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Let the music speak for itself!
Commissioned for the 2017 European Brass Band Championships by Vlamo, the Flemish Association for Music, Bands and Musicians, Where Angels Fly is inscribed 'In loving memory of Jesse Lefebvre (02/06/2007 - 24/02/2015)', the son of his best friend that suddenly died.
The composer describes his virtuoso work as 'very technical and powerful, with a rather fragile and soft introduction'. The main theme of the work is derived from ‘La Prière’ (Le Retour aux Pays) by the 'Father of Belgian wind music' Paul Gilson (1865-1942). The ‘La Prière’ chorale is heard just once at the close of Where Angels Fly, orchestrated as a grand tutti. As a respectful nod to his teacher Jan Van der Roost, Kevin Houben (born 1977) has used elements of ‘La Prière’ as accompaniment textures, mirroring a feature of Jan Van der Roost's From Ancient Times, which was the set test in 2009, when the EBBC was last held in Oostende.
Kevin studied at the renowned Lemmensinstituut with Léon Pétré, Jan Van der Roost and Edmond Saveniers and continues to conduct several wind orchestras and orchestras. He has won a prestigious BUMA Brass award and was the EBBA Composer Competition winner back in 2006 with Arcana (2004). His work Lake of the Moon (2009) has been used as a test-piece throughout the brass band world. He also works extensively as a conductor and has taken two of his wind bands to prize- winning places at the World Music Contest in Kerkrade in recent years. In July 2016 he won the Certamen Internacional de Bandas de Música “Ciudad de Valencia”, Sección segunda, with the Windband ‘Koninklijke Harmonie van Peer’. Since the 2016 edition of Belgium's Tomorrowland Festival, Kevin Houben has worked with the Belgium National Symphonic Orchestra as an arranger and orchestrator of dance tracks, orchestrating the special composed Hymne by Hans Zimmer for this event.
Looking forward to this weekend?
Yes, very much. It is a busy time at the moment, but I am not complaining of course. Since August 2016 I am full time working. And now dealing with a deadline. I am working on a 4 minutes-composition which has to be delivered before the 1st of May. And I just finished one minute … (I'm afraid that I will not make this deadline ...)
What have you been doing these last 9 months on a non stop basis?
I have written a composition of 20 minutes for a fanfare that participates in the World Music Contest in Kerkrade in July, a symphony of 40 minutes for the National Orchestra of Belgium, a 15 minutes piece for an orchestra in Amsterdam and the one I am working on at the moment. It is for a ceremonial concert, so relaxation music in a way.
How can you write relaxation music when you are working under (time) pressure?
I am able to bring myself into some sort of composing rust. I escape from ‘the normal world’ and can concentrate completely on composing.
Are you composing from the head of the heart?
Both. I have earned several ‘head technics’ from my teacher Jan Van der Roost. And learned how to analyse great pieces of music. In fact that is my way of composing also. I start looking for cells and with these cells I build a theme. And then the heart comes into it. If I don’t have passion for the theme that I wrote I will simply not use it. The head has to make an immediate connection with the heart. If I aprove the theme I start making lines, long lines. You know, I am a big fan of Bach and his Matthäus, a piece that goes on and on. And in those long long lines I try to find a connection that holds the music together.
This connecting inspirational factor in Where Eagles Fly did you get from your name, by using a musical code: H (B) - B(Bb) - E - (N). With a purpose?
Well, I am now 39 years old. Been working for 16 years on all sorts of composition. Getting quite a lot of commissions. Winning prizes with my compositions. And my music is played on a very regular basis. I think it is time for me to say that I am doing a good job as a composer. And it is time to reveal myself. In Belgium we say “If you want to be seen, you have to stand in the light’. And that is what I did.
Your teacher and Belgian European Contest piece predecessor (2009) Jan Van der Roost wrote a brass bestseller: From Ancient Times. Are you going to equalize this?
Jan is a fantastic composer. He knows like no other how to compose in the present time spirit – as he did this fabulously in 2009. This is what I tried with my composition. I wanted to make it very impressed but again very playable. I intentionally did not deviate from the brass band standards and did not request any extreme percussion. Actually, the piece is written in the standard brass sound idiom. I however asked for extremes. The pieces begins very quiet – bands can immediately differentiate themselves.
I really love the musical aspect in a composition. From that thought I wrote my cadenza. It is not written as “ erm … shall I put a solo here or there … “. Like the beginning with the horn: it is not written because of it, but because it came from the music. As a listener – at least I hope – you should feel it as a natural flow, not something unnatural in a musical way. Afterwards you think “ah, that was a solo.” My soloists are standing in or in front of the band. This is of course a show effect but also allows the soloist to be a soloist. The solo for the principal cornet is a very tricky one. For those who are challenged by it, they can have a great evening or die a slow death at the podium. Although I think we only see the best cornet players on stage this weekend.
Do you still have unfulfilled wishes for the future as a composer?
I focus on writing symphonies and film music. That is really triggering me at the moment. And I need to do new things, having new focuses. It would be nice if I could pass on the recognition that I already received towards my symphonies and film music to be written in the future. And of course the wish that bands and orchestra’s keep on playing my compositions, also Where Angels Fly.
And as a person?
I consider myself as being very happy. Gosh, as a person. Nobody asked me that before … I think that my biggest challenge is to find an even better balance than I have at the moment. We have two little kids and recently been rebuilding the house. Hectic times. Besides all of that you have to prepare diner and mow the lawn. And I really need those ‘normal’ daily things too. Like my teaching and working with students. I need to be among people. I cannot live like a hermit – I need the change. And because I am conducting, I am a better composer. I am confronted with things in compositions that work or don’t work. And I learn from my musicians what they like to play and use this information.
In your piece you bring an ode to Jan Van der Roost
Yes, I have used the same technique from From Ancient Times in my composition. I’ve asked the percussionist to stand on a little stool so he can vertically strike down onto the flat top of the tubular bell. And use xylophone sticks to create the old clock sound.
Did Jan listen to your composition?
Certainly. He and I went through the whole piece. A few passages were too loud and too agressive. We have solved this by accompanying it with a different type of percussion. Jan said very diplomatically about my composition: "It could definitely become a hit. Everything is in it what makes it a good piece. But then you'll have to wait for it to be played afterwards."
The piece is dedicated in loving memory of Jesse Levebre, son of your best friend
Yes, it was not meant to be named so extensively. When it happened, very suddenly and horribly, I was it the middle of composing my piece. I wanted to compose a lullaby. It became my lullaby for Jesse. It was my way of giving support to my best friend and wife.
Who is your winner? Will it be the same as the jury?
Usually my favorite is very close to that of the jury, actually always in the jury top 3. For me, an execution of a (test) piece must have a musical tension – I have to hear, feel, experience a musical story. It doesnt matter at what level a band is playing, the music must speak for itself.