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ClassicsOnline Home » BENNETT, R.R.: Suite of Old American Dances / GERSHWIN, G.: Rhapsody in Blue (American Tapestry)
John Williams’ arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner sets the stage for this collection of American works for wind band spanning 100 years. Featuring traditional compositions from the likes of George Gershwin, Howard Hanson, Robert Russell Bennett and John Philip Sousa, as well as contemporary works from the younger generation of American composers, this release will appeal to both the wind band enthusiast and the general music lover.
By David Denton
The Lone Star Wind Orchestra from North Texas is one of the finest wind ensembles I have ever had the pleasure to review.
I just wish composers would add much more to the repertoire so that arrangements of orchestral works would be a thing of the past. Here we have four original scores: the hard-hitting American Overture by Joseph Jenkins; a short energetic Ceremonal Fanfare from Christopher Tucker composed four years ago, and Steven Bryant’s modern sounds in his 2006 score, Radiant Joy. Last, but certainly not least, is Robert Russell Bennett’s Suite of Old American Dances, the five pieces ranging from a Cake Walk to a rather naughty Waltz. It is superbly played, the pieces bouncing along with foot-tapping pleasure.I am much taken by John Boyd’s arrangement of Howard Hanson’s suite from his opera Merry Mount, which has moved very well to this genre, the final Maypole Dance sounding really joyous. The John William’s arrangement of Star-Spangled Banner has all of the high octane impact you would expect from him, but on the flip side the performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with Richard Shuster as soloist, often drags its feet in a laborious fashion, and conductor, Eugene Migliaro Corporon, miles away from the speeds used in Gershwin’s own recording. To end on a high note we have Sousa’s The Washington Post edited by a Naxos stalwart, Keith Brion. The sound congeals in big tutti passages, but it is otherwise very good. An offbeat disc, but one with much to recommend it.
American Tapestry: Music for Wind Band
John Williams (b. 1932) • Joseph Willcox Jenkins (b. 1928) • Howard Hanson (1896-1981) George Gershwin (1898-1937) • Christopher Tucker (b. 1976) • Steven Bryant (b. 1972) Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) • John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)
Star-Spangled Banner (arr. 2004)
John Williams is one of the most popular and successful American composers of our lifetime. His music has garnered awards including the Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes and Emmys. He is best known for composing film scores, ceremonial music and concert works as well as being a world-renowned conductor. His film score credits feature such films as E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, the Star Wars series, Schindler’s List and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His concert works include a Symphony, a Sinfonietta for wind ensemble, a Cello Concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the composer’s Bassoon Concerto ‘Five Sacred Trees’. Liberty Fanfare, Summon the Heroes and this version of the Star- Spangled Banner highlight some of his ceremonial music. John Williams was the nineteenth conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra serving from 1980 to 1993. Among others, he has guest conducted the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
John Williams writes, “The Star-Spangled Banner holds a unique place in our nation’s musical heritage. As our National Anthem, it has been performed an unfathomable number of times, in every conceivable arrangement, and it stands as an enduring symbol in the collective memory of all Americans. It tells of our flag’s passage through a dark and dangerous night, and as metaphor, it serves as a prayer for the safe continuation of our country’s journey toward the realization of its best aspirations. When I was invited to conduct the combined bands at the 2004 Rose Bowl ceremonies in Pasadena, California, it was suggested that I arrange our anthem for the occasion. I accepted with pleasure and a sense of privilege.”
American Overture (1955)
Joseph Willcox Jenkins began composing short pieces while in elementary school. He attended Saint Joseph’s University where he completed a pre-law degree, while concurrently studying composition and counterpoint with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory. His formal musical training includes bachelor and master’s degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Howard Hanson and Thomas Canning, and a PhD. from the Catholic University of America. While in military service, Jenkins served on the arranging staff of the United States Army Field Band and the Armed Forces Radio Network. He joined the music faculty at Duquesne University in 1961 and continues to teach as Professor Emeritus of music history and composition. The recipient of the ASCAP Serious Music Award for two decades, Jenkins composed over two hundred works for band, orchestra, chorus, and voice.
American Overture for band was composed while Jenkins served on the arranging staff of the United States Army Field Band and he dedicated the work to their conductor, Colonel Chester E. Whiting. Opening with the horns stating one of the most recognized motives in the repertoire, the piece continues in a neomodal style that relies heavily on Lydian and Mixolydian modes. The sound of the work suggests the folk-tune idiom, although there is no direct quotation. The composer also uses call and response as one of the unifying factors of the work. Reminiscing about the piece, his first for band, Jenkins states, “I wanted to write something for our magnificent horn section, because I was tired of them having to play off-beats. That was the inspiration for the piece. I have to admit that I was also inspired somewhat by the last movement of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. I heard it on a Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcast as a teenager and it really impressed me. Some of the themes in American Overture remind me of that piece.” This recording represents the 2003 Critical Edition, which was implemented under the supervision of the composer.
Suite from the opera ‘Merry Mount’ (1938)
Howard Hanson received his initial lessons in music from his mother who had received training in voice, piano, and counterpoint. Hanson excelled at the piano, cello, and conducting and used these talents to pay his way through college. He graduated from a local community college with an Associate’s degree before graduating Valedictorian of his high school. He studied at two universities before transferring to Northwestern University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree at the age of sixteen. Upon graduation, Hanson found much success in the musical field as a teacher, leader, and composer. He was a dedicated teacher and administrator at the Eastman School of Music for many years, a world leader heading up many music boards and committees, a champion of new music, a gifted conductor, and an award-winning composer. Two of his most notable awards are the Prix de Rome in 1921 (he was the first recipient) and the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his Symphony No. 4, Op. 34, “Requiem.”
Merry Mount, Hanson’s only opera, was written during his years at Eastman. It was commissioned by New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company and was based loosely upon Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story The Maypole of Merry Mount. Contrary to its title, the plot is anything but merry. It is set in an old New England Puritan town in which its pastor has a passionate obsession with a visiting Lady and has to keep under control his repressed intemperance. The première on 10th February 1934 by the Metropolitan Opera was broadcast nationally on radio and was given a blizzard of press coverage and discussion, as well as fifty curtain calls by the outrageously animated audience. Howard Hanson composed a suite from the opera four years after the opera première. The Overture is a musical description of the Puritans; the second movement, Children’s Dance, depicts the troublesome attendance of the hedonistic Cavaliers in the town; the third movement, Love Duet, illustrates Pastor Bradford’s lust for Lady Marigold Sandys; and the final movement, Maypole Dances, portrays the erection of the maypole and mirrors the human sensuality that leads the pastor to murder.
John Boyd orchestrated this version in 2000. Additional proofing is credited to Shintaru Fukumoto, David Gonzalez, Andrew Trachsel and Christopher Tucker.
Rhapsody in Blue (1924)
George Gershwin is known today as an American icon. Raised in Brooklyn, Gershwin received his introduction to music from private instructors. His greatest musical influence was his piano teacher, Charles Hambitzer. Gershwin came to his lessons with much enthusiasm and concentration, enabling Hambitzer to mould him into an accomplished pianist and paint his ears and mind with a wide range of music. After a few years of study with Hambitzer, Gershwin went to work when he was sixteen for a popular music publisher. In his twenties he found success in writing musical comedies and Broadway numbers with his brother and lyricist, Ira. Gershwin was determined to compose more serious music and did so in 1924 with his Rhapsody in Blue, which was followed by his Piano Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess. Had it not been for a brain tumour that ended his life at the early age of 39, Gershwin surely would have composed a more extensive list of master-works.
In November 1923, the band leader Paul Whiteman asked George Gershwin to compose a concerto-like piece for an all-jazz concert titled An Experiment in Modern Music he would give in Aeolian Hall on 12th February, 1924. Gershwin sketched a few possible themes, but was engrossed in his Broadway commitments. However, after his brother read an article entitled “What is American Music?” about the Whiteman concert in the 4th January edition of the New York Tribune which claimed that he was at work on a jazz-concerto, Gershwin quickly put his focus into this new work. He was inspired by the rhythm and rattle of the Boston train, later telling his first biographer that while on the train, “I suddenly hear[d], and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end…I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our blues, our metropolitan madness.” The piece was completed in less than a few weeks and was given to Ferde Grofé to orchestrate because of the time constraints. From the opening clarinet glissando, to Gershwin soloing on the piano, to the blues and jazzy riffs, the première of the piece was a success. Rhapsody in Blue has become a musical portrait of New York City. It has been used in Woody Allen’s film Manhattan, the Disney film Fantasia 2000, and even as the background music of the commercials of United Airlines. Donald Hunsberger has scored this wind accompaniment version from the 1924 and 1926 Ferde Grofé orchestrations.
Ceremonial Fanfare (2004)
Christopher Tucker is emerging as one of America’s bright and innovative classical composers. An unabashed romantic, his music has been heralded as having wonderful maturity, musical imagination, and sensitivity. He has composed works for chamber ensembles, chorus, band and orchestra, creating an impressive catalogue of compositions at such an early age. In addition, he has begun to amass numerous awards in composition and conducting from organizations including the College Band Directors National Association, Phi Beta Mu, the National Band Association, WASBE and ASCAP. He has also received praise for his radio broadcast production and personality work while at WRR Classical 101.1 FM in Dallas, Texas, winning a Communicator Award and being a finalist for a coveted Silver Microphone Award. As a music copyist, he has worked with Daron Hagen, William Latham and Joan Tower. Christopher Tucker holds memberships in ASCAP and the American Composers Forum. He is the Director of Artistic Administration and a Co-Founder of the Lone Star Wind Orchestra.
Christopher Tucker earned a Bachelor of Music degree cum laude in Music Composition with a minor in Music Theory from the University of North Texas, and was a student of the late Martin Mailman. He received his Master of Music from the University of Texas at Austin, studying composition with Dan Welcher and Donald Grantham, while also completing a Performance Certificate in Conducting, studying with Kevin Sedatole.
Ceremonial Fanfare (on a theme of remembrance) is based on a motive from the composer’s Americans Lost, a work dedicated to the victims’ families of the terrorist attacks on 11th September, 2001. The fanfare employs cascading and blocked chords, pedal tones in the low brass, and a march-like figure in the snare drum. Ceremonial Fanfare was commissioned by Brevard Music Center in Brevard, North Carolina, David Effron, artistic director, for the BMC Transylvania Symphony Band, Kraig Williams, conductor.
Radiant Joy (2006)
Steven Bryant studied composition with John Corigliano at The Juilliard School, Cindy McTee at the University of North Texas, and Francis McBeth at Ouachita University. Bryant’s music has been performed by numerous ensembles across the United States, as well as in England, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and Germany. Notable commissions have come from the United States Air Force Band of Mid- America, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet (funded by the Jerome Composer Commissioning Program of the American Composer’s Forum), The Juilliard School, the Indiana University Wind Ensemble, and the Calgary Stampede Band. Recordings include Eugene Migliaro Corporon and the North Texas Wind Symphony, Ron Hufstader and the El Paso Wind Symphony, William Berz and the Rutgers University Wind Ensemble, and Thomas Leslie and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Wind Orchestra.
Radiant Joy was commissioned by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Wind Ensemble, Jack Stamp, conductor. Regarding the work, Bryant writes: “Radiant Joy comes after a difficult period in my personal life, and thus its character was something of a surprise to me. This work began life as a strict, twelvetone, serialized creature modeled on Webern…while still retaining a vital rhythmic pulse. After several sketches that ended in anger and frustration, I realized I was metaphorically banging my head against the creative wall, and perhaps I should stop forcing this music into existence with a prescriptive process, and simply listen inwardly to what I actually wanted to hear. The result is simultaneously the opposite of what I was originally trying to create, and also its direct realization – the vital rhythmic pulse is still prominent, but the harmonic materials veered toward the language of the 70s/80s funk/jazz/fusion (at least, that’s what I’ve been told). Regardless, the piece is intended to emanate joy and “good vibes” for the performers, the audience, and the composer!”
In December of 2007, the National Band Association awarded Radiant Joy the William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest.
Suite of Old American Dances (1949)
Robert Russell Bennett was one of America’s greatest Broadway composers and arrangers. Between 1920 and 1976 he scored all or part of more than three hundred shows and in his peak season had 22 shows running concurrently in New York. An arranger for George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Frederick Loewe, Bennett was also a prolific composer, writing works in every medium. After growing up in Kansas City, he studied composition with Carl Busch and served as a director of the United States Army Bands in 1918 and 1919. Seven years later Bennett traveled to Europe to study composition with Nadia Boulanger and became acquainted with Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions. He moved to Hollywood and wrote more than thirty film scores before eventually moving back to New York. Over the course of his six-decade career, Bennett was awarded the Academy, Emmy, and Handel Awards.
Suite of Old American Dances was inspired by a Goldman Band concert that Bennett attended on 3rd January, 1948. The performance, honoring the seventieth birthday of Edwin Franko Goldman, made Bennett aware of “all the beautiful sounds the American concert band could make that it hadn’t yet made”. Originally entitled Electric Park after the Kansas City park that Bennett frequented as a child, the piece recaptures the style and spirit of dance music at the end of the nineteenth century. Bennett wrote: “Electric Park…was a place of magic to us kids. The tricks with big electric signs, the illuminated fountains, the big band concerts, the scenic railway and the big dance hall – all magic. In the dance hall all afternoon and evening you could hear the pieces the crowds danced to, and the five movements of my piece were samples of the dances of the day.” Edward Higgins edited this recent version.
The Washington Post March (1889)
John Philip Sousa, known as “The March King” for his 136 marches, also composed fifteen operettas, seventy songs, twenty-seven fantasies, more than three hundred arrangements, and wrote 132 articles and seven books, including his autobiography, Marching Along. He enlisted as an apprentice in the U.S. Marine Band at the age of thirteen and left the band at the age of eighteen to pursue a life as a professional performer. He played violin in theater and symphony orchestras and earned invaluable experience as a conductor. He reenlisted in the Marine Band in 1880 as its leader and began his compositional career. In 1892 Sousa left the Marines to form his own band, which rapidly became the most renowned in the nation. Tours through Europe in the early 1900s and a global circuit in 1910-11 brought him worldwide celebrity. When the United States entered World War I, Sousa again enlisted in the military – this time leading the Navy Band. Sousa continued an active musical life until his retirement in 1931.
In order to promote literary expression in the public schools, The Washington Post newspaper organized an essay contest in 1889 and asked the then-Marine Band leader to write a march to be given its première at the award ceremony. There were thousands in attendance at the ceremony and première of The Washington Post March. The march was an immediate sensation, with all the bands in town soon performing it as well. The march was suitable for the two-step craze and was all the rage. The dance consisted of fast-fast-slow movements, a polka-like skip followed by a glide. Sousa became a “pop star” of the time. This also brought fame to the once-average Washington Post newspaper. Sousa is honored in the Washington Post building for his contributions to the newspaper and his country. This version was edited by Keith Brion and Loras Schissel.
Andrew Trachsel and Kimberly Tucker
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