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The Composer's Voice: Robert Washburn

Washburn / Keystone Wind Ensemble / Stamp
Release Date: 01/26/2010 
Label:  Klavier Records   Catalog #: 11177   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert WashburnSpoken Word
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Keystone Wind EnsembleHoodlebug Brass QuintetIndiana University Wind Quintet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



WASHBURN Partita. Brass Quintet. 1 Symphony for Band. Suite for Woodwind Quintet. 2 Concertino for Wind and Brass Quintets 3. Kilimanjaro Jack Stamp, cond; Keystone Wind Ensemble; 1,3 Hoodlebug Br Qnt; 2,3 Faculty Ww Qnt KLAVIER K11177 Read more class="ARIAL12">(79:43)


& Robert Washburn interviewed by Jack Stamp (4/26/2003)


This latest entry in the Keystone Wind Ensemble’s ongoing “Composer’s Voice” series, featuring the wind music (though not always the band music) of Robert Washburn, is a somewhat uneven production, both in its content and in the quality of the performances. Wind band aficionados may be disappointed to find only three works for full wind ensemble, the remainder of the disc being fleshed out with works for various chamber wind groups. Further, the performance of one of the full band works—the splendid Symphony for Band—is actually a reissue of an earlier release. Even the seemingly generous playing time is a bit deceptive as the disc contains a 20-plus-minute interview with the composer. (More on that below.)


Washburn composes in a fairly conservative style distinguished by diatonically constructed melodies, crisp, driving motor rhythms, structural forms based on classical models, and the use of bitonal harmonies scored in an open manner so that the integrity of the two tonal centers is maintained. Perhaps the composer’s most distinctive and influential characteristic is his unique approach to orchestration, which highlights the individual colors of the wind band. Conductor Jack Stamp, in his program notes, very accurately credits Washburn with bringing “a fresh, new sound” to the band medium in the 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, I know of no other band music of that period that sounds anything like Washburn.


Despite the implication of its title as a multimovement work of major length, the single-movement, four-minute Partita is really more of a concert overture, though a very engaging one. Characterized by appealing melodic material, an inventive development, and gorgeous instrumental colors, the work gets the program off to a promising start, which unfortunately is not maintained consistently throughout the remainder of the disc.


As the title implies, Kilimanjaro is a tone poem inspired by the majestic African mountain and is perhaps the least successful work on the disc. Washburn’s vocabulary does not really lend itself effectively to descriptive, programmatic musical narrative, as least not here. The use of material that tries to sound (and may actually be) native African only makes the composer’s natural musical language sound all the more out of its element. I have to confess that, to me, the work sounds like music from a Tarzan movie.


The most substantial work on the disc is Washburn’s Symphony for Band, a work that I consider to be a minor masterpiece. Cast in three movements, the symphony exhibits a highly developed, clearly focused symphonic structure featuring all of the composer’s above-mentioned stylistic traits. This performance is actually a reissue of one that was included on the 1994 debut release by the Keystone Wind Ensemble on Citadel 88108 (nla), though this fact is nowhere acknowledged in the CD packaging. Unfortunately, the Keystone Wind Ensemble of 1994 was not nearly as accomplished or as refined as is its 2009 incarnation. Back then, the ensemble’s sound was a bit coarse and grainy and its playing was blemished by some rather noticeable intonation problems and lapses in precision. So, sadly, the most substantial work on the disc receives the weakest performance. The recorded sound is also considerably less resonant than that provided for the other works on the disc. How I wish conductor Stamp had chosen to rerecord the symphony with his current roster of musicians. The results could have been spectacular.


The two works for quintet—one for wind, the other for brass—are fairly routine and generic, the type of music that one often finds on university recital programs. However, the Concertino for combined wind and brass quintets is an altogether more engaging work, being very similar to the Partita in overall structure and musical content.


The disc is filled out by an extended interview with the composer. I do not respond well to such interviews unless the composer tells us something about the music itself or, at very least, his compositional process in general. Such is not the case here. Washburn offers a detailed discussion of his education, including his studies with Nadia Boulanger and Darius Milhaud, his military service, his Ford Foundation residency, his long-term faculty position at the Crane School of Music, as well as a good amount of information about the circumstances that prompted the composition of each work, but precious little about the music itself. As the composer has penned a number of other significant works for full wind ensemble, most notably the splendid Suite for Band and the overture Sunmount , the inclusion of this interview and, to a lesser extent, the two quintets strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. I would have preferred more music.


The performances by the 2009 edition of the Keystone Wind Ensemble, as well as by the Faculty Woodwind Quintet (presumably that of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where Stamp is a faculty member), and the Hoodlebug (seriously, I’m not kidding) Brass Quintet, are absolutely first-rate, as is the recorded sound provided by Bruce Leek.


FANFARE: Merlin Patterson
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Works on This Recording

1.
Partita, for band by Robert Washburn
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Keystone Wind Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1965 
Date of Recording: 07/2008 
Venue:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indi 
Length: 4 Minutes 4 Secs. 
2.
Quintet for brass by Robert Washburn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hoodlebug Brass Quintet
Period: Contemporary 
Date of Recording: 07/2008 
Venue:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indi 
Length: 13 Minutes 33 Secs. 
3.
Symphony for Band by Robert Washburn
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Keystone Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; USA 
Date of Recording: 07/2008 
Venue:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indi 
Length: 17 Minutes 3 Secs. 
4.
Suite for woodwind quintet by Robert Washburn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indiana University Wind Quintet
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 1962 
Date of Recording: 07/2008 
Venue:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indi 
Length: 5 Minutes 9 Secs. 
5.
Concertino for wind & brass quintets by Robert Washburn
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Keystone Wind Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Date of Recording: 07/2008 
Venue:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indi 
Length: 9 Minutes 11 Secs. 
6.
Kilimanjaro: An African Portrait, for band by Robert Washburn
Conductor:  Jack Stamp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Keystone Wind Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Date of Recording: 07/2008 
Venue:  Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indi 
Length: 6 Minutes 33 Secs. 
7.
Interview with Robert Washburn by Spoken Word
Date of Recording: 04/26/2003 
Venue:  Indiana, PA 
Length: 22 Minutes 42 Secs. 

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