Dan Welcher originally trained at the Eastman
School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. He has consistently
run two careers in parallel, as a composer and as a performer,
having started his career as a bassoonist with the Louisville
Orchestra. He is now based at the University of Texas where he
founded the New Music Ensemble, served as assistant conductor
of Austin Symphony Orchestra and where he now teaches composition.
1990 Welcher was appointed composer-in-residence with the Honolulu
Symphony Orchestra and during this period he wrote his Symphony
No. 1 and Haleakala: How Maui Snared the Sun for them.
How Maui Snared the Sun
is a tone poem that Welcher intends to function at a number of
levels. It is a narrative piece which recounts a tale about Maui, a Polynesian demi-God about whom a number of adventures
are told. Welcher’s piece is concerned with Maui’s adventures
snaring the Sun and forcing it to go more slowly across the heavens
for six months of the year.
is a substantial descriptive tone poem. Welcher is concerned to
make the piece as accessible as possible, perhaps because of the
work’s origins as the offshoot of a composer-in-residence programme.
It can be performed with linking narration - as it is here - or
without. This is where my problem starts.
writes attractive, evocative modern tonal music and incorporates
a number of Hawaiian tunes into the work’s melodic structure.
The music is almost cinematic at times and Welcher’s orchestration
has a richness and depth to it that is attractive. He also incorporates
a number of Hawaiian instruments into the orchestra. The music
is so colourful that I found Richard Chamberlain’s narration rather
irrelevant. The text is by Ann McCutchan. I found its tone a little
arch, though Chamberlain’s mannered delivery does not help. Presumably
this is what the composer wants, as Chamberlain spoke the narration
at the work’s premiere in 1991. Also, I did not think that Welcher’s
melodic inspiration was direct enough - or memorable enough -
to be able to stand against interruption by spoken text. It takes
quite a degree of skill to mix narration and music. Prokofiev’s
Peter and the Wolf has had many imitators, but few composers
have matched Prokofiev’s skill in this area. Welcher could have
learned something from the apparent simplicity and directness
of Prokofiev’s musical material.
as I enjoyed Maui, I kept wishing that the narration had been omitted.
But as the CD lasts just 57 minutes, it would have perhaps been
possible to have both versions included on the disc, allowing
listeners to make up their own minds.
Light might be called
and night on the prairie’, a sort of desert version of La Mer.
The piece is based on three Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Painted
whilst she was teaching in Canyon, Texas in 1917 they depict,
in stylised manner, three episodes in the desert, Light Coming
on the Plains, Canyon with Crows and Starlight Night.
Welcher uses these three paintings as a starting point for each
of his movements. They show that, without having to be shackled
to a text, Welcher still has significant narrative, descriptive
skills. These pieces were my favourites on the disc.
musical style is highly allusive. He synthesises references to
many of the major 20th century symphonic writers, though
I kept coming back to the influence of Sibelius and of Stravinsky.
Welcher’s tonal palate is however far richer than those used by
either of these more austere artists.
programme concludes with Welcher’s Clarinet Concerto written for
Bil Jackson and first performed by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra
in 1989. Jackson combines
a career as a symphonic clarinettist with playing jazz and this
is reflected in the concerto. Here Welcher synthesises jazz elements
into his symphonic writing. The first movement is relatively classical
in tone, but with odd perky moments which rather recall Bernstein.
This Bernstein influence (notably Prelude, Fugue and Riffs)
comes more to the fore in the 2nd and 3rd
movements and the latter finishes on a pure jazz note.
are many people who will enjoy this fluently written, expertly
played concerto that mixes classical and jazz influences. It is
obviously well tailored to Jackson’s skills
as he shimmies from classical to jazz and back again.
Honolulu Symphony Orchestra under Donald Johanos do Welcher proud
and turn in fine performances in all three works.
is a fascinating disc, one that opens up a window onto the vast
amount of contemporary American music that fails to make much
impact in Europe. Welcher’s
pieces deserve to be heard, but now that the disc is on my library
shelves I am honestly not sure how often I will listen to it again.
see also Reviews
by Glyn Pursglove and Jonathan