Angels in the Architecture is a BIG piece! Frank Ticheli has pulled out all the stops and created something massive. Truly, this piece was meant for massed bands, but it certainly works for a single ensemble as well. Ticheli himself describes it best:
Angels in the Architecture was commissioned by Kingsway International, and received its premiere performance at the Sydney Opera House on July 6, 2008 by a massed band of young musicians from Australia and the United States, conducted by Matthew George. The work unfolds as a dramatic conflict between the two extremes of human existence–one divine, the other evil.
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 19th-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.
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 Aleicham”) and the well-known 16th-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 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.
Take a good listen – you’ll catch the dark vs. light contrasts pretty easily:
Ticheli mentions Charles Ives – he is referring to Ives’s piece The Unanswered Question for strings, woodwinds, and trumpet solo. In it, the trumpet solo repeats a question which the woodwinds toil to answer without success. Meanwhile, the strings go about their business, seemingly oblivious to the exchange between the trumpet and woodwinds. In the end, the trumpet gets no answer. It’s worth a listen (and the video lets you follow along in the score!):
Finally, you can (and should!) read more about Ticheli’s chosen source material: “I am an angel of Light” is described above. “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” is little more than its title, but sends a message of peace. “Old Hundredth” is one of the world’s most famous hymns.
Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!
Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.
Ticheli bio on wikipedia.
Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.
A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.
This big, big piece will be conducted by Berkley Todd, Columbia class of 2012.
For those who have forgotten, here’s my short bio on Frank Ticheli: Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire. Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony. The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.