When your ensemble is selected to represent your country at an international conference, what do you play? Do you play a piece that makes your band sound fantastic? Do you work on challenging repertoire to impress your colleagues? Or do you bring something to this international conference that screams, "¡Sí, somos de España!"
As part of the WASBE 2009 conference, the Banda Sinfónica del Centre Artístic Musical de Bétera performed on Monday night's concert (July 6), and if you didn't figure out what country the band was from, you are pretty dense. Four out of five pieces performed were by Spanish composers, and those pieces had someone manning the castanets station. (Actually, the castanets guys was awesome - he had one set of castanets in his right hand and another orchestra set nearby. Also, the old guy holding the Spanish flag throughout the concert is also my hero. He reminded me of Fernando Castillo Saavedra.)
Besides their selection of repertoire, one interesting characteristic about this symphonic band is their use of CELLOS. Yes, I know. Since when do symphonic bands use string instruments? Well, many wind bands incorporate a single bass player play some delicate passages that, oh, a tuba can't play. And, you can actually hear the double bass in a wind ensemble. Not surprisingly, you cannot hear cellos.
I was curious to hear how cellos would sound in a band environment. I was so curious that I kept watching them play during the concert. And I kept watching, because eventually I thought I could *will* myself to hear the cellists - seeing is believing, no? I convinced myself that they were playing accented attacks when I saw them constantly dig into their instruments with frequent down bows. I *almost* heard them playing beautiful lyrical lines when they were fingering the higher register on the soundboard. Nothing. In their band arrangements, the cellists doubled their double bass cousins (makes sense) and they doubled most of the alto saxophone lines (?!). Long story short - including cellos in a wind ensemble is not the best idea. Hopefully the cellists enjoyed their time in Cincinnati.
In general, the concert was good, not fantastic. My favorite piece was Wind of Yemen, written by Boris Pigovat (not a Spanish composer; hopefully I'm not implying something here). It had great use of color and percussion and didn't sound too march-like. The Banda Sinfonica played this well.
Next time - my impressions of the Cincinnati Opera's production of Ainadamar.