful as the original. You lose some of the authenticity. Plus the length of them — in a wind orchestra, you only want to hear about 51 total minutes of sound because of the wind and percussion, your ear can only absorb so much. With an orchestra, where you have violins and other string instruments, the human ear can absorb that for two, two and one half hours.

Q: You know your wind instruments — what’s the toughest one to play?

A: They’re all tough. Some instruments are more attractive to younger kids than others, and then as they mature they may move on to a different instrument to master. They’re all very tough. I remember one time, someone said, “Well, it is not as hard to play a triangle as it is to play a violin.” I’ll give them that, but it’s just as hard to play all the percussion instruments, including timpani, as it is to play violin.

Q: Are some instruments sexier to play than others, like trumpet over something like French horn?

A: It’s usually the instruments students hear on television or some type of audio device and they’re attracted to that texture. Other kids are attracted to an instrument at a young age because of what they see — the shiny brass or they see someone drumming or they notice the flute is small and easy to carry. Mostly, it’s that texture.

Q: How about the tuba? What’s the attraction there?

A: There are some people who are just attracted to the look and the sound. And then they realize, “Hey, there’s not 10 of us here, there’s only one or two playing the tuba in the group, and that’s pretty cool.” They learn to develop their musicianship on that instrument and they stay with it.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.

 
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