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ClassicsOnline Home » Wind Band Music - THOMAS, M.T. / STRAVINSKY, I. / COPLAND, A. / VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R. (Street Song) (University of Georgia Wind Ensemble, Lynch)
The expressive range and versatility of the wind ensemble is exemplified in this program from one of the world’s leading ensembles of its kind, which presents classics of the genre alongside new works. Wayne Oquin’s Tower Ascending pulsates with urban power whilst Richard Lorenz explores a web of Latin American music. Michael Tilson Thomas distils old and new perspectives and James Mobberely offers affecting Words of Love. We also hear Copland’s indelible Fanfare for the Common Man, Vaughan Williams’s intricate Toccata Marziale and Stravinsky’s brilliantly virtuosic Concerto.
Wind Band Today
Music for Wind Band
Wayne Oquin (b. 1977): Tower Ascending
Wayne Oquin’s music has been performed on three continents. His original compositions have been given premières in London, Paris, Prague, Moscow, Toronto, Tokyo, Vienna, Warsaw, and throughout the United States. A native of Houston, Texas, Oquin has composed for the King’s Singers, the New York Concert Singers, the Juilliard Symphony, and the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble. His Ave Maria for SATB chorus is published by Boosey & Hawkes. After completing his Bachelor of Music at Texas State University, Oquin continued his studies at The Juilliard School where he earned his Master of Music and his Doctorate of Musical Arts. His principal teachers were Milton Babbitt, Samuel Adler, and Mary Anthony Cox. He joined the Juilliard faculty in the fall of 2008.
Tower Ascending for wind ensemble and clarinet solo attempts to depict musically an ongoing aspect of urban city life: the construction of a modern skyscraper. The musical structure, development, and gradual assimilation of materials are best described as cumulative. Just as skyscrapers are built laying stone upon stone, floor upon floor, so too is this music constructed from the bottom up: measure upon measure, phrase upon phrase, rhythm upon rhythm. This ascension is gradual and permeates many dimensions of the music: register (low to high), dynamics (soft to loud), and tempo (slow to fast).
Living on New York’s Upper West Side I witness first hand this construction on a daily basis. Although I had no particular building in mind during the composing process, certainly Time Warner Center, Sony Tower, Trump World Tower, Freedom Tower—to name a few that have been conceived during my lifetime—would represent this idea. This eight-minute composition is divided into two equal parts: four minutes of slow music, four minutes of fast. Each of the two sections culminates in a dramatic offstage clarinet solo, the clarinet both summarizing and commenting on the music that has come immediately before, stating the material in its most concise form.
Composed between July 2008 and January 2009, Tower Ascending was commissioned by John P. Lynch for the University of Georgia Wind Ensemble’s performance at the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) 2009 in Austin, Texas. My sincere thanks go to John Lynch for his encouragement, invaluable insights, and involvement during every stage of the composing process. Tower Ascending is dedicated to my own college band director, John Stansberry, in honor of his retirement. I am deeply indebted to John Stansberry for his strong support of my music during the formative stages of my career.
Ricardo Lorenz (b. 1961): El Muro
Ricardo Lorenz’s compositions have received praise for their fiery orchestration, harmonic sophistication, and rhythmic vitality. His works have been performed at prestigious international festivals such as Carnegie Hall’s Sonidos de las Américas, the Ravinia Festival, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Berlioz Festival, La Côte-Saint-André, France, the Festival Internacional de Música Contemporanea de Alicante, Spain, the Festival Cervantino in Mexico, and the Uluslararasi Summer Festival, Turkey, among others. Ricardo Lorenz holds a PhD in composition from The University of Chicago and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University. He studied composition under Juan Orrego Salas, Shulamit Ran, and Donald Erb. He taught at Indiana University, the University of Chicago, City Colleges of Chicago, and is currently Associate Professor of Composition at Michigan State University. His compositions are published by Lauren Keiser Music and Boosey & Hawkes.
El Muro was commissioned by the American Bandmasters Association and the University of Florida. El Muro is Spanish for ‘the wall.’ At a purely musical level, the wall I imagined is a ten-minute long sound structure made up of tightly woven riffs, each suggesting a different style of Latin American music. Some of the styles I suggest are also the Colombian cumbia, the Peruvian huayno, the Mexican son, the Cuban montuno, to name a few. At a conceptual level, El Muro is my response to how I feel about walls, whether these walls exist in reality or in our minds. I should mention that I was raised in a South American city where most homes are surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire. To put it simply, I was raised in a land of makeshift fortresses. This is how I learned early on that walls not only exist to delineate space but also to keep people away. In my own imaginary way, El Muro humanizes those people that walls keep away by connecting them to their longstanding cultural traditions. As an adult I learned that these traditions breed soulful, exciting and sometimes even influential music capable of making even the most sturdy-looking wall tumble down.
Michael Tilson Thomas (b. 1944): Street Song
Michael Tilson Thomas was born in Los Angeles to a Broadway stage manager and middle school history teacher. Showing an incredible aptitude for music, Tilson Thomas quickly rose through the conducting and performing ranks, eventually becoming the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1988. Following his tenure in London, Tilson Thomas became the music director for the San Francisco Symphony in 1995, a position he still maintains. Although he is more widely known as a renowned conductor and pianist, Michael Tilson Thomas is also a gifted and engaging composer. Street Song was originally composed in 1988 as a brass quintet for the Empire Brass and later set by the composer for brass choir for the players of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Street Song is in three continuous parts—an interweaving of three “songs.” The first song opens with a jagged downward scale suspending in the air a sweetly dissonant harmony that very slowly resolves. This moment of resolution is followed by responses of various kinds. The harmonies move between the world of the Middle Ages and the present, between East and West, and always, of course, from the perspective of twentieth-century America. Overall, the movement is about starting and stopping, the moments of suspension always leading somewhere else. The second song is introduced by a singsong horn solo. It is followed by a simple trumpet duet, which was first written around 1972. It is folk-like in character and also cadences with suspended moments of slowly resolving dissonance. The third song is really more of a dance. It begins when the trombone slides a step higher, bringing the work into the key of F-sharp and into a jazzier swing. The harmonies here are the stacked-up moments of suspension from the first two parts of the piece. By now, I hope these “dissonant” sounds actually begin to sound “consonant.” There is a resolution, but it is the world of a musician who after many after-hour gigs, greets the dawn. Finally, the three songs are brought together and the work moves toward a quiet close.
Street Song is dedicated to my father Ted, who was and still is the central musical influence on my life.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958): Toccata Marziale
Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst consolidated the reputation of English composers, paved the way for Britten, Tippett and the host of great composers we have now, and of course laid the foundations for the contemporary wind band and wind ensemble.
Composed in 1924, Toccata Marziale represents one of Vaughan Williams’s most complex and intricate works for the wind band. When combined, the melodic material, constant motion, and contrapuntal interaction create a work that remains to this day one of the top pieces ever written for the medium. The orchestration was originally for the small-scale British military band and a minimum of 36 players. What is tantalizing is that it was the first movement of a projected Concerto Grosso; an American scholar, Robert Greschezky, found the rough piano score of the slow movement in a manuscript book at the British Library. He has scored it up, but as yet the new movement has not been published. The material in it was the basis for the slow movement of the violin concerto.
James Mobberley (b. 1954): Words of Love
James Mobberley received his masters in composition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied with Roger Hannay. He earned his doctorate at the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying with Donald Erb and Eugene O’Brien. He joined the faculty of the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri Kansas City in 1983, and his position as the Kansas City Symphony’s first Composer-in-Residence began in 1991. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rome Prize Fellowship, a Composer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. His music spans many media: from orchestral and chamber music, music for film, video, theater, dance, to music that combines electronic and computer elements with live performance.
My father: wordsmith, philosopher, lover of learning; yet his most meaningful words were most often about the love of his life for 61 years. Near the end he lost his words, but not the love that inspired them.
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971): Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
One of the twentieth century’s greatest composers, Igor Stravinsky was a Russian-born son of an operatic bass and studied with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. The impresario Sergey Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to compose the great ballet scores Petrushka, The Firebird, and The Rite of Spring whose Paris première caused an actual riot in the theatre. In the early 1920s he adopted a radically different style of restrained Neo-classicism, and from 1954 he turned to Serialism.
Composed in 1924, the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments was first performed with Stravinsky as the soloist and Serge Koussevitzky conducting. The Concerto is divided into three movements, each of which has a distinctly different character and follows the traditional fast-slow-fast concerto form. The first opens in a somber mood imitating the Baroque French Overture style leaning heavily on dotted rhythms and contrapuntal lines. After the introduction in the winds, the piano’s dramatic and boisterous entrance signals a change as the writing shifts to a more percussive style. The first movement’s cadenza draws from another older form, the virtuosic Italian toccata and is followed by a return of the introduction—now with piano—to end the movement. The second movement is much more lyrical but contains a number of striking dissonances along with two solo piano passages at the heart of the entire work. Stravinsky begins the third movement with more of his toccata style writing that includes a number of virtuosic linear and chordal passages before abruptly ending the work with the return of the initial introduction. Stravinsky’s fascination with American ragtime of the period can be clearly heard in the final movement.
Aaron Copland (1900–1990): Fanfare for the Common Man
Aaron Copland, one of America’s most distinguished composers and pianists, wrote for many genres of music, including orchestra, wind band, ballet, film, and opera. His popular earlier works such as Billy the Kid and Appalachian Spring gave way to experimentation with polyrhythms, polychords, and serialism. Copland began writing music at a very early age, completing his first melody at the age of seven. After studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, Copland led a long and distinguished career and was awarded numerous honors, including a Pulitzer Prize in Music and an Academy Award. He has been nicknamed the “Dean of American Music.”
Although Fanfare for the Common Man stands alone as one of the most recognizable fanfares ever written, this three/four-minute work was initially a part of a series of fanfares for the Cincinnati Orchestra’s 1942–1943 season. Copland experimented with the titles Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony and Fanfare for Four Freedoms before he settled on Fanfare for the Common Man. Upon hearing the title, conductor Eugene Goossens decided that March 12, 1943—the height of income tax season—was an appropriate date for the premiere. Copland is rumored to have replied, “I [am] all for honoring the common man at income tax time.”
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