The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Gary Daverne, Composer
Accordion Concert Music
total time: 71:27
label: BMG New Zealand
with accordion performances by Harley Jones, Stephanie Grey,
Maurice Jones, Lionel Reekie, Sarah Langley, and the Air NZ Accordion Orchestra
(All compositions by Gary Daverne)
Review by Joseph Natoli:
Composition and sustained creativity are two very tall orders for anyone to fill. As a composer, I can appreciate the difficulty in maintaining an entire CD's worth of innovative material. The CD discussed in this review, Accordion Concert Music, with music composed, arranged, and produced by Gary Daverne is just such a Herculean undertaking. Gary Daverne is to be highly commended for being dedicated enough to the accordion to want to compose an entire 72 minutes worth of original compositions for every possible accordion combination including solo, duets, ensembles, and accordion orchestra. We certainly need more composers with that type of dedication to the instrument. Which is why I was so anxious to review this CD when given the choice, because it centers around two of my favorite activities—accordion and composition. Also, having been a professional copyist and now a music publisher, I truly understand the huge amount of physical effort that goes into simply writing the thousands of notes down on paper, getting them copied into legible manuscript, getting all the parts copied, and finally rehearsing so that mistakes can be uncovered, corrected, and corrections re-copied into legible manuscript once again. Anyone doing the math can pretty quickly understand the huge amount of hours Mr. Daverne and his performers have invested into the production of this musical undertaking. Furthermore, Gary Daverne as producer of this recording has met yet another huge challenge, when one considers the countless hours of scheduling, rehearsal, recording, mixdown, CD jacket and liner notes creation and layout, and final cut approval that he must have spent to get this project off the ground. Aside from all this physical sweat, it's probably not too far-fetched to guess that there is some personal capital invested in this project as well, which means this had to be a veritable "labor of love" for Mr. Daverne.
Therefore, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Gary Daverne's intentions with this CD project. But I also have ambivalent feelings, because unfortunately the noble Thomas Edison adage that states "genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration", does not carry over too well from the world of inventing to the world of musical composition. Perspiration and effort are obviously important ingredients in the creative process, but without a healthy amount of inspiration, a composer tends to leave his/her audience feeling unfulfilled and unfortunately imbues the listening process instead with 99% perspiration. Such was the case with Accordion Concert Music.
First impressions are usually those that stay with me, but first impressions did not last long as I worked my way through the tracks of Gary Davern's oeuvre. The first track (A Pocket Overture), immediately captivated me. It had an abundance of color, creative ideas, some unspectacular albeit good playing, and relatively good recording engineering. This was definitely a worthwhile four-minute listening experience. The second track (Caprice) for accordion orchestra, was a little less innovative, but had some good moments of memorable melody, idiomatic accordion writing, and in spite of its pretentious and overblown ending, tended to also be a worthwhile addition to this genre of accordion literature. My heart began to sink however, when I started noticing some verbatim rhythmic and motivic redundancies from the first track, as well as the cliché chord changes and the final smeared glissandi at the end of Caprice. A sneaking suspicion came over me that I was going to hear a lot more of the same for the rest of the CD, and my worst fears were realized. Therefore my first impressions from tracks 1 and 2 waned very quickly from this point, as each piece tended to use the same gimmicks and ideas over and over again. The irony is that A Pocket Overture was supposed to be strung together as a kind of mosaic with "snippets of the melodies and rhythms from the composer's other compositions." One would expect this type of piece therefore to be less cohesive and more of a potpourri of disparate ideas. However, this turned out to be the most cohesive and well-developed piece on the entire CD, with the rest of the compositions sounding as though they were borrowing ideas and snippets from this first cut in a very haphazard and disorganized way.
I found myself begging to hear something new in each successive composition, but it quickly became a challenge instead to count how many occurrences of the same motivic elements I could find repeated on each track. Therefore, let me take a few minutes to recount some of them. First, there is the recurring rhythmic pattern (staccato dotted quarter, another dotted quarter, then a quarter) lasting usually for 7 measures of an 8-measure phrase, followed by a descending (and occasionally ascending) scalar 16th-note run in measure 8 of the phrase. A perfect example of this motif occurs in Caprice where bars 9-16 of the first 16-bar melody use this technique. But this same motivic idea appears incessantly in 75% of the pieces on the CD (sometimes exactly, sometimes slightly permutated). For example, here is what I noticed with some casual observation.
I think you all get the idea. Secondly, there is the recurring "big finish" classical type ending that has been around for the last 200 years. Gary uses this type of ending like most people use periods at the end of a sentence and one feels that he cannot complete a compositional thought without it. This ending occurs on track numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 9. Then there is the use of cliché chordal patterns that are very frequently used by pop artist and commercial song-writers for easy listening music. For example:
Of course there is an accompanying extremely frequent use of gushing major 7th chords throughout. In fact, as I kept listening to this music, this whimsical image of a much younger Gary Daverne in the 1970s kept coming to me, with long hair, headband, beads, tie-dyed shirt, and bell-bottom jeans listening to Chicago's Colour My World where rock and pop music discovered for the first time that major 7th chords actually existed and felt that this song was one of the most influential compositions ever written. Interesting image I concocted because I later read in the liner notes that Gary's younger days found him playing saxophone in a New Zealand rock group in the early 60s.
The reader should not assume that by pointing out these very recognizable idiosyncrasies of Mr. Daverne's compositional style that I am in any way a musical bigot and close-minded to music of all types. Indeed, I appreciate, compose, and perform music of all styles including rock, country, new age, classical, avant garde, and everything in between. My issue with this CD is the repetitious use of the same elements of composition with only occasional attempts at innovative digression. The CD liner notes indicate that Gary is "highly regarded in the advertising and film industry for his writing and production of advertising jingles and film sound tracks." Granted composers in this genre learn to rely on an economy of ideas to get their jingles and soundtracks out in the quickest amount of time possible because of the very demanding time constraints in the production process. However, carrying this compositional approach over to a project that is entitled Accordion Concert Music is inappropriate at best. John Williams who is one of America's greatest film composers, also uses recurring themes and repetitious elements in his own film scores (a good example is the music to his film "Jaws"), but when he composes serious art music, he puts these notions aside and spends time developing serious ideas with real direction and imagination. It may seem somewhat unfair to compare Gary Daverne to the likes of John Williams, but since Mr. Daverne has been trained in composition and conducting in London, one would think that this comparison is not too unreasonable and that these credentials should enable one to set an expectation for a final product that is greater that what is actually delivered and that which is implied by the title.
But enough about the compositional aspect of this recording. What about the performances? It is probably safe to say that any of you who would be listening to this recording would be equally irritated as I was to find that the only age listed for any of the performers was for Harley Jones (who just happens to be my age—about 44). But since there were such a large variety of accordionists on this CD, it would have been nice to put these performances in their proper perspective based on the ages of some of the participants. For example, I am guessing that some of the instrumentalists were approximately 13-14 years old, but have no way of knowing that for certain and therefore cannot appropriately critique their performances. One gets the sense that this team of accordionists really enjoys making music however, even when it's not high art music and that this is as much a labor of love for them as it is for the composer.
Oddly enough, the unusual and enigmatic little Valse Musette is one piece where I enjoyed the composition but not the performance. I have heard a lot about the performer on this track, Lionel Reekie, but was very disappointed to hear frequent bellows breaks, strained trills, amateurish arpreggios, as well as ill-shaped and abrupt phrasing. Also, in spite of the fact that none of these compositions is beyond a medium difficulty level, Harley Jones stands out as the performer most capable of rendering a very sensitive and controlled performance. Harley's bellows phrasing, technique, and overall interpretive capabilities are very respectable. The one problem that taints his performance (especially in track #6, Introduction and Toccata), is a less than professional editing job where the various recording "takes" of individual sections are noticeably pieced together in the editing process. Also, my hat goes off to the individuals who participated in the Air NZ Accordion Orchestra performances. Despite what I am assuming are widely disparate age ranges of the orchestral performers, they were still able to achieve very homogenous and quite enjoyable performances in track numbers 1, 2, and 13.
Finally, track 14 (Event! ) and track 15 (Auckland City of Sails) are where Gary Daverne finally "lets his hair down" and really exposes this CD for what it really is—commercial easy listening music. In fact, these pieces sound very much like the other tracks on the CD, except with drums, bass, electric guitar, synths, and sax added. My biggest complaint on these last two tracks is the horrible quality of the background recordings. They sound as though they were done on an analog 4-track device then downloaded en-masse to one track in the studio where the accordion recorded on top of that mix. The accordion sounds great, but the rest of the instruments are very cheesy and cheap sounding.
It is tough to say whether or not this CD should be recommended for fellow accordionists out there. Everyone has such widely differing criteria and expectations that tends to please or displease them on any particular recording. Again, it would seem that the "expectation" that Gary Daverne sets for the listener by titling this CD Accordion Concert Music is one of difficult, interesting, and complex high art music. Based on this review, you have probably deduced by now that something quite different is being offered. It is simple, entertaining, easy-listening music that does not take a tremendous amount of involvement or effort from the listener. If that is what satisfies your musical tastes, then this CD is for you. However, those who are looking for something a little more involved and innovative, my guess is that after the first track, you will feel as though you have already heard the other fourteen.
Reply from the composer
GARY DAVERNE O.N.Z.M.
48 Shelly Beach Road, Herne Bay, Auckland 1002, New Zealand.
Telephone - Fax : 64 - 9 - 378 6932
12 May 1998
The Free Reed Review
I have recently read your review on my Accordion Concert Music CD.
Firstly I must say how privileged I feel that someone would make the effort and take the time to review at length and in detail, music that I have written and recorded. I thank you. I like to know how other people see my music.
I can not believe that you wrote such and in depth review to "warn the world' about this CD.
Many of your comments I agree whole-heartedly with, and I respect and appreciate your observations and analysis.
I feel that you perhaps need to understand as to where I was coming from when these works were composed. They were all written over a period of about five years and towards the end of many years of jingles, TV and film soundtrack writing. Some 600+.
I am totally aware of what and how I write. I believe that when you have a good idea, that works, exploit it. Many times I have heard accordionists say "Gary's music can be difficult, but learn to play that run and get that rhythm worked out and you can play any of his accordion music." Now can that be bad? My accordion music is popular with performers and soloists and regularly performed. I name many famous composers, as I am sure you can, who have their own recognisable 'motifs'. I have mine. You want to look at my jingles and orchestral music, not to mention the many children's songs and operettas. They all have their own little characteristics or personalities.
I am a commercial writer and I make no excuses or apologies for this. I write music that people want to hear and play. I feel there is little point in writing music that will sit on the self and never be performed. I did all that in my university years. I have a heap of music that no one wants to hear or perform and probably never will. Then I got smart.
I have made a lot of money, and still do from my music. My music is regularly performed all around the world, in concert, on the radio, film and television. Rhapsody for Accordion and Orchestra has had in excess of 300 performances, worldwide, been recorded for CD on six occasions that I am aware of and published for accordions, symphony orchestra and wind band. Most of my music is published in Holland and Germany. My accordion music is published in New York. I must say that I do like receiving the regular royalty cheques.
You pointed out the time and effort that goes into composing music. There has to be a reason and for me give that time to composition and that is the performance. With or without monetary return. The only reason that I write or arrange music, is if some one pays me or there will be a performance at the end of it.
If I feel like being creative, I sit at the piano and play.
I also have my own 80+ member symphony orchestra (Auckland Symphony Orchestra), for some 23 years now. We perform regular concerts to capacity audiences of around 2000 people. Once again, I programme music that the listening public want to hear. I introduce them to new works of course, including my own, but my main philosophy is that music should be fun and enjoyed. I am not there to educate the masses.
Once again I make no apologies for my attitude. I am successful, musically, in all ways, as a composer, arranger, conductor, and record producer. I have made a lot of money with my music, travelled the world extensively, conducted my own compositions and arrangements, with some of the world's top orchestras in some of the world's leading concert halls.
In retrospect, I would not have changed any of my musical life. Music has been and still is, very kind to me. Maybe next year I could go back to writing more adventuresome, creative music, but I certainly will not expect people to listen, enjoy, play, even understand or buy any of it. It would be great if they did but I feel that it can not be an expectation.
I sensed that you did not like the title to the album. To be honest, I had long thoughts myself. Originally it was to be called Caprice. Perhaps the title is misleading, but then what how would you describe it. All the music on it is played at concerts, competitions, performance afternoons etc. The music is not folk, jazz, pop, dance, restaurant, light, classical, modern.............
Anyhow, I wanted to make contact with you, to say thank you for taking the time to write a review and to encourage you to continue. I believe every one is entitled to voice their opinion.
With kind regards.
Date: Tue, 2 Jun 1998 18:59:01 +1200
From: GHIA Masefieild—
Subject: Re: Review on my Accordion Concert Music CD
Thanks for the copy of your letter. i think that you are only encouraging them. it sounded to me like they were making lots of cheap shots at you
Great to know that you are on email.
I think it's a fine CD. It's certainly not all "concert" music, but who cares? The music is well written and well played. Maybe it's not your cup of tea, but we can't please everybody all the time!—Henry Doktorski
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