For twelve weeks each summer in the western Catskill Mountains, the French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts convenes. Attracting talented young students in the areas of music, drama, dancing, and much more, it has become one of the premier camps for the performing arts in the United States. Its dedicated faculty have produced alumni who represent the upper echelon of theatre stars, film and television actors, and professional musicians currently active today. In 2014, to commemorate the French Woods Festival and the 75th birthday of its founder, Ron Schaefer, Michael Markowski was commissioned to compose a work for the festival symphony orchestra. In regards to the work’s inspiration, the composer says:
“Ron Schaefer was a former band director who eventually went on in his “summer years” to build this incredible empire at French Woods. The piece essentially takes two perspectives: one is a celebration of the amazing achievements the festival has made and an acknowledgement of its success today, and the other is nostalgic, looking back at the years past for both Ron and the students, pining for those summers away or abroad that we wish would never end.”
Markowski’s Forever Summer is carefree and rhapsodic, flowing effortlessly and unbound through its duration. Its motivic content is relatively simple, with only a few distinct melodic ideas that all relate to each other. The work captivates instead through its dynamically shifting harmonic realms and a compelling and exciting structural unpredictability, with the yearning tunes suddenly giving way to dazzling fanfares. The piece begins with a naïve simplicity: a pure fifth on B-flat that sustains underneath a graceful soprano saxophone melody in the lydian mode.
From here, energy builds with sizzling sixteenth notes that become rippling arpeggios as the tune develops and eventually metamorphoses into the first of the fanfares, exhausting the musical energy back to the relatively static nature that began the work. A similar shape follows immediately: a wistful melody (here shared from the horn to muted trumpet), a development of energy (rousted by bell tones in the brass), and a concluding fanfare that brings the first major section of the piece to a close.
The midsection of the work, which begins in the strikingly distant tonal center of D mixolydian, develops a series of variations on the earlier muted trumpet tune, introduced in a stately version offered by the horns. Through imitative repetitions that bounce around the ensemble, it erodes into the simplest rendition of its core: three ascending pitches that repeat as insistent quarter notes and have a searching quality, as they spin the piece faster and through more daring harmonic territory. An arrival in E-flat major signals the start of the work’s concluding section, with an upward ripping motive that combines elements both of the nostalgic tune that begins the piece and its interjecting fanfares. This final section celebrates both the past and the present, as all the themes from the work are combined and layered in a triumphant push. An insistent sandblock ostinato keeps the effervescent tempo leaning forward, and playful syncopations are reminiscent of the exuberant spirit of Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music. The end is pure elation: a fireworks display of adrenaline and bright timbre, replete with thunderous bass drum and heroic chords, in joyful celebration.
The French Woods Festival for the Performing Arts
Brian Worsdale, Artistic Director and Conductor
In Celebration of Founder Ron Schaefer’s 75th Birthday
Markowski Creative (ASCAP)
2+pic.2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn 188.8.131.52 timp, 3perc, hp, pno strings
Winds: Piccolo, Flute 1 & 2, Oboe 1 & 2, English Horn, B-flat Clarinet 1 & 2, B-flat Bass Clarinet, Bassoon 1 & 2, Contrabassoon
Brass: Horn 1-4, B-flat Trumpet 1-3, Trombone 1-3, Tuba
Percussion: Timpani; P1) Vibraphone, Crash Cymbal, Suspended Cymbal, Tam-Tam, Glockenspiel; P2) Snare Drum, Suspended Cymbal, Bass Drum
Strings: Harp, Strings
No known errata.