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The Lindy Hop, Netflix's 'Jessica Jones' and Jazz Fusion All Go Into David Garner's Faculty Artist Series

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The concert will feature Garner's 2023 Hoefer Prize commission, visiting artists, faculty, students in addition to his wife, pianist Dale Tsang on piano for parts of the evening.

November 3, 2023 by Alex Heigl

Longtime composition faculty David Garner's Faculty Artist Series concert on Nov. 6 will, appropriately, marshal a roster of longtime collaborators from around the Bay Area for an evening that culminates with his 2023 Hoefer Prize-winning composition, Sinfonietta for Double Wind Quintet.

Opening the evening is Garner's Suite for Bass Clarinet and Piano, featuring San Francisco Symphony bass clarinetist and SFCM faculty Jerome Simas alongside Garner's wife, pianist Dale Tsang. "I was interested in writing a dance suite like the Baroque dance suites that Bach and Handel and Telemann wrote, but for 20th-century dances, instead of the gavotte," Garner explains. "I've done some swing dancing myself, so the Lindy Hop and Charleston were not a big deal, but I wanted to kind of go by decade for five decades, so I did some research and I got the other three movements." 

"What's interesting about the trumpet sonata is the main theme in the first movement," Garner notes of the second piece being performed, Sonata for Trumpet and Piano: "I ripped off myself." Originating as an organ fugue, he says he "despaired of it ever being actually played on the organ, so I thought, well, hell, I'm giving it to the trumpet." Garner laughs, "That's really the only time that I've ever borrowed from myself. Stravinsky was fond of saying, "It's okay to borrow, just don't borrow from yourself.' But of course he did constantly."

"This is not in the program notes," Garner adds, "but the second movement is pretty much straight-ahead jazz fusion. I did a lot of fusion bands when I was in a different life, and the inspiration for that theme came from the theme [Netflix's] Jessica Jones, which is a very New York noir sound."

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Rounding out the night is Garner's Sinfonietta for Double Wind Quintet, which he wrote with the commission awarded from 2023's Hoefer Prize. Awarded each year to an SFCM graduate, the Prize stems from a bequest by Jacqueline Stanhope Hoefer, a longtime San Francisco arts patron whose Trust established a fund to produce one new commissioned piece per year by an alumni. 

"I wrote an awful lot of vocal music for a very long time; it was probably because of working with Jerry [Simas] that I came out of it and started thinking about winds," Garner says. "I know Russ DeLuna and Jerry from the SF Symphony and Daniel Wood, founder of Quadre and Avenue Winds, so it's like, why don't I write something that includes them, along with SFCM alumni and current wind students?"

"Wind quintet is one of my favorite ensembles," Garner says. "One of the things that I try to teach my students is that you could write for some idiosyncratic, bizarre ensemble if you want—talking drum and four contrabasses—but you're gonna get exactly one performance out of that. So I thought, it's a little bit obscure, but there's the Stravinsky Mass for chorus and double quintet, and there's a really wonderful couple of Gershwin arrangements for double quintet, so there is a rep there."

One of the considerations that went into Garner's writing was seeing how many different combinations of instruments he could squeeze into the work: "You can have one quintet against the other quintet, you can have everybody in pairs—so within those four movements, there's a, as many possibilities as I could come up with for juxtaposing and contrasting different subsets."

But Garner stresses that the piece wasn't an intellectual exercise: "Because this is a commission, nobody's saying 'We want you to write in this or that manner,' so I thought, 'I'm gonna have as much fun as I could possibly have with this." 

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