John Plant, composer

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Faustus in Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and California

Posted by John Plant on April 16, 2017 at 5:10 PM

On February 10 Jocelyne and I traveled to Wolfville to hear the first Canadian performance of 'Faustus: A SaxOpera' - neatly sandwiched between blizzards. Wolfville only regained power at noon on the day of the performance, and some of the musicians (incuding the indispensable - and splendid! piccolo player) arrived just in the nick of time. Once again I was moved and delighted by the skill, imagination, virtuosity and utter commitment which saxophonist Tristan de Borba, conductor Mark Hopkins and the Acadia Wind Ensemble brought to this work.


Tristan wished to bring Faustus to the North American Saxophone Alliance congress in Sackville, New Brunswick, on the following Saturday - one week later! - but of course he could not bring the 34 Acadia musicians with him. So he commissioned me to make a chamber version. Following the brilliant suggestion of Jennifer Bill, I settled on sax, piano and harp, and had a wonderful time reworking and rethinking the sometimes massive sonorities of Faustus into this very different context. The result was an independent work, shorter and more intimate. Unfortunately the flu prevented us from traveling to New Brunswick, as we had intended, but luckily the piece was recorded, and I am deeply grateful to Tristan and to the wonderful musicians who performed with him: Ellen Gibling, harp, and Jennifer King, piano.


Distance and time prevented me from flying to San Diego for the West Coast premiere of the full version, but once again a Recording Angel came to the rescue and preserved the magnificent performance of Michael Couper with the San Diego State University Wind Symphony, brilliantly conducted by Shannon Kitelinger. I am richly blessed to have encountered this wonderful double triad of saxophonists - Jennifer Bill, Tristan de Borba, Michael Couper - and conductors: David Martins, Mark Hopkins, Shannon Kitelinger, not to mention the fine ensembles under their direction. Each one provided new illuminations; it is the most priceless of gifts to hear my work sparked into life by the intersection of such profoundly committed individual sensibilities.


I have not yet heard the performances of Joseph Murphy and the Mansfield University wind ensemble under Adam Brennan, which included not only performances at Mansfield and Keystone College, but also at five high schools in northeastern Pennsylvania. But I have been promised a recording, which I await with great eagerness. I spent a large chunk of my childhood in rural Pennsylvania and it's lovely to think of my music being performed there. 


Still to come in 2017-2018: performances in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Calgary and Taiwan! Watch this space....

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