Nigel Hess: East Coast Pictures

Context

Commissioned in 2000 by the British Youth Wind Orchestra, Nigel Hess’ East Coast Pictures has quickly become a wind orchestra staple. Set into three short movements, or ‘pictures’, the movements were inspired by Hess’ several visits to a small part of the American East Coast. Full of a wide range of landscapes and people, Hess uses the rich cultures of the East Coast to inspire his East Coast Pictures. 

 

The Music
Movement I – Shelter Island

“Shelter Island is a small island situated near the end of Long Island, a few hours drive east of New York. In the summer it becomes a crowded tourist trap; but in the winter it is gloriously deserted and bravely faces the onslaught of the turbulent Atlantic, shrouded in sea mists and driving rain. This ‘picture’ is a fond memory of a winter weekend on Shelter Island.”

 

Opening with whirling flutes, perhaps representing the winter winds, the warm flow of the ensemble radiates out as new sections join in. The lower brass add a neat foundation for the jumping winds to sit on top of. A trumpet solo sings out, accompanied by swirling winds underneath. There is an air of nostalgia in this movement, honing in on the fact that it’s based on a memory.

The glistening tuned percussion adds a special sparkle to the music throughout, adding to the veils of positivity in the music. An intimate oboe solos leads to the main theme, which is also used in later movements. Cascading scales and jaunty melody lines begin to build intensity for the oboe to take over the original trumpet solo melody. 

As this solo grows in dynamic, the ensemble follow, leading to a grand climax made even greater by the epic percussion. Cymbal crashes and side drum hits add to the intensity as the bold trumpets sing out their fanfare. The ending is emotionally driven and after the big climax quickly dies away for the quiet ending. 

 

Movement II – The Catskills

“In upstate New York lie the Catskills Mountains – an extraordinary combination of tranquility and power, peace and majesty. Once seen, they call you back again and again.”

 

The sensitive opening to the second movement is greeted by a delicate trumpet solo. Hess’ use of the trumpet as the main soloist is synonymous with the idea that this movement represents the majesty and power of the mountains. The trumpet is known for being these things, and so hearing it in a more delicate character is really quite moving. 

The flute and trombone also take over the solo at points in this movement, however the solo trumpet is central to the whole movement. The slow-moving melody is often accompanied by warm brass chorales, which just adds to tranquility that Hess is trying to achieve with this movement. After a build up in textures to create the final climax, The Catskills comes to a majestic close. 

 

Movement III – New York

“New York – or to be more precise, Manhattan. For anyone who is familiar with this bizarre and wonderful city, here is a ‘picture’ that needs no explanation. For those not yet hooked, this is a forestate of things to come!”

 

Completely different in character, New York bursts into action from the first beat. The fast pace of this city certainly comes across from the bold opening. The main melody is taken from the first movement, but now it is taken by the horns and developed further. 

Hess’ use of the brass and extensive percussion adds to the sheer excitement of this movement. The quirky sections are often intricate and lead into big unison sections that show the ensemble working as on united front. 

As Hess uses a wide-range of instruments in this movement to show his cosmopolitan approach to representing Manhattan within the music. The hustle and bustle of the percussion adds to the excitement of the music and as the ensemble unites for the end of the piece, Hess’ music is practically fizzing off the page. 

 

Final Thoughts

Representing three very different parts of the American East Coast, Nigel Hess’ illustrative East Coast Pictures for wind orchestra is one of his most-loved works in the repertoire. The work has been arranged for brass band, which is also popular in many band rooms. 

 

Happy Reading!

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