San Francisco Wind Ensemble
In addition to its annual concert series at SF State, the ensemble strives to offer a variety of community engagement activities, arts education services and collaborations, at little to no cost to student musicians. Further goals include collaborations with composers to support their ambitious, innovative musical visions.
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- Strens (1893–1971): Danse Funambulesque, Op. 12 (1925)
- Schmitt (1870–1958): Dionysiaques, Op. 62 (1913)
- Gotkovsky (1933–): Symphonie Brillante (1988–89)
Jules Strens (1893–1971): Danse Funambulesque, Op. 12 (1925)
Belgian composer Jules Strens was born in Elsene, by Brussels, on December 5, 1893. Between 1907 and 1911, he studied solfeggio, violin and conducting at the Conservatoire Royale de Musique in Brussels. But as a composer, he was completely self-taught, though advised by Paul Gilson. In 1922, he was engaged as violin player in the Orchestre Royal de “La Monnaie.” From 1931 to 1934 he conducted the Association Symphonique of Brussels and, finally, became a church organist in Uccle, near Brussels, after World War II. At that time he also founded and performed with his string quartet Strenskwartet. He died in Brussels on March 19, 1971.
Richard Strauss, and especially French impressionism, influenced Strens’ sparkling orchestral compositions. They have won several national compositions prizes. In 1925 he composed his Danse Funambulesque, Opus 12 (Tightrope Walk), for chamber orchestra. As member of the Synthetists he created a version for symphonic wind ensemble in 1929 and dedicated this new work to First Lt. Arthur Prevost, director of the Band of the Belgian Guides.
Strens does not want to portray the danger of walking on the tightrope. Rather, he strives for depicting human attitudes that might cause an immediate threat in dangerous situations. He uncovers all shades of the subconsciousness with its influences on man, ranging from deepest sorrow to over-cautiousness to thoughtlessness.
This diptych, originally conceived as accompaniment to a choreographic improvisation, consists of a rather tragic first part and an exuberant second part leading to a frantic finale. Its most original aspect is undoubtedly its polyrhythmic character, whereas the beautiful flute solo part should also be mentioned.
The music begins almost without motion, in a static, menacing mood. That impression changes gradually from an obsession by wrath and deepest affliction to overwhelming boisterousness. The energy in the music simply cannot be clad in words. Its tension increases and eventually reaches an almost unbearable state. Finally, doubts and anxiety are overcome: Enthusiasm and exuberant joy of life emerge victorious—expressed in the ecstatic finale.
Florent Schmitt (1870–1958): Dionysiaques, Op. 62 (1913)
Florent Schmitt was born on September 17, 1870, in Blamont, France. A composition pupil of Massenet and Fauré at the Conservatoire de Paris, Schmitt was, along with Ravel and Debussy, one of the primary composers associated with French impressionism. In common with a number of his contemporaries, he was fascinated by the exotic—An element of Orientalism appears as a feature in several of his compositions. He composed for virtually every genre except opera; his substantial output of 137 opuses embraces orchestral, choral and chamber mediums, as well as ballet and film scores and many wonderfully idiomatic works for piano.
Before 1920, Schmitt was considered one of the most “advanced,” nonconformist composers. In the early 20th century, he was a member of the Club des Apaches, which included composers Ravel, Caplet, Delage, Vines and the poet Kingsor. Schmitt strongly influenced Igor Stravinsky during his young years in Paris. Le Sacre du Printemps owes a great deal to Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé, and in 1912 Stravinsky wrote to Schmitt that his Salomé score was “one of the greatest masterpieces of modern music”—an opinion he would reverse decades later.
Dionysiaques is one of four pieces that Schmitt composed for wind ensemble. The work shares the number of Opus 62 with March Militaire, which Schmitt wrote while in service at Meta during the war. He was fond of writing on a large scale and often for larger resources. He was a remarkable orchestrator who had a taste for the powerfully dramatic. Dionysiaques is no exception.
The work was written in 1913. However, its publication and premiere by the Garde Republicaine Band of Paris were delayed until June 9, 1925, due to World War I. Although Schmitt made no mention of any programmatic connection to his piece, the term dionysiaques refers to the games and revels of ancient Greek festivals held annually to honor Dionysus, the god of wine and drama. Images of the indulgent alcohol consumption, frenzied dancing, cult rituals and general debauchery are conjured and implied in the character of this music.
Schmitt contrasts exotic and ethereal wanderings with earthy rhythmic savagery, all the while exploiting the timbral color palette offered by the wind ensemble. Though deemed conservative due to its disdain of extremism and its Romantic grandeur of conception, Dionysiaques was far ahead of its time—Schmitt’s attention to the details of orchestration were virtually unprecedented in this medium.
Pierre-Octave Ferroud, one of Schmitt’s students, remarked, “One can see in the work the overflowing of sap at springtime and the unabashed raucousness of the military band reinforces the impression of intense joy.” Dionysiaques is a tone poem full of drama, grandeur and emotive impressionistic chromaticism.
Ida Gotkovsky (1933–): Symphonie Brillante (1988–89)
Ida Gotkovsky was born in 1933 in Calais, France. She studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, where she received the first prize for composition and orchestration. Her primary teachers included Tony Aubin, Olivier Messiaen and Nadia Boulanger. She is known for her significant contributions to chamber music, symphonies, instrumental and vocal music, by way of her gift for composition. Throughout Europe, Gotkovsky is known as one of the most prolific composers for wind ensemble. Her music is widely recognized to be among the most challenging, yet beautiful creations for our medium.
About Symphonie Brillante, she writes:
“Symphonie Brillante was commissioned by the World Music Contest in Kerkrade. It was completed and premiered in 1989. The work consists of two movements:
Arioso – Lento
The movement begins slowly, with a very long phrase played softly by the clarinets. This challenging phrase, demanding great mastery of breathing techniques, is taken up by the flute, the bass clarinet and then the alto saxophone. The accompaniment stays static and calm.
Prestissimo con brio
An energetic counterpoint develops in the various sections of instruments to spread into a fortissimo dominated by the brass section. The obsessive rhythms of all the wind instruments and percussion result in a movement where all possibilities for instrumental virtuosity are exploited.”
1. Quoted from program notes, Songs and Dances, University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony, Klavier KCD 11066, 1995.