Premiering “fourth stream . . . La Banda” at Temple University

Temple University's Terell Stafford and the Temple Symphony perform Bill Cunliffe's "fourth stream . . . La Banda"

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Philadelphia, visiting friends at Temple University,where I taught for three years. I really loved Temple, but the chance to live full-time in So Cal again was pretty irresistible, so I took a job at Cal State Fullerton in 2007.

I’ve remained close to folks back in Philly, and they asked me to write a piece for my favorite trumpet player, the great Terell Stafford, who is head of jazz studies at Temple.

I called it “fourth stream . . . La Banda” because Gunther Schuller called the mix of jazz and classical music the “third stream.” My piece combined those two with Latin music, hence, “fourth stream.” “La Banda” because it’s kind of, at times, a battle between the Latin jazz percussion section and the orchestra. The Latin band wins out.

Luis Biava and the Temple Symphony premiered the piece at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, the place where the Philadelphia Orchestra performs. Biava, for many years, was the guest resident conductor there and he was totally up to the task of conducting this score.

With that score, I tried to show a wide range of orchestral colors. Some of its tempo and time changes took everyone a little time to get used to, but once they did, the piece took off.

When we read the piece down a few weeks ago in Philly, Terell mentioned that he didn’t feel the ending was “big” enough. He thought I ought to give the Latin percussion more to do, especially near the end.

Maestro Biava thought the piece was a little long, as well. So I shortened a few sections and rewrote the ending, having the percussion go into a double-time mambo while the orchestra is still playing a slower 12/8 Afro-Cuban groove.

Boy, was that the ticket. The piece just went into overdrive, and the finale was spectacular – standing ovation and all. I know that’s not all the composer’s doing … if you end loud and don’t lose the audience during the piece, they will love it.

But the lyrical moments of the piece came through beautifully, and the avant-garde opening, with the woodwinds playing random rhythms on top of a double bass and tympani drone, was very effective.

I have to say that sitting in the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of my favorite musical aggregations of all time (you could get all their mid-Sixties Columbia LP’s at a good price when I was a kid!) and hearing a hundred talented musicians playing my music was one of my all time musical experiences.

I’m very grateful. I was sitting next to Chris Brubeck (of that Brubeck), who wrote a lovely piece accompanying Ansel Adams portraits projected on huge screens above the audience, and we gave each other hearty thumbs up.

The best thing is, I get to do it all over again. They’re playing the piece on April 9 at New York’s Lincoln Center Alice Tully Hall. And they’ll play it even better.


1 Comment

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One response to “Premiering “fourth stream . . . La Banda” at Temple University

  1. A big fan

    Any live recordings of this piece I can check out?

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