Awesome review of SymbiosisDuo CD by David Werden!

We are so thrilled that the “World Famous” David Werden reviewed our CD.  Wow, you have to see this!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

CD Review – SymbiosisDuo, Euphonium and Tuba

I have a confession to make. I don’t generally listen to euphonium and tuba recordings for relaxation/fun/etc. Because I play both instruments, I can’t easily get out of an “analytical” mode so I can just listen to the music and performance. The same was true of orchestra and band music when I was still in the Coast Guard Band. Every time I heard a band I would be analyzing the sound, performance, programming and other factors. When listening to orchestras it was a similar experience. It took being out of the band for about five years for me to begin to listen to band and orchestra and just enjoy the music. However, because I still perform on euphonium and tuba, I have not yet found that freedom with recordings of those instruments. The majority of those recordings – even when they contain outstanding performances – are still more like work than fun because of all the different things my mind considers while I am listening. Now and then a run across a low brass CD that I really enjoy just for the musical experience. This is one such CD.

When I first heard of the album, but before I had actually been able to listen to it, I was confident it would be a quality production. I have known Gail Robertson for many years, heard previous recordings she was involved in making, sat next to her in Symphonia (with her bell pointing right at my head), and heard her in after-the-concert “jam” sessions. She has high standards and a lot of talent. I expected a lot and was not disappointed when I received the album.

SymbiosisDuo is somewhat unique in my experience, in that it features both tuba and euphonium in equal roles and in a variety of settings. The duo consists of Gail Robertson, euphonium, and Stacy Baker, tuba. Both women are excellent players and their sounds and playing styles are quite compatible. The effect is perhaps best described in this passage from the liner notes:

The duo chose the name “SYMBIOSISDUO” from the concert duet written for them by composer Chris Sharp. In program notes for the work he writes: “Symbiosis is defined as, ‘A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence’…The technical and range requirements for each solo instrument are comparable, suggesting a ‘separate but equal’ relationship.” This is an innovative and challenging approach to duet writing for tuba and euphonium producing “the symbiosis effect,” as the tuba is not relegated to an accompanying role, but is equal in all aspects of music with the other voice in the duo, the euphonium.

That says it well for the whole album. What you won’t hear on this album are a lot of outrageous gymnastics and mind-blowing technique. You certainly won’t hear any technique for technique’s sake. What you will hear is a broad selection of music, very tasteful playing, fresh arrangements and compositions, and, yes, some impressive technique. You will hear ensembles of two instruments, the duo with piano, and some with larger ensemble. The recording quality is very good, giving a clear representation of each performer’s tone and capturing a natural piano sound.

If someone were to ask me what my favorite pieces were, I would have difficulty. I actually have several favorites, and there are no titles that I would choose to skip if I wished to set up a play list. One of my acid tests is to have the album on as “background” music while I work. The best of the lot uplift me and make my work more pleasant. This album has met that test, even after many times through. There is so much variety, nice musical moments, mastery of technique and matching of technique, that it “wears” very well.

The album starts off energetically with Three Florida Orchids, the first movement of which (Wild Coco orchid: Eulophia alta) is set in a “jazzy” style. Both players seem comfortable in this mode, which they have another chance to demonstrate later on track 8 (“I Got Your Bach”). A jazz style is especially dangerous for low, mellow instruments, even more so for players who don’t often get to play jazz (which covers 99% of euphonium players, and only a slightly smaller percentage of tuba players). The remaining two “Orchids” offer a relaxing slow movement (Night Fragrance orchid: Epidendrum nocturnum) and a very impressive fast movement (Water Spider orchid: Habenaria repens). Both movements’ names give you a hint about their nature (no pun intended). Together they comprise a well-paced composition.

Then the musical mood changes completely as Gail and Stacy perform a lovely arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria. It was originally set for trumpet and horn by Susan Slaughter, but the music works very well for euphonium and tuba. It is this kind of variety that helps to make this album so nice – the listener is never at risk of “burning out” on a particular style.

The “title” track for the album, Symbiosis, was written by Chris Sharp and uses euphonium, tuba, and piano (plus some uncredited hand clapping!). It is in a contemporary style, mostly tonal, and features some unusual twists and turns in the melodies that sound challenging, but the performers make it sound smooth and natural. Chris Sharp was not afraid to ask for multiphonics and found some clever ways to have the two brass players interact with tone and voice. The style could be called “jazzy” in many places, and there is fairly complex interaction between the duet voices.

The complete liner notes are reproduced below, so I won’t go through the whole album’s track list. However, I’ll mention a couple of my favorites of the remaining titles.

You are sure to enjoy the nice arrangement of Faure’s Pavane, Op. 50(“Whisper of Angels”). The tuba and euphonium are joined by flugelhorn. The three conical instruments’ interplay is a nice touch! Hidden in this track is a great demonstration of the wonderful match of euphonium and tuba when Stacy hands off a line to Gail – one has to listen carefully to notice that the instrument has changed. Interpretation is also very smooth; the term “liquid” comes to mind as one listens to the flow of lines.

I found a great deal of charm in Cats in the Kitchen by Phillip Bimstein. One could characterize it as a “tone-poem” story of a cat and its toy. I hope it is not diminishing its quality to call it cute, but it will make you smile. It is set with other winds, clock sound, and percussion effects. I found myself bouncing lightly in my chair along with the beat in this one. There are some thematic effects, such as cat sounds. It is easy to listen to the unusual effects at the expense of the music, but once you are over that, you notice the soloists are doing some tasteful tuba and euphonium playing!

And I can’t leave this review without mentioning the slightly-renamed“Harmonious Blacksmiths” by Handel. Its melody is one of my favorites and I thoroughly enjoyed this new rendition. Originally written for harpsichord, I have heard it successfully rendered on piano, guitar (in several arrangements), trumpet, euphonium solo, brass band, and vocal ensemble. Now we can add euphonium-tuba duet to the list. This particular arrangement adds brief touches of “Hallelujah Chorus” to the interludes. The arrangement is similar to one that I first heard Arthur Lehman perform, but tweaked to take full advantage of the duet medium. Tuba and euphonium have roughly equal roles in this setting.

There are small instances of less-then-perfect ensemble here and there, but you have to listen very closely to find them. Mostly the two artists interact like the professionals they are. I found a certain magic in the album as a whole, and it has earned its way onto my “highly recommended” list.

And as a last point at the very end of the liner notes you will find this line: “Unauthorized duplication is a violation of all applicable laws — and unsporting.”

The extra two words on the end are a nice way of saying what we should all know: it is not only illegal to copy this album to avoid buying it, but it is counter productive. We all like to have new albums available, but they are not free to produce. There are many “invisible” costs. We all might easily understand that we are paying for CD duplication, printing of the booklet, and jewel box case. But we have to remember that many times there is a cost to the artists to use certain titles (those composers and publishers have a right to royalties to encourage them to do what they do), there are shipping charges, damage losses, advertising costs, paying extra musicians, etc. And that is not to mention that the artists should get some payment for all the time they put forth, shouldn’t they? So purchase this CD and enjoy the 73 minutes of fine playing and enjoyable music!
SYMBIOSISDUO formed in 2007 to increase awareness of the tuba/euphonium duo as a performance medium and to promote and disseminate new works for this unique combination of instruments. The duo chose the name “SYMBIOSISDUO” from the concert duet written for them by composer, Chris Sharp. In the program notes for the work he writes: “Symbiosis is defined as, ‘A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence’… The technical and range-requirements for each solo instrument are comparable, suggesting a ‘separate but equal’ relationship.” This is an innovative and challenging approach to duet writing for tuba and euphonium producing “the symbiosis effect” as the tuba is not relegated to an accompanying role, but is equal in all aspects of music with the other voice in the duo, the euphonium. All of the works on this compact disc were composed, arranged or transcribed especially for SYMBIOSISDUO, with the exception of Three Florida Orchids, which was written for and premiered by Gail Robertson and Jay Hunsberger.

Three Florida Orchids by T.O. Sterrett (b. 1953)
I. Wild Coco orchid: Eulophia alta
II. Night Fragrance orchid: Epidendrum nocturnum
III. Water Spider orchid: Habenaria repens
Three Florida Orchids presents a variety of musical moods: raucous rhythm & blues; pensive tranquility; and playful mischief. These match more the names than the appearances of the orchids in question. In the first movement — Wild Coco — the euphonium and tuba are hot-dogging for pure fun. The second movement — Night Fragrance — gives them a chance to show off melodic beauty, and the last movement – Water Spider — is an opportunity to romp and play. Three Florida Orchids was commissioned by DEG Music Products/Willson USA.” — T.O. Sterrett

Ave Maria, Op. 52, No. 6 by Franz Schubert (1797-1828)/arr. Susan Slaughter
This beautiful arrangement by Susan Slaughter evolved through the annual Holiday Brass Concerts at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, MO. Ms. Slaughter organized these concerts to raise scholarship money for the International Women’s Brass Conference (IWBC), an organization she founded in 1990. She writes: “I began adding Ave Maria to the performance as a solo for the trumpet. After a couple of years, when Jennifer Montone arrived on the scene, I began to think about how to make an arrangement of Ave Maria for trumpet and horn (although it can be used with various combinations of instruments as Symbiosis has shown). Jennifer and I recorded it on the Holiday Brass CD in 2005.”
MSM-20-940 AVE MARIA arranged by Susan Slaughter and John Romeri
Copyright © 2009 Birnamwood Publications (ASCAP), a division of MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc.

Symbiosis by Chris Sharp (b. 1959)
“Symbiosis is defined as, ‘A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.’ In this composition, the symbiotic entities are the euphonium and tuba, with the piano providing the harmonic ‘environment.’ The dependence of the entities is reflected in the identical rhythmic movements that often occur. The distinction between the entities is established through a variety of devices including parallel motion, inverted intervals and periods of question-and-answer dialogue. Though a tonal center of ‘F’ is employed, the vertical chordal structures (which often employ jazz harmonies) are used texturally, rather than in conventional harmonic progressions. The technical and range requirements for each solo instrument are comparable, suggesting a ‘separate but equal’ relationship.” — Chris Sharp

“Let these among themselves contest” — Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day(1692)
by Henry Purcell (1659-1695)/trans. Joe Kreines

“Transcriptions of vocal duets from opera and oratorio are especially appropriate for performance by related brass instruments such as the tuba and euphonium. Vocal music in general is an ideal vehicle for all wind instruments, and the duet repertoire provides a rich source of outstanding works by many composers. The duets included on this recording cover a wide range of styles and moods.

Henry Purcell stands out as one of England’s greatest composers, producing a remarkable number of works during his short 36-year life. An ode is a celebratory work, much like an oratorio, with a mixture of solos, duets, and choruses with orchestra. This ode honors St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. The bass duet, ‘Let these among themselves contest,’ is indeed a contest between the two voices, expressed in imitative counterpoint.” — Joe Kreines

Pavane, Op. 50/Whisper of Angels by Gabriel Fauré (1845 — 1924)/Amy Sky/arr. Gail Robertson/Alex Thio (piano)
“A recording by the vocal quartet, Amici Forever, provided the inspiration for this arrangement. Deb Eastwood adds her wonderful flugelhorn sound to the piece allowing some of the lines to rise seamlessly from the tuba, passing through the euphonium, and finishing in the flugelhorn. To create the ‘symbiosis effect’ the tuba is given a few of the counter-lines that would typically be played by the euphonium.” — Gail Robertson

I Got Your Bach by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) arr. Chris Sharp
I Got Your Bach is an adaptation of J.S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention, No. 4, originally intended for the keyboard. Over the years instrumentalists have since discovered that these exercises make delightful duets for pairs of like or unlike instruments. This version goes a step farther, taking the piece temporarily into the realm of jazz, adding a swing interpretation with improvisation-like passages accompanied by quarter note ‘walking’ bass lines that are shared by both players. This allows the musicians the opportunity to display their command of the two diversely opposed styles. After the jazz flirtations in the middle of the number, the stoic dignity of the original composition returns to close the piece.” — Chris Sharp

Cats in the Kitchen by Phillip Bimstein (b. 1947)
1. Eggs and Toast
2. O Sole Meow
3. Where’s Your Mouse, McGee?

“I was first inspired by the music of alternative classical composer, Phillip Bimstein, when I heard his piece, Casino, for wind quintet and tape. After hearing his Half Moon at Checkerboard Mesa for solo instrument and tape, I asked him to arrange it for tuba. In 2007, I spoke with him about writing a piece for Symbiosis and found that he had recently written the duet,Cats in the Kitchen, for oboe and flute with CD. He graciously agreed to score it for euphonium and tuba.” — Stacy Baker

Cats in the Kitchen is scored for euphonium, tuba, meows, purrs, cracked eggs, sliced onions, buttered toast, sizzling skillets, spoons, knives, pepper grinder, toaster oven, pots, pans, draining dishwater, and pretty much everything else in the kitchen ‘sync.’ The sound score also features feline duets and trios, cat food crunches, waterdrums, and the composer’s partner Charlotte Bell speaking to her beloved cat, Fiona McGee, who sadly passed on shortly after this piece was composed. Cats in the Kitchen was originally commissioned for oboist Michele Fiala and flutist Heidi Pintner.” — Phillip Bimstein

“Dio che nell’alma infondere” from Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) trans. by Joe Krienes
“In this famous duet, Don Carlo (tenor) and Rodrigo (baritone) express their eternal friendship in passionately heroic style.” — Joe Kreines

“Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleurs” — Flower Duet from Lakmé by Léo Delibes (1836-1891) arr. Gail Robertson

“In Delibes’ opera, Lakmé and her servant Mallika sing this duet while gathering flowers at the river’s edge. Several years ago, I arranged this famous duet for the tuba/euphonium quartet, JUNCTION. I secretly longed to someday play the euphonium part I created for Angie Hunter, which led to my writing this arrangement for Symbiosis. To remain true to the vocal parts and produce ‘the symbiosis effect,’ I preserved the original key, featuring the upper-register of the tuba. Like Lakmé and Mallika our duo likes to find time to relax at the water’s edge — fishing!”
— Gail Robertson

Orlando Lakes by Christopher Marshall (b. 1956)
1. Eola Stroll
2. Lotus Trail

“On arrival in Orlando in 2006, one of the first things that struck me was the great number of lakes and the huge variation in their size and character. It would be hard to find a more contrasting pair than Eola and Lotus. Lake Eola, in the heart of downtown Orlando, boasts a large illuminated fountain. Yet it also features an extraordinary richness of bird and other animal life — a thriving natural world unperturbed by the constant procession of humanity — joggers, picnickers, office workers and buskers — in such close proximity.

Lake Lotus is named for the native plant whose leaves cover much of the water’s surface. Here nature seems wary of human intrusion. Forest creatures appear furtively and disappear in a flash. Large alligators briefly break the water’s surface before sinking back into the green depths. The bird life keeps its distance also. Nature reveals its untamed beauty. The musical themes of Orlando Lakes actually came to mind while visiting Lake Eola and Lake Lotus respectively and so they are a record of my feelings towards these two unique locations. In 2008, Gail Robertson and Stacy Baker commissioned me to write a work for euphonium-tuba duet. It is my pleasure to dedicate Orlando Lakes to them.” — Christopher Marshall

The Prayer by Carole Bayer Sager (b. 1947)/David Foster (b. 1949) arr. Gail Robertson/Alex Thio (piano)
The Prayer first gained popularity in the recording by Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli. It has been recorded by other artists and arranged for various instrumental combinations. In this version, the tuba and euphonium share the role of the leading voice in the upper-range. Of course, Alex Thio’s expression on the piano is the true highlight of this work.” — Gail Robertson

Intrada by Brian Balmages (b. 1975)
Intrada is a short fanfare-style work that is based mostly on rhythmic pulse and a type of ‘minimalist interplay’ between the euphonium and tuba. Despite its short length, it follows a very specific form, which includes six sections: theme, development, transitional material, recapitulation, transitional material (variation on previous transitional material), and coda. Brief episodes in the transitions hint at minimalism, but the overall form prevents them from being overly developed.” — Brian Balmages

“Au fond du temple saint” — Temple Duet from The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet (1838-1875) arr. Gail Robertson
“My mentor and hero, euphoniumist William Gordon Wells, once gave me a recording of this wonderful melody. In this duet, fishermen Zurga and Nadir swear to forever remain friends. This is another work that pushes the tuba in the upper-register, even beginning in unison with the euphonium in several places. Deb Eastwood provides an underlying melody on the cornet, later adds depth and color playing in octaves with the euphonium, and serves in an independent role to end the work.” — Gail Robertson

The Harmonious Blacksmiths by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)/arr. Gail Robertson/Alex Thio (piano)
“This arrangement is based on the last movement of Handel’s HarpsichordSuite No.5 in E, HWV 430, ‘Air and Variations,’ also known as, ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith.’ It exploits the agility of the upper-range of the tuba with only occasional descents into the tuba’s low-range. Melodic fragments (borrowed and original) are added like “secret ingredients” used in a special recipe. Alex Thio brings the same spirit of fun to the piano interludes by freely adding his own “secret ingredients.” — Gail Robertson

Stacy Baker is Professor of Music – Tuba/Euphonium at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. Originally from Harsen’s Island, MI, she received her M.M. and B.M. degrees from the University of Michigan. She holds a D.M.A. from the University of Illinois. Dr. Baker has toured and recorded throughout the United States and Europe as a founding member of the tuba/euphonium quartet JUNCTION, and with the Lexington Brass Band and Monarch Brass Ensemble. She is a member of the Athena Brass Band and the Horizon Brass Quintet. Dr. Baker serves on the International Women’s Brass Conference Board of Directors. Her teachers include Jeff Funderburk, Wes Jacobs, Tommy Johnson, Fritz Kaenzig, and Mark Moore.

Gail Robertson is Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba at The University of Central Florida. Originally from Pompano Beach, FL, she received her B.M. degree from the University of Central Florida and her M.M. degree with Performer’s Certificate from Indiana University. Ms. Robertson was a founding member/leader/chief arranger of Walt Disney World’s “Tubafours” tuba/euphonium quartet. She has toured and recorded in the U.S. and internationally with Keith Brion’s “New Sousa Band,” the Brass Band of Battle Creek, SYMPHONIA, Euphoniums Unlimited, and Monarch Brass. She is President of the International Women’s Brass Conference. Ms. Robertson is a York Brass International Euphonium Artist performing on a York Eminence YO-EU4052 with a Warburton/Gail Robertson mouthpiece.

Alex Thio is a collaborative pianist based in Cincinnati, OH. A native of Singapore, Mr. Thio received his B.S. degree from Grace College. He earned his M.M. degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and continues to pursue his D.M.A. degree at the conservatory. He serves as choral accompanist to the Sycamore Junior High and High School choirs in Blue Ash, OH, and is a private piano instructor offering piano and music theory instruction to students of all ages and performance levels.

Deborah Eastwood is Instructor of Music at Morehead State University, Morehead, KY. Originally from Wytheville, VA, she earned her B.M. degree from James Madison University, M.M. degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music-John Hopkins University, and D.M.A. degree from the University of Illinois. Dr. Eastwood has toured and recorded as a member of the Athena Brass Band, the Lexington Brass Band, and the Horizon Brass Quintet.


Thanks to Morehead State University for supporting this project through funding and the use of the university’s facilities. Thanks also to the composers/arrangers for their creativity in writing for Symbiosisduo and their enthusiasm for this project. Special thanks to our friends and families for their love and support and to the members of First Christian Church — Disciples of Christ in Morehead, KY for allowing us to fish in your private ponds. Many additional thanks to Alex Thio, Deb Eastwood, David Henderson, Grant Alden, Toni Hobbs, Tim Holbrook, Paul Weikle, Fred Tremper, L. Curtis Hammond, and Nancy Peterson. Alex Thio would like to thank Professors Verna M. Felts and Richard Morris, two very special mentors who invested in the success of his musical career enabling him to fully realize his dream of making music in America.

Recorded: Duncan Recital Hall, Morehead State University,
Morehead, KY, May 25/26, 2009
Executive Producer: Stacy Baker
Associate Producer: Gail Robertson
Recording Engineer, Mixing, and Mastering: David Henderson, Lexington, KY
Graphic Design: Grant Alden, Toni Hobbs (photographs)
Liner Photographs: Tim Holbrook
Liner Notes: Stacy Baker
Disc Manufacturing: Disc Makers, Pennsauken, NJ
Ballpark Records, Box 433, Morehead, KY 40351
Web Page Design: Alex Thio

© 2009 Ballpark Recording. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized duplication is a violation of all applicable laws — and unsporting.

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