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ClassicsOnline Home » Wind Band Music - TICHELI, F. / BASSETT, L. / BOLCOM, W. (Angels in the Architecture) (MTSU Wind Ensemble, Thomas)
Frank Ticheli’s award-winning Symphony No. 2 has been described as ‘uninhibited, high-flying and intensely rhythmic’ (South Florida Sun-Sentinel). Angels in the Architecture was inspired by the forms and ornamentation of the Sydney Opera House, contrasting divine light with turbulent darkness to pose the unanswered question of existence. Ticheli is joined by his two major influences in first recordings of Pulitzer Prize-winning Leslie Bassett’s terrific Nonet and the potent messages of 2007 Musical America Composer of the Year William Bolcom’s First Symphony for Band.
By Merlin Patterson
Angels in the Architecture: American Music for Wind Band
Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) • Leslie Bassett (b. 1923) • William Bolcom (b. 1938)
The CD title Angels in the Architecture spotlights one of Frank Ticheli’s most recent works, but also is indicative of the relationship he has with two of his major influences. Although the piece was originally inspired by the architecture of the Sydney Opera House, the inspirational relationship Frank Ticheli has with Leslie Bassett and William Bolcom is on full display on this recording.
Ticheli has quickly become a major champion of the wind band world and learning how his teachers helped him forge his unique compositional language is both interesting and insightful. When I first approached Frank about a CD featuring some of his compositions, I asked who he would most like to share time with on this recording. He immediately suggested his two Pulitzer Prize winning professors, Leslie Bassett and William Bolcom. He further suggested I inquire about the new symphony Bolcom had just finished. This idea was a very exciting proposal and I immediately set out to talk with both gentlemen and to choose music. I decided to choose pieces that had not been recorded, and Leslie Bassett was pleased with my suggestion for his Nonet. It is one of those terrific pieces that does not get much performance traction; hopefully this recording will help Nonet gather much deserved performance momentum. During my discussion with William Bolcom, it was determined that his First Symphony for Band would be the obvious choice, but I had to wait until the consortium date had passed before being allowed a glimpse at the score and parts. In early January 2010, a set arrived and I quickly decided to schedule a performance and recording session for later in the Spring semester of 2010.
This project has been an absolute joy for everyone involved and one can easily see how Frank was inspired through working with these two giants of the music world.
Conductor, MTSU Wind Ensemble
It’s not every day that a composer gets to have his music recorded side by side with that of his teachers. Leslie Bassett and William Bolcom are two of the most important influences in my professional life. I learned so much from them during my student days at the University of Michigan. I must admit that, even after all these years, it is still more than a little daunting to share a recording with these two great masters.
But it is also an honor. I can never fully repay Bill and Leslie for all they taught me, but I can honor their legacy by doing what they expect of all their former students—to continue to compose the very best music I can.
To Bill and Leslie, and to Reed Thomas and the Middle Tennessee State University Wind Ensemble, I express my deepest gratitude and affection. And to all, here’s to great music—and to great teachers.
Frank Ticheli’s music has been described as being “optimistic and thoughtful” (Los Angeles Times), “lean and muscular” (The New York Times), “brilliantly effective” (Miami Herald) and “powerful, deeply felt crafted with impressive flair and an ear for striking instrumental colors” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel). Ticheli (b. 1958) joined the faculty of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music in 1991, where he is Professor of Composition. From 1991 to 1998, Ticheli was Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony, and he still enjoys a close working relationship with that orchestra and their music director, Carl St. Clair.
Ticheli is well known for his works for concert band, many of which have become standards in the repertoire. In addition to composing, he has appeared as guest conductor of his music at Carnegie Hall, at many American universities and music festivals, and in cities throughout the world.
Symphony No. 2 won the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest. Ticheli’s other awards for his music include the Charles Ives and the Goddard Lieberson Awards, both from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Walter Beeler Memorial Prize, and First Prize awards in the Texas Sesquicentennial Orchestral Composition Competition, Britten-on-the-Bay Choral Composition Contest, and Virginia CBDNA Symposium for New Band Music. He is a national honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and he was named by the American School Band Directors Association as the 2009 recipient of the A. Austin Harding Award, bestowed to individuals “who have made exceptional contributions to the school band movement in America.”
Ticheli received his doctoral and masters degrees in composition from The University of Michigan. His works are published by Manhattan Beach, Southern, Hinshaw, and Encore Music, and are recorded on the labels of Albany, Chandos, Clarion, Klavier, Koch International, and Mark Records.
About Symphony No. 2, the composer writes the following:
“The three movements of Symphony No. 2 refer to celestial light—Shooting Stars, the Moon, and the Sun.
Although the title for the first movement, “Shooting Stars,” came after its completion, I was imagining such quick flashes of color throughout the creative process. White-note clusters are sprinkled everywhere, like streaks of bright light. High above, the Eb clarinet shouts out the main theme, while underneath, the low brasses punch out staccatissimo chords that intensify the dance-like energy. Fleeting events of many kinds are cut and pasted at unexpected moments, keeping the ear on its toes. The movement burns quickly, and ends explosively, scarcely leaving a trail.
The second movement, “Dreams Under a New Moon,” depicts a kind of journey of the soul as represented by a series of dreams. A bluesy clarinet melody is answered by a chant-like theme in muted trumpet and piccolo. Many dream episodes follow, ranging from the mysterious, to the dark, to the peaceful and healing. A sense of hope begins to assert itself as rising lines are passed from one instrument to another. Modulation after modulation occurs as the music lifts and searches for resolution. Near the end, the main theme returns in counterpoint with the chant, building to a majestic climax, then falling to a peaceful coda. The final B-flat major chord is colored by a questioning G-flat.
The finale, “Apollo Unleashed,” is perhaps the most wide-ranging movement of the symphony, and certainly the most difficult to convey in words. On the one hand, the image of Apollo, the powerful ancient god of the sun, inspired not only the movement’s title, but also its blazing energy. Bright sonorities, fast tempos, and galloping rhythms combine to give a sense of urgency that one often expects from a symphonic finale. On the other hand, its boisterous nature is also tempered and enriched by another, more sublime force; Bach’s Chorale BWV 433 (Wer Gott vertraut, hat wohl gebaut). This chorale—a favorite of the dedicatee, and one he himself arranged for chorus and band—serves as a kind of spiritual anchor, giving a soul to the gregarious foreground events. The chorale is in ternary form (ABA’). In the first half of the movement, the chorale’s A and B sections are stated nobly underneath faster paced music, while the final A section is saved for the climactic ending, sounding against a flurry of sixteenth-notes.
My Second Symphony is dedicated to James E. Croft upon his retirement as Director of Bands at Florida State University in 2003. It was commissioned by a consortium of his doctoral students, conducting students and friends as a gesture of thanks for all he has given to the profession.”
Angels in the Architecture was commissioned by Kingsway International, and received its premiere performance at the Sydney Opera House on 6 July 2008 by a massed band of young musicians from Australia and the United States. The work unfolds as a dramatic conflict between the two extremes of human existence—one divine, the other evil. Composer notes from the score state the following:
The work’s title is inspired by the Sydney Opera House itself, with its halo-shaped acoustical ornaments hanging directly above the performance stage. Angels in the Architecture begins with a single voice singing a nineteenth-century Shaker song:
I am an angel of Light
I have soared from above
I am cloth’d with Mother’s love.
I have come, I have come,
To protect my chosen band
And lead them to the promised land.
I am an angel of Light
I have soared from above
I am cloth’d with Mother’s love.
I have come, I have come,
To protect my chosen band
And lead them to the promised land.
This “angel”—represented by the singer—frames the work, surrounding it with a protective wall of light and establishing the divine. Other representations of light—played by instruments rather than sung—include a traditional Hebrew song of peace (“Hevenu Shalom Aleichem”) and the well-known sixteenth-century Genevan Psalter, “Old Hundredth.” These three borrowed songs, despite their varied religious origins, are meant to transcend any one religion, representing the more universal human ideals of peace, hope, and love. An original chorale, appearing twice in the work, represents my own personal expression of these aspirations.
In opposition, turbulent, fast-paced music appears as a symbol of darkness, death, and spiritual doubt. Twice during the musical drama, these shadows sneak in almost unnoticeably, slowly obscuring, and eventually obliterating the light altogether. The darkness prevails for long stretches of time, but the light always returns, inextinguishable, more powerful than before. The alternation of these opposing forces creates, in effect, a kind of five-part rondo form (light—darkness—light—darkness—light). Just as Charles Ives did more than a century ago, Angels in the Architecture poses the unanswered question of existence. It ends as it began: the angel reappears singing the same comforting words. But deep below, a final shadow reappears—distantly, ominously.
Leslie Bassett studied piano, trombone, cello and other instruments, then served as trombonist, composer and arranger with the 13th Armored Division Band in the United States and Europe during World War II. Graduate study at Michigan with Ross Lee Finney was followed by work in Paris as a Fulbright fellow with Arthur Honegger at the Ecole Normale de Musique and with Nadia Boulanger at her home. He later studied electronic music with Mario Davidovsky, and with the Spanish-British composer Roberto Gerhard.
Leslie Bassett received the 1966 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Variations for Orchestra, premiered in Rome in 1963 by the RAI Symphony Orchestra under Feruccio Scaglia, followed two years later by the Philadelphia Orchestra’s U.S. premiere under Eugene Ormandy. Variations, which represented the U.S. at the 1966 International Rostrum for Composers in Paris, has been widely performed. A recording by the Zurich Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Sternberg for Composers Recordings (CRI 677), was hailed by Saturday Review as one of music’s finest classical releases.
The University of Michigan’s Albert A. Stanley Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Music, Leslie Bassett was the 1984 Henry Russel Lecturer, the University’s highest faculty honor. He has received the Distinguished Artist Award from the State of Michigan, was named Distinguished Alumnus by his California alma mater, Fresno State, and by the University of Michigan School of Music. He was awarded the Major Composer Award and membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has twice been composer-in-residence at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. Boston held its “Leslie Bassett Week” in March 1990. Edition Peters publishes most of his music.
Commissioned by the Iota Chapter of Kappa Gamma Psi at Ithaca College, Nonet, subtitled Two Movements for Winds, Brass and Piano, was premiered on 16 April 1968, Gregg Smith conducting. The composer states: “The work is quite challenging with each instrument acting as an independent voice. There are many difficult rhythms throughout the piece along with an advanced harmonic language.”
Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, William Bolcom is a composer of cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas, symphonies, and much more. He was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Twelve New Etudes for piano. Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973-2008. Named a full professor in 1983, he was Chairman of the Composition Department from 1998 to 2003 and was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in the fall of 1994. He retired from teaching in 2008. Prior to 1973, he taught at the University of Washington, Queens Brooklyn Colleges of the City University of New York, and New York University’s Tisch College of the Arts. He maintains an active career as a piano soloist, accompanist (primarily with his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris), and composer. His recording credits are vast and he has written numerous books and articles on music and musicians. His list of awards, fellowships and grants is extensive and includes admittance to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Medal of Arts.
Born in Seattle in 1938, Bolcom’s early musical exposure to the wind ensemble as a vehicle for the performance of serious repertoire was limited, at best. A student of Darius Milhaud in his early adulthood, Bolcom took more interest in his teacher’s songs and chamber music than his foray into the band repertoire (the well-known Suite française). Indeed, as has been the case with many composers only familiar with the orchestral repertoire, Bolcom relates that his initial attitude towards the wind ensemble was quite jaded.
The composer writes of the work:
“Commissioned by the Big Ten Band Directors Foundation, and premiered by the University of Michigan Symphony Band under Michael Haithcock, my First Symphony for Band (2008) was originally planned to be my Ninth Symphony: I had decided to follow my friend John Corigliano’s example of calling his magnificent Circus Maximus for band Symphony No. 3. On reflection I realized that, since Beethoven and Mahler, ninth symphonies have been thought of as a composer’s last will and testament—a third symphony doesn’t have that stigma—and I’m not ready for that final word yet. Thus, this is a First Symphony for Band.
The First Symphony is by far the most ambitious piece in my very small catalogue for band. In form it relates most closely to my fifth and sixth symphonies for orchestra: as with them, it begins with a tight sonata movement followed by a scherzo, a slow movement, and a sort of rondo-finale. “Ô tempora ô mores”, a tragic and forceful protest, laments our dark time. “Scherzo tenebroso” is a cousin to the scherzi in my third, fifth and sixth symphonies, especially in the sardonic use of popular material in their trios; in this trio, as we hear the cornet playing a waltz, I envision a clown dancing. “Andantino pastorale” belies a seemingly simple tunefulness with its dark undercurrent. The image of a New Orleans funeral procession, followed by a joyous dancelike march back from the graveyard, gives the form of “Marches funéraires et dansantes”, and leaves us at long last with an atmosphere of exuberance and hope.”
Bolcom has elaborated on these notes, and suggests that the work as a whole was conceived as a political commentary. To paraphrase the composer: The first movement’s title, “Ô tempora ô mores”(“O the times! Oh the customs!”), is taken from a line in Cicero’s Fourth Oration Against Verres – a proclamation which decried the increasing autocracy and decreasing morality of the late Roman Republic. In this case, the aforementioned “dark times” of the first movement are a specific reference to the harsh and somewhat unenlightened political and social climate present in the United States in the better part of the first decade of this century. The second movement is similarly dark: a sort of dysfunctional waltz, as he suggests in the program notes. The third provides an apparent respite from this gloom—but an insidious undercurrent remains and reaches a climax in a jarring outburst towards the center of the movement. Finally, the fourth—perhaps the most programmatic—is inspired dramatically and structurally by a somewhat idiosyncratic funeral rite practiced in New Orleans. In that tradition, a traveling band would accompany the cortege to the graveyard, accompanying the precession with dark, mournful music. Yet upon the burial, the band would traditionally burst into a song of optimism and exuberance: music evocative of the ultimate catharsis provided by the ceremony. This rite is an appropriate analog for the compositional and dramatic aims of the fourth movement—Bolcom implies that its structure represents both a reflection on the “dark times” illustrated in the first movement, and an invitation to participate in a different type of catharsis: a recognition that such times have concluded (albeit incompletely), and a hope that such a climate will never return.
Oblique and direct references to the symphonic and band literature abound throughout the structure of the work; such varied stylistic references constitute an obvious celebration of the union of such immense (and until recently, it would seem, relatively incongruous) musical traditions, but also denote a hallmark of Bolcom’s compositional language: “polystylism.” In character, the first movement is (appropriately enough) something of a march; it provides both a parody of the boorish militarism the work castigates and an acerbic reference to a genre all-too-familiar to band musicians. Yet the movement is much more than a march: it is also cast in sonata form—a form that, for more than two centuries, has quintessentially defined symphonic first-movements.
The second movement is a scherzo, marked “tenebroso” (“shadowy”) by the composer; he indicates that it was partially inspired by the “Nachtmusik” movements of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. And as Mahler often did in his scherzi, Bolcom makes room for a tongue-in-cheek reference to his musical vernacular: in this case, a cornet solo reminiscent of those of the famed Herbert L Clark, principal cornettist of the Sousa Band (whom the composer witnessed perform in person as a child).
The third movement—the slow movement of the bunch—is seemingly innocent at the outset; a huge central outburst serves both as a reminder that the aggressive pessimism of the first movement has yet to be addressed, and as an allusion to Haydn’s symphonic oeuvre: the slow movements of Hob 1/88 and Hob 1/103 are the more famous examples of the many of his symphonic movements to possess such volcanism.
“Marches funéraires et dansantes”—the final, concluding movement—brings the work to a dramatic close and is demarcated by a form that is, in the context of the symphony as a whole, geographically quite appropriate; it is a rondo, like that to be found at the close of so many works in symphonic canon.
The numerous formal and stylistic allusions to divergent musical sources that seem to define the language of this piece (and, to a certain extent, the language of Bolcom’s oeuvre in general) are extremely significant: for through them, the composer pays tribute to both the western symphonic tradition and to the history of the wind ensemble itself.
Program notes compiled by Reed Thomas
Special thanks to Matthew Forte for his contributions to the Bolcom liner notes.
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