January 2006: Wind Symphonies Released

This disc, recorded in 2003, is the second all-Hovhaness release from Naxos. It features works for Wind Orchestra, including Symphony No.4 from 1959 one of Hovhaness's best wind band works.

It marks the first appearance on CD for Symphony No.20 and includes a wind version of Prayer of St. Gregory.

Style-wise, little of this music betrays the more exotic and mystical aspects of Hovhanesss's multifaceted art, though tintinnabulations of bells and the influence of Japanese court music (sliding trombones) can be heard.

New Sousa Band conductor Keith Brion here conducts the Wind Orchestra of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, with John Wallace trumpet soloist in the two shorter works.

Click image to hear clips.

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In connection with this release, conductor Keith Brion kindly agreed to answer some questions from Marco Shirodkar:

Your long association with the wind band music of Hovhaness spans four decades. How did your paths first cross?

KB: As I can best recall, I had called Alan in 1964 to inquire if he had written any band pieces. He thought for a while and then remembered a little Suite for Band, which was a band orchestration of some counterpoint studies he had done for his students at Boston Conservatory. He allowed my James Caldwell High School Band to premier it in 1964, and came out to our school for the first performance.

This Naxos release is very welcome. Do you feel Hovhaness is slowly getting his dues at least in America or is there still a long way to go? It seems the only big piece that gets played a lot is Mysterious Mountain

KB: No, I think he has yet to get his just dues, but at least things are moving in a positive direction. Certainly Mysterious Mountain fully deserves all the attention it gets, but there is so much more to know about. In the case of his band music, the 4th Symphony is the one that gets all of the attention, so I'm hopeful band directors will eventually find their way to the seven other [wind band] symphonies

My personal favourite on this disc is Symphony No.4 to my ears it has an eerie profundity, and a second movement which is a delightfully original interlude. Do you have a favourite?

KB: Hard question. There are surely portions of each of them that enchant me the last movement of the 7th [symphony] and sections of the 20th and 23rd ... which I think are masterful but I really take each of them on their own terms, and continue to find insights about them

A true original, Hovhaness is famous and infamous in equal measure for his musical idiosyncracies; do you feel he wrote well for the Wind Band medium?

KB: Absolutely. It is my intention to make this music better known to my colleagues in the band field

In 1969 you recorded an all-Hovhaness (and now very rare) LP on the Mace label. Is it true that this disc, which also featured a young trumpeter by the name of Gerard Schwarz, marked your recording debut?

KB: Yes it was. Jerry not only played first trumpet, but also contracted the wind orchestra from the top players in New York. This was during a time when freelance classical recording had all but disappeared in New York and it was in fact the only classical recording that year. It was super high pressure, since we could only afford a single three-hour session for an entire LP. Alan was there for the rehearsals, performances and the recording session. When the session was over, Alan hired the same players for an added half-hour and made a magnificent recording of his Requiem and Resurrection for Brass. I think I learned more about Alan's music from watching Alan conduct that session, than from anything else I ever did with him. He treated wind players as if they were choral singers and not instrumental "button pushers". What a difference!

Are there any plans for further recordings of Hovhaness' wind music? I'm thinking particularly of the little-known and very stormy Symphonies #7 and #14 which featured on that 1969 disc, and which are urgently in need of a modern recording

KB: With the help and encouragement of Hinako Hovhaness we are definitely in the planning stages for one or two more Hovhaness Wind recordings in the very near future and of course they will cover symphonies 7 and 14 as well as 23 and the Symphony for Metal Orchestra [No.17]. Details are currently being discussed.

Thank you very much for your insights, Keith.