11 October 2008

Encounters of the Very Difficult Kind

There are very few pieces in the solo tuba repertoire that are any good. There are even fewer pieces in the solo tuba repertoire that are any good that are not transcriptions. There are fewer pieces yet in the solo tuba repertoire that are any good that are not transcriptions and are written in post-tonal or "modernist" idioms. And there are even fewer pieces yet in the solo tuba repertoire that are any good, that are not transcriptions, that are written in post-tonal or "modernist" idioms, and that are for unaccompanied tuba rather than tuba with piano or large ensemble. In fact, I can only think of one, and that's William Kraft's Encounters II.

It dawned on me several months ago that if anyone should know this piece, it's me. I do, after all, aspire to be "the modernist tubist" that I've beenspecifically advised against becoming. I had bought the music years ago and never looked at it, so I had to dig it out from the bottom of the pile. While my opinion of the piece remains high, I've found it to be significantly harder than I expected...not in the typical ways, but in the most annoying ones. I've always had a knack for blurting out minor ninths in the extreme upper register and similar modernist acrobatics; my weaknesses are elsewhere, and this piece exposes all of them at once, particularly the extreme dynamics and the intricate multiphonics.

I've heard the piece performed live 3 times: once by Sam Pilafian at a summer program, once by my former teacher Jason Byrnes, and once this past summer at the most recent ITEC by Jens Bjørn-Larsen. All three made it sound easy, which no doubt accounts for a some of my shock at actually trying to learn to play the damn thing myself. This is good motivational material, as is the exposure of weaknesses in my playing, but above all, I find myself motivated to learn the piece because there seems to be a consensus that it is a good piece that just happens to be written for unaccompanied tuba in a "modernist" idiom. There aren't too many of those running around; in fact, it's tempting sometimes to wonder if the lack of certain kinds of good pieces for certain instruments doesn't have something to do with the instrument and its capabilities. Just knowing something is possible is very powerful, and while this piece is relatively short and obscure, it provides hope and a model for us Modernist Tubists.


phil giampietro said...

I didn't like that piece UNTIL I heard Jens Bjorn-Larsen play it. His recital was excellent, wasn't it?

Stefan Kac said...

Sure was. That's the great thing about ITEC: getting to hear players from halfway across the world all in one place. And promoting yourself. (whoops, did I say that out loud?)

I didn't mention Roger Bobo, for whom the piece was written, but I find it hard not to like anything when it's played by Roger Bobo (and I'm sure the fact that it was written for him has something to do with the difficulty...just like the high Bb's in The Morning Song).

ken woods said...

Hey Stefan-

I take it back- be the modernist tubist. The world needs one!