Western Herald – Western Wind Quintet brings faculty professionalism, world premieres to Dalton stage
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Western Wind Quintet brings faculty professionalism, world premieres to Dalton stage

John Campbell
A&E Reporter

The Bullock Performance Institute’s Live and Interactive! series continued last Wednesday with the Western Wind Quintet.

The quintet, consisting of WMU music professors Martha Councell-Vargas on flute, Michael Miller on oboe, Bradley Wong on clarinet, Lin Foulk on Horn and Wendy Rose on Bassoon, started with “Mother Goose Suite” by Maurice Ravel and arranged by John Gibson. Also heavily featured was  “Mandala,” a piece penned by David Colson, the Director of the School of Music and one of the guests of honor at Wednesday night’s concert

The third piece was the world premiere of “Island Universe for Woodwind Quintet” by Andrew List, who was also in attendance. They would close the show with “Sixtour Pour Instruments A Vent” by Jean Francaix with special guest Stephanie Hovnanian on bass clarinet.

The Western Herald caught up with Wong, Rose and Miller after the show.

Western Herald (WH): What is it like to premiere a new piece?

Bradley Wong (BW): It’s a great experience because you’re working with the composer and you’re part of the creative process. Because of the distance, since [List] is in Boston, we didn’t have a lot of time to work with him. We exchanged some tapes and got some notes. It’s special to get to know a composer and they talk with you about what kind of piece you want. They listen to you play and formulate their piece based on what they hear. It’s a piece written just for you.

Wendy Rose (WR): We got the music in December so we started rehearsing in January because we were recording some other pieces in December. We’ve worked on it for the past couple of months and it is exciting. We just commissioned him. He didn’t ask us this time. Sometimes in the past we’ve had composers who have said “Do you have ideas or the things you would like us to especially enjoy about playing in the quintet?” but he just came up with his own ideas.

BW: We sent him tapes of some of our performances so he could hear…

WR: …what we sound like.

WH: What is it like to play a piece composed by David Colson, who also happens to be your boss?

Michael Miller (MM): Well he’s a boogie-woogie world man so his pieces are…I mean, I think they’re interesting. I listened to, I think, the conversation today, and he’s a bit self-effacing. He just said it’s not an earth-shattering piece. It’s verging on minimalism but it’s not really minimalism. He didn’t use the phrase little-diddle. I don’t remember what he said. It was a smallish piece and he used to write bigger pieces with lots of different components and elements. As he’s gotten older, I believe he said he’s just narrowing down to certain concepts of things. So minimalism maybe is not the correct term, but he’s just scaling things down as far as that goes. David’s “David.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

WR: We didn’t have a lot of time with him either, actually. He actually only came into our rehearsal yesterday, so I think that’s the first time he’s heard us, right?

BW: Yeah.

MM: Yeah.

WR: He had some suggestions, but we’ll record this piece also in April and we’ll have a chance to fix it up.

MM: But going back on this whole concept, it would be nice. It’s probably less-than-not that you commission a piece and that you get it and you then have to practice it. It’s sometimes, I don’t want to say it’s not your cup of tea, but it’s just something you didn’t expect. I always wonder if there could be a concept where it can be collaborative and instead of doing the entire piece doing parts of it and listening to it and then the musicians that have commissioned it could suggest “Could we do this and help accentuate our better points?” and things like that. That’s not in the norm at all, really. It’s usually when you commission something, they write it. Sometimes, though, a composer will ask. We did a commission piece by Richard Adams and he is one of our composers. He actually came, I think he came to all of our studios, and just asked us “What’s your great registers, your strong points” and I thought that was a pretty good approach to that. It probably takes a lot longer, though, to do that, but it seems more holistic? Is that a good word, having everybody have a chance to be a part of the big picture?

WR: Colson’s piece was written for the Dorian Quintet, right? Or they played it. They have played it, which is a big, national sort of quintet. High profile. So I shouldn’t say that they commissioned it. It doesn’t say who commissioned it.

WH: What influenced you to get into music?

BW: My brother, who is a year older, started saxophone and I remember hearing his Christmas concert and they played “Jingle Bells” and I was like “Wow, I really want to do that too.” So I wanted to play saxophone too, and he said, “No, we don’t want another saxophone in the house.  Why don’t you play clarinet?” So it stuck.

WR: Go ahead Michael.

MM: I grew up with music. My mom was an aspiring opera singer, not very successful but she did okay. Of course, of all the five kids, you had to play an instrument and I was the only one that lasted. Some lasted a little longer, but I made the right decision. It makes me smile and sometimes it makes you not smile when things don’t go the way you want it to go.

WR: My parents really encouraged me, and I would say the person who started me on Bassoon was my high school band director.

BW: You wanna tell them why? It’s a great story, Wendy.

WR: My band director told me I could go to Europe with the band if I learned how to play the bassoon. Yes, opportunist.

MM: And you had a fabulous time, right?

WR: I did. The Rhine River, oh yeah.

WH: Do any of you play any other instruments?

BW: Not in public.

WR: Not in public, yeah.  Exactly.

MM: I started with piano. To tell you the truth, I did piano bar for two years. I was a classically trained pianist and then fell into the piano bar gig and the money was so damn good, I just decided I was going to do it for two years. There comes a point when you just decide “Okay, I can’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life.” So I got back into classical music.

WH: What have been the biggest accomplishments for the quintet?

BW: The recording that we’re working on. It’ll be a first for this group and the quintet started back in ’65, not with any of us, but it’s been around a long time. To do our first recording is a major project. Along with that, the pieces that we’ve commissioned for that, the piece by Andrew List tonight. We’re recording Dr. Colson’s piece, even though he didn’t write it specifically for us. We’ve commissioned a work from Curtis Curtis-Smith, who is on the faculty and commissioned a piece from Richard Adams. So, other than Andrew, all the composers have a Western connection, which is special to us.

WH: What are some future goals for the quintet?

BW: Go to bed.

MM: I was going to say retire.

BW: We’re all pretty tired. That’s how musicians are after performances. It takes a lot of energy, physical and mental, so it is very exhausting especially when you teach all day and just run out and play a concert.

WR: Well people like Mr. Wong play concerts every night. We all go to rehearsals and take care of our families. It’s a lot.

BW: But for the quintet, just continue to grow. Not only commission new works, but add the standard works to our repertoire so we can take them on tour and maybe do more recordings.

WR: Travel. We have had some successful trips to Belgium and if you take the successful out you can add Honduras and China.

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