Russian Christmas Music

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    Default Russian Christmas Music

    Yesterday was our band's holiday concert, and among our selections was Alfred Reed's Russian Christmas Music. Every time we perform this piece, I'm struck again by how magnificent it is. It's one of the greatest compositions for symphonic band, and also one of the few that can hold its own with the best works for symphony orchestra of similar length (e.g., overtures and tone poems). Reed's orchestration is wonderful; the 6/4 section in the middle is some of the most beautiful writing for band that I have ever heard.

    Most classical musicians in the world are not primarily soloists, but rather ensemble players. Playing a work like Russian Christmas Music gives a saxophonist the opportunity to enjoy the experience of collaborating in a high-level large classical ensemble without feeling like an interloper.

    Our sax quartet played at the reception following the concert. Afterward, an audience member came up to us and said that he's a retired jazz drummer and he loved our gig because it reminded him of the old days with Zoot Sims, Paul Desmond, etc. (lots of name-dropping). Of course he was greatly exaggerating our abilities, but it shows how starved for saxophone music, especially live, some listeners are.

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Agree Mr Reed has composed very fine music for windbands
    I played a month ago Armenien dances
    Wonderfull piece of music

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Thanks for introducing me to Russian Christmas Music. A very moving piece. I hope you'll post some samples of your quartet. Judging from the comments, it sounds like you guys
    are playing some good stuff.

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Quote Originally Posted by LostConn View Post
    Yesterday was our band's holiday concert, and among our selections was Alfred Reed's Russian Christmas Music. Every time we perform this piece, I'm struck again by how magnificent it is. It's one of the greatest compositions for symphonic band, and also one of the few that can hold its own with the best works for symphony orchestra of similar length (e.g., overtures and tone poems). Reed's orchestration is wonderful; the 6/4 section in the middle is some of the most beautiful writing for band that I have ever heard.

    Most classical musicians in the world are not primarily soloists, but rather ensemble players. Playing a work like Russian Christmas Music gives a saxophonist the opportunity to enjoy the experience of collaborating in a high-level large classical ensemble without feeling like an interloper.

    Our sax quartet played at the reception following the concert. Afterward, an audience member came up to us and said that he's a retired jazz drummer and he loved our gig because it reminded him of the old days with Zoot Sims, Paul Desmond, etc. (lots of name-dropping). Of course he was greatly exaggerating our abilities, but it shows how starved for saxophone music, especially live, some listeners are.
    +1..
    A pic of how to achieve the perfect embouchure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bluto View Post
    Thanks for introducing me to Russian Christmas Music. A very moving piece. I hope you'll post some samples of your quartet. Judging from the comments, it sounds like you guys are playing some good stuff.
    There's a lot of great music that includes the saxophone that many saxophonists never hear, because they don't play in a symphonic band and therefore don't listen to the repertoire for such bands. Not only Reed, Holst, and Grainger, but also John Barnes Chance, Eric Whitacre, Samuel Hazo, John Mackey, etc., have written great material specifically for concert band. Next month we will begin working on a concert band symphony by David Maslanka, a composer whom I suggested for our band because I like his works for solo saxophone.

    As for the quartet, it's all in the arrangements. Seriously, I think the key to being a decent amateur sax quartet (or quintet -- we are both) is to (1) choose excellent arrangements and (2) play them idiomatically. For holiday material, we have a great book of Christmas carols arranged by Lloyd Conley, plus several terrific, upbeat arrangements by Lennie Niehaus. We also have excellent versions of "Christmas Time Is Here" and "The Grinch" arranged by one of our members. We are not a jazz combo, but as saxophonists we know how jazz should sound, so when we perform a jazzy arrangement we do our best to use the appropriate articulation, timing/swing, etc. The same applies when we play classical pieces or rock/pop pieces. We commit to the style. If you sound "right," it's OK if you are not perfect.

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    I was fortunate to be hosted in Poznan , Poland by the Russian choir director, Leon Zaborowski, and to hear his magnificent group of all amateur singers perform a few concerts of Russian Orthodox Christmas music.
    Leon teaches as the Conservatory in Poznan but is Russian born adn trained.

    Here is a small sample of some glorious music:

    https://youtu.be/okVuYKFgfs4

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Giardullo View Post
    I was fortunate to be hosted in Poznan , Poland by the Russian choir director, Leon Zaborowski, and to hear his magnificent group of all amateur singers perform a few concerts of Russian Orthodox Christmas music.
    This is the kind of music that inspired Alfred Reed. I believe he incorporated some authentic Russian melodies into his piece. Besides vocals, the other major element of Russian church music that he wanted to imitate was the bells. It couldn't have been easy to blend traditions of voices and bells into a work for symphonic band, but he succeeded.

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    The opening bars for me are moving and very Russian and reminiscent of the scoring of the Russian hymn , Save our people.. At the start of Tchaikovsky,s 1812 Overture. Written in retrospect When Napoleons army was invading the motherland. But we all know the outcome.
    A pic of how to achieve the perfect embouchure.

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVmGKb8euNs

    My favorite wind ensemble playing this piece with organ.
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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Do you all know the story behind Russian Christmas Music?
    Reed was in the US Army, a musician, at the end of WW2. There was a meeting, perhaps the Potsdam conference, including big wigs from USA, USSR, Great Britain. Each nation was to contribute a piece of music to a final concert. Somehow Reed got the job with far too little time to spare, he used local tunes to produce this magnificent piece in a week, creating score for the end of the piece even as copyists were making parts from the opening pages.
    The big alto solos, by the way, are intended for English horn. I have played it twice on English horn, in 1983 and 2015. It's a wonderful set of solos.

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Quote Originally Posted by DrRobert View Post
    Do you all know the story behind Russian Christmas Music?
    Reed was in the US Army, a musician, at the end of WW2. There was a meeting, perhaps the Potsdam conference, including big wigs from USA, USSR, Great Britain
    Although not related to the saxophone, if anyone is interested in the end of WW2 there is the wonderful Russian German Museum in Karlshorst, Berlin.

    http://www.museum-karlshorst.de/en.html

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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Stewart View Post
    Although not related to the saxophone, if anyone is interested in the end of WW2 there is the wonderful Russian German Museum in Karlshorst, Berlin.

    http://www.museum-karlshorst.de/en.html
    Boy, that must be a harsh exhibition and place to visit. Ironic that they should choose a German-Soviet joint project in Berlin, the home of such barbarism by the Soviet troops. Tough stuff.

    Hey DrRobert - thanks for the info. Although Russian Christmas Music is one of my favourites to conduct, I didn't know about its beginnings.
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    Default Re: Russian Christmas Music

    Quote Originally Posted by DrRobert View Post
    Do you all know the story behind Russian Christmas Music?
    Reed was in the US Army, a musician, at the end of WW2. There was a meeting, perhaps the Potsdam conference, including big wigs from USA, USSR, Great Britain. Each nation was to contribute a piece of music to a final concert. Somehow Reed got the job with far too little time to spare
    Reed got the job because the organizers discovered very late that the piece they had planned to play, a concert march by Prokofiev, already had premiered in the United States. I guess they felt a world premiere was essential to give extra cachet to the event (which was in Colorado). I do not understand how it could have been decided that a Russian-style composition by an American could be substituted for a genuine Russian work by the most famous Russian composer alive, but I suppose the world was fortunate such dubious reasoning was employed, because now we have both compositions.

    We have played the march by Prokofiev (Op. 99) as well; I believe it's his only work for concert band. It's a zesty march with some typical Prokofievian flair, but it's fairly short -- not one of his great works by any means -- and lacks the grandeur of Russian Christmas Music.

    The big alto solos, by the way, are intended for English horn. I have played it twice on English horn, in 1983 and 2015. It's a wonderful set of solos.
    Yes, I know; the solos are cues in the alto part. I played them once, when our band lacked an English horn, in a huge stone hall in an art museum, where the sound of the unaccompanied sax echoed up and down and all over the audience. In recent years we've had an English horn, so I don't get to play the solos anymore, but I'm glad I did have that opportunity.

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