Exciting cross-overs! Classics by Samuel Barber, Robert Muczynski en Malcolm Arnold, as well as beautiful transcriptions for woodwind quintet of symphonic masterpieces by Leonard Bernstein en George Gershwin.
Ensemble Houthandel formed as a wind quintet at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp in 2005. At that time it was called ‘Ensemble Houthandel Antwerpen’ and was initially active for exam performances, also becoming an emblem for the conservatoire and for itself in a variety of self- organised concerts. The group studied and rehearsed the standard wind quintet repertoire intensively in those early years.
In February 2009 Houthandel was declared winner of the 4th edition of Gouden Vleugels and awarded the Jeugd & Muziek Chamber Music prize organised by Jeugd & Muziek Vlaanderen, Radio Klara, newspaper De Standaard and the KBC Bank. This award really put the wind in the ensemble’s sails, and in the 2009-2010 season there were no fewer than 35 performances of ‘De Grote Houthandel Antwerpen Show’ and a number of highly acclaimed concerts in the Netherlands. Part of the Gouden Vleugels prize gave Houthandel the opportunity to record their debut CD ‘Kicking Sawdust’ in Studio Toots, a well-known location for Flemish Radio and Television. This was followed in April 2010 by a concert tour to the Spanish Balearic Islands.
In the 2010-2011 season the oboe and horn chairs were vacated and Houthandel welcomed two new musicians. As a result the ensemble became even closer-knit, and the dynamics for rehearsal and creativity grew in intensity.
From the interview in the CD Booklet:
The name of your ensemble ‘Houthandel’ translates in English to something like ‘timber trade’. This is certainly a distinctive identity for woodwind instruments, but your attitude to performing is also a refreshingly modern alternative to the usual concert-hall conventions, including choreographed movement and performances in unusual locations. Perhaps you can tell us more about this, and perhaps also how your energetic concept transfers itself into the recording studio?
Houthandel is an organisation which is based on three pillars: music, musicians and audience. Whatever the programme, the ensemble looks for the best possible form and content to create an optimal production. Houthandel uses various forms of expression to play for and with its public, and the result should therefore always be a powerful meeting between music and audience.
Scenography, choreography and costume are an integral part of the performance, and the musicians also frequently play from memory, which brings a great deal of freedom. This provides flexibility for visualising the music in a space; gaining contact and interaction with audiences unencumbered by the physical and mental barriers which can often be thrown up by sheet music on a stand.
The challenge is indeed to create an intimate atmosphere through a studio recording, and to minimise the distance between listeners and musicians. We feel that a varied programme supports us in this aim. The repertoire that we chose for Into the Woods will amuse, surprise and fascinate the listener from start to finish.
This programme is an attractive musical mixture with plenty of appealing jauntiness; framed by operatic arrangements starting with Bernstein’s rip-roaring Overture to … ‘Candide’ and ending with Gershwin’s wondrously inspired and jazz-inflected Porgy and Bess. Does this reflect your ideal concert programme, or were you seeking a particular journey on which you wished to take the listener?
We resolved to choose accessible repertoire for Into the Woods while at the same time including wide variety and many stylistic layers in the programme. The selecting of core works in the wind- quintet repertoire is intended to perpetuate the growth of our ensemble, and we found inspiration for this in an Anglo-Saxon line using mainly American composers. America is a relatively young culture, but their music for wind quintet is full of diversity and has a wide range of influences and styles. In addition to pure ‘art music’ there are important elements drawn from Jewish, African- American and jazz music. Moreover, there are several very high quality arrangements of well- known orchestral repertoire which we like to include in our set-list. This variety becomes an anthology, and the juxtaposition of the different works becomes a narrative in which
the hearing of one piece has its effect on the way one perceives the next, shining new light on well- known music and old favourites.
(Text: Dominy Clements)