Projects

American Tapestry

From shape-note singing to Aaron Copland, blues to bluegrass, and Lindy Hop to hip-hop, Fireworks weaves together a rich tapestry of American music.

“The group took the audience on a journey across America, traversing time and space to give us musical vignettes that showed the many similarities of seemingly disparate styles… Ensemble members demonstrated their ability to play in various styles with attention to detail and great authenticity, virtuosity, and style.”  — Abel Searor, The Syracuse Post-Standard

Watch
Listen
  1. Rumble Leonard Bernstein; Fireworks Ensemble 1:00
  2. Bluegrass Breakdown Bill Monroe; Fireworks Ensemble 1:01
  3. Shenandoah Traditional; Fireworks Ensemble 1:01

American music is a story of different traditions and cultures colliding and influencing one another: native American tunes emerge in American folk songs, folk melodies surface in the classical concert music of Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, fiddle tunes of European immigrants find a new voice in bluegrass and Cajun music, and classical music and jazz wind their way into the urban dance music of techno and hip hop. American Tapestry celebrates the diversity of American music and reveals the threads that weave it together.


Cartoon

A celebration of the golden age of animation and the music it inspired.

“A program proving that beloved cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner have provided more than laughs. Where else could one have heard such richly varied and perfectly executed scores where bits of classical, opera, jazz, folk, and schmaltz combined with such telling effects? ‘Cartoon’ was serious fun of the highest — and funniest — order.” — Chuck Berg, Topeka Capital-Journal

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Listen
  1. Cartoon (Live) Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble
  2. There They Go-Go-GO! (Live) Carl Stalling; Fireworks Ensemble
  3. Powerhouse (Live) Raymond Scott; Fireworks Ensemble

The scores created for the animation shorts of the MGM and Warner Bros. studios in the 1940s and 50s were some of the most interesting and vibrant music of its time. Characterized by clever quotation and quick cuts between far-ranging styles, these “cartoon” scores foreshadowed the techniques of avant-garde composers decades later. From the breakneck jazz of Raymond Scott and the ingenious scores of Carl Stalling, Scott Bradley, and Milt Franklyn to contemporary works by John Adams and John Zorn, Cartoon shows how the legacy of Bugs and Daffy lives on not only in childhood memories but in the music of today.


Dance Mix

Fireworks frolics, waltzes, swings, bounces, and rocks through of seven hundred years of dance music from around the world.

“Playing everything from electric guitars to an orange kazoo, they romped through Norwegian folk songs, a Bollywood film score, some baroque dance music, and a Duke Ellington classic, even taking a stab at the dance club electronica of Aphex Twin—cleverly reverse-engineered for acoustic instruments. It was as fresh and fun as it sounds.” — Stephen Brookes, The Washington Post

Watch
Listen
  1. Libertango (Live) Astor Piazzola; Fireworks Ensemble
  2. Gavotte Jean-Baptiste Lully; Fireworks Ensemble
  3. Analogue Bubblebath AFX; Fireworks Ensemble

Dance Mix is a grand tour of dance traditions across the centuries and around the world. The “madly eclectic” program encompasses the sounds of peasant lutes and viols, opulent Baroque courtly dances, gentile Classical minuets, boisterous Viennese polkas, big band swing, thumping techno, euphoric African rhythms, sultry Argentine tangos, ecstatic gypsy fiddles, and Caribbean steel drums (to name a few)—all arranged for Fireworks’ genre-crossing instrumentation.


None of the Above

The audacious, ground-breaking chamber music of American iconoclast Frank Zappa.

“The pieces are fiendishly difficult to execute, with lots of surface complexity to dazzle the ear… Brian Coughlin, Fireworks’ director and bass player, produced some hell-for-leather arrangements that the players, relaxed and grooving, played the heck out of, down to show-stopping solos in ‘The Purple Lagoon/Approximate’.” — Anne Midgette, The New York Times

Watch
Listen
  1. G-Spot Tornado Frank Zappa; Fireworks Ensemble
  2. Sofa Frank Zappa; Fireworks Ensemble
  3. Drowning Witch Frank Zappa; Fireworks Ensemble

Frank Zappa’s works for instrumental ensemble balanced mind-boggling complexity with pop vitality, proving that the rock band could be a vehicle for both visceral expression and serious composition. Jazz? Rock? Classical? Zappa’s music blurred the lines between these styles, transcending categories to remain defiantly “None of the Above.” In collaboration with the Zappa Family Trust, Fireworks director Brian Coughlin created new arrangements of works left unperformed at the time of Zappa’s untimely death along with favorites such as Big Swifty, Drowning Witch, The Black Page, and King Kong.


Play

A fresh take on the classical concerto grosso for improvising chamber ensemble and orchestra.

“Plaudits for venturing into the musical unknown… The work pushed the players to achieve a jazz sensibility and a bit of a rock groove as they alternated with the amplified six-member Fireworks Ensemble… melodies, motif development, the colors, the drive, solid harmonies, and the orchestration were all first-rate.” — Geraldine Freedman, The Schenectady Daily Gazette

Watch
Listen
  1. Music for Children (Live Excerpts) Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble, ESYO, Helen Cha-Pyo 1:00
  2. Changing Voices (Live Excerpts) Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble, ESYO, Helen Cha-Pyo 1:00
  3. Fugue-Passacaglia-Rondo (Live Excerpts) Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble, ESYO, Helen Cha-Pyo 1:00

Play pits the six soloists of Fireworks against a symphony orchestra. Over the course of the three-movement work, a single melodic theme embarks on a voyage through a wide variety of styles and contexts including jazz, rock, funk, minimalism, and a Beethoven-esque scherzo, each serving as a framework for improvisation.


Pyrotechnics

Fireworks’ project to commission new music and perform masterworks from the last fifty years.

“Winning acclaim from critics and fans around the country, Fireworks has become one of the most exciting bands in postclassical music… The group (which might be mistaken for an alt rock band if you spotted them on the street) can handle a wide variety of repertoire. Anyone who likes classical and edgy contemporary music should catch this [ensemble] and see firsthand evidence that postclassical music is alive and rocking.” — Brett Campbell, Eugene Weekly

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Listen
  1. Beside a Pool David Del Tredici; Courtenay Budd, Fireworks Ensemble, Steven Mercurio 1:00
  2. Mixed Messages David Kechley; Fireworks Ensemble 1:00
  3. Sextet Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble 1:00

Fireworks’ Pyrotechnics project includes music as far ranging as Morton Feldman’s Projections, Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas, and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music along with dozens of commissioned works by both emerging composers and established masters—such as Glenn Branca, Scott Johnson, and David Del Tredici.


Requiem

A bold new interpretation of the traditional mass for the dead for amplified chamber ensemble and chorus.

“Gregorian chant meets indie rock combined with the lush choral sounds of Arvo Pärt and Carl Orff to create an original sound world that bridges the old and the new.” – Torrington Register Citizen

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Listen
  1. Dies Irae Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble 1:00
  2. Lux Aeterna Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble 1:00
  3. Lacrimosa Brian Coughlin; Fireworks Ensemble 1:00

Brian Coughlin’s eclectic take on the Requiem mass pairs a chorus with amplified instruments while juxtaposing ancient Latin texts with rock-style settings of original poetry. The hour-long work offers a fresh perspective on themes of loss, sacrifice, and the fragility of the human experience, transforming the lament for the dead into a celebration of life, renewal, and hope.


The Rite of Spring

Fireworks’ rock-inspired chamber version of Stravinsky’s orchestral masterpiece.

“This simply has to be heard to be believed; the music sounds completely contemporary in this orchestration and one hears things one never has before. It’s a gamble that triumphs.” — Robert Carl, Fanfare Magazine

Watch
Listen
  1. Introduction (The Adoration of the Earth) Igor Stravinsky; Fireworks Ensemble
  2. The Augurs of Spring Igor Stravinsky; Fireworks Ensemble
  3. Spring Rounds Igor Stravinsky; Fireworks Ensemble

Brian Coughlin’s arrangement for an eight-player chamber ensemble featuring electric guitar became the ensemble’s calling card in its early years. Fireworks often presented the piece as part of a larger program called Classical Covers, which featured reinventions of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Perotin’s Sederunt, Bach’s The Art of the Fugue, and Mauricio Kagel’s postmodern mashup Ludwig van.