Most musicians these days prefer to mine the past for hidden treasures or spotlight the newest music when they give concerts.
But Schenectady County Community College music professor Brett Wery wanted to offer something different next Wednesday when he teams up with a few local musicians to perform.
“I wanted a program of traditional learned pieces and [to] show that you can really make music with these,” said Wery, who will play alto saxophone and clarinet.
The pieces he is referring to are works that music students usually study in college when they get coaching classes in chamber music or are just discovering the literature for winds.
In fact, many of the works he chose were composed during the 20th century for students at the Paris music conservatory, where every year they had to take a jury or exam at the end of the school year to show off their skills.
Every student had to play the same piece, so the composers, many of whom taught at the conservatory, would deliberately write tricky technical passages or focus on some aspect of wind playing such as tone, breath control or the need for a legato line.
But these pieces are not lessons in some type of pedagogy.
“These are very traditional pieces, but they’re very challenging and not fluffy,” said SCCC pianist Mark Evans, who will play on three of the works. “Nowadays, musicians are trying to reach a crowd, so they go for the fluffy stuff or safe warhorses. These pieces are beautiful and a lot of fun.”
Evans will play Jacques Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera” (1935), Jean Francaix’s “Five Exotic Dances” (1961) and Alexandre Tansman’s Sonatine (1952). The Ibert was originally written for 11 instruments but the composer arranged it for piano and saxophone.
“The Ibert has a tough piano part,” Wery said. “There are two movements with jazz rhythms and it’s very bluesy. I like this arrangement better than the original.”
Evans agreed that his part was difficult and was amazed at Ibert’s skills.
“The piece is very cheerful and accessible but it’s a huge work for the saxophone. And in the opening measure there is a 12-tone row for the piano and it doesn’t come back,” he said. “Ibert also threw everything in from the original.”
Francaix’s piece, which is also for piano and saxophone, is very Latin-infused.
“It’s a crossover pop form that is used in a classical way,” Wery said.
The five dances or movements are: Pambiche, which is derived from the Merengue and is supposed to be the most American-sounding of Latin dances; Baiao, which has a specific rhythmic formula that gave rise to a dance popular in Europe and the United States in the 1940s and 1950s; Mambo; a slow Samba; and the Merengue.
“Each of the dances has its own language,” Evans said. “It’s Latin rhythms through French ears. The chords are exotic and don’t stick under a pianist’s fingers. You need much flair [to play them] and the dances are very jazzy. The chords are a challenge.”
Tansman’s piece is for bassoon and piano with bassoonist Michelle McLoughlin, who is a music director in the Ravena-Coeymans school district and a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music.
“I love the piano part,” Evans said. “It has ostinato rhythms, huge chords that you need large hands to play. It has a great opening and it’s very lyrical for the bassoon.”
Pianist Patricia Keyes, who recently joined the SCCC staff, will play Debussy’s “Premiere Rhapsody” (1909-1910) with Wery on clarinet. One of the great works for clarinet, it was originally a jury piece for the students.
“It was said that Debussy was on site and heard all the kids play and was pleased with the outcome,” Wery said.
Another conservatory piece is Philippe Gaubert’s “Fantaisie” for clarinet and piano (1911), also with Keyes.
“It’s a true fantasy, almost like a stream of consciousness,” Wery said. “It’s very lyrical and has a lovely flow.”
The only piece on the program without piano is Georges Auric’s Trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (1938). Sherwood Wise from The College of Saint Rose faculty will play oboe.
“This has three movements that are beautiful, very accessible with clear themes. It’s very French,” Wery said.
While Wery has known and studied these pieces, most of them are new for Evans, which means accompanying takes on more challenges.
“Balances will be easier with the sax — they’re never an issue,” Evans said. “But with the bassoon I must not overpower. The parts are all equal and I like to go full out, but I must judge how much to come down.”
Audiences, too, might not be used to hearing an all-French program, except for Tansman, who is Polish. For this concert, he is being made an “honorary Frenchman,” Wery said with a laugh. The sound of French music very much mirrors its language, he said.
“It has the softness of the language, especially its consonants. It is light, has more legato, and sometimes busy,” he said.
“The style of phrasing, too, is on the downbeat and then murmurs off . . . typically it ends like a puff of smoke.”
The concert is the final concert of the SCCC Chamber Music Series.