John Mackey once famously compared the band and the orchestra to the kind of girl a composer might meet at a party. The orchestra seems like she ought to be your ideal woman, but she clearly feels superior to you and talks a lot about her exes (like Dvorak and Beethoven). The band, meanwhile, is loud and brash, but loves everything you do and can’t wait to play your stuff, the newer, the better! (I’ve rather poorly paraphrased Mackey – it’s best understood in his original blog post on the subject).

With this attitude and his prodigious talent, John Mackey has become a superstar composer among band directors. He has even eclipsed his former teacher, John Corigliano, by putting out a dozen new band works, including a handful of commissions, in the last 5 years. All are challenging, and all are innovative. Mackey’s works for wind ensemble and orchestra have been performed around the world, and have won numerous composition prizes. His Redline Tango, originally for orchestra and then transcribed by the composer for band, won him the American Bandmasters Assocation/Ostwald Award in 2005, making him, then 32, the youngest composer ever to recieve that prize.  His compositional style is fresh and original. I once heard him state that he counted the band Tool among his musical influences.

John Mackey publishes his own music through Osti Music.  The website for this company doubles as his personal website and his blog, which is very informative for anyone looking for a composer’s perspective on new band music. He is featured on wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.

Xerxes is his first concert march.  He gives a detailed account of its genesis on his blog. Essentially, he tasked himself with writing a march with an unconventional sound, and out came Xerxes.  The name of the piece came later. Xerxes the man was the king of the Persians from 485-465BC.  He is famous for being a brutal tyrant, and for having fought (and beaten) a force of 300 Spartans at Thermopylae in Greece. This scenario was most recently fictionalized in the film 300.

Mackey himself provides the best program notes on this piece, both on his website and in more colorful detail on his blog. You can also look at the score and hear a recording of the piece there.

Those too lazy to click a link can hear Xerxes via YouTube here:

You also MUST check out this metal version of Xerxes created by a fan:

And now a bonus image: Xerxes as depicted in 300 (and with the attitude of the march):