Day 3 began with a wonderful concert by the Four Points Middle School Wind Ensemble. This group impressed with a rich and deep clarinet sound and a beautiful overall blend. They too were hooked into tuners, which I learned from another teacher behind me is very common in Texas (her words were “it’s very Texas-y!”). This was their program:
Into the Clouds! – Richard Saucedo
Harbinger – Robert Sheldon
Three Ayres from Gloucester – Hugh Stuart
Lullaby to the Moon – Brian Balmages
Allegro Prestissimo – Jean Barriere, arr. Saleh
Sweet Like That – Christopher Theofanidis
Blue Bells of Scotland – Arthur Pryor, arr. Tim Higgins
Jing, Jing, Jingle – arr. Chris Sharp
It was nice to start the morning with the Saucedo, which is an engaging concert opener for young band. The Sheldon could have been Saucedo’s second movement, with the minor key being the only difference between the two. Three Ayres is a classic, and they played all three movements quite well. The opening theme of the Balmages, a brand new piece, was stolen (and I mean that nicely: Eric Whitacre encouraged composers to steal yesterday) directly from a Renaissance melody that has found its way into both Ron Nelson’s Courtly Airs and Dances and Francis Poulenc’s Suite Française. Otherwise, it was a serviceable slow piece whose big moments I did not feel. The Barriere was a percussion arrangement. The Theofanidis was the highlight of the program for me, with rhythmic interest throughout and enough substance to defy its grade 2 classification. Blue Bells featured an awesome soloist in Tim Higgins. He made me wonder if anyone has ever studied the eyebrow movements of brass players during performance. The final piece was another stylistic send up of “Jingle Bells” and an exciting closer.
After an all-too-brief jaunt onto the exhibit floor where I renewed all of my annual memberships and saw several great friends, I headed into the Flower Mound High School Wind Symphony concert. I almost didn’t make it in the door – the place was packed! Even from the back of the hall, this group had an incredibly clean sound, with special shout outs to low brass and low reeds for both their presence and elegance. Their program looked like this:
Russlan and Ludmilla Overture – Mikhail Glinka, arr. Hindsley
Praising Thunder – Brian Balmages
Baron Cimitiere’s Mambo – Donald Grantham
On Placid Seas – Robert Sheldon
Heroes and Villains: Comic Book Suite for Winds and Percussion – Michael Martin (featuring the composer and Chris Martin on trumpet)
House Plants in Terra Cotta Pots – Roy D. Magnuson
Head Rush – Jay Bocook
Dragon Sky – Julie Giroux
March, Honey Boys on Parade – Edward Cupero, arr. Bourgeois
The Glinka featured a number of great solos and worked very well as a band piece: I hardly pined for the strings at all. This Balmages (wow is he on a lot of programs) was my favorite Balmages of the conference so far, featuring some very thoughtful and colorful percussion writing that makes it sound harder than a grade 2. The Grantham took color to another level, adding extra dynamic elements over a constant stream of sixteenth notes and constantly shifting meters. The Sheldon (another name that has been appearing an awful lot) was a slightly above average pretty piece for young band. The Martin featured amazing solos. The Magnuson was a very short arch with appealing material that easily could have gone on longer. Bocook to me was derivative, with rhythms and fanfares over a constant woodblock suggesting John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine and later textural elements and specific rhythmic treatments coming straight out of Frank Ticheli’s Wild Nights!. I’ve been consistently impressed with Julie Giroux’s expressive writing recently, and Dragon Sky added to that impression with its gorgeous ensemble writing and evocative program notes – “Imagine a world without dragons” (to paraphrase). The Himes is a harmonically adventurous setting of “Amazing Grace.” The group performed it without a conductor, which drew a well-deserved standing ovation. The concert ended with the Cupero, a nice closer.
From there, I went to the day’s only session, a rehearsal clinic with my mentor Gary Hill and former officemate Serena Weren. The gist of it: there are certain rehearsal techniques that work especially well because of the way our brains work. They presented the science and then demonstrated several techniques on the Metea Valley High School Wind Ensemble, a truly excellent group that were willing guinea pigs to these rehearsal techniques that they had not seen before. The highlight came at the end of the session, when Hill rehearsed the group (playing Alfred Reed’s Armenian Dances) without speaking for several minutes, then led them through to the end of the piece without any discussion of what to expect. It reminded me just how fortunate I am to be one of only a couple dozen people in the world to have been in his studio.
I was immediately drawn into the line (more on these later) for the Eastern Wind Symphony concert. This community band had a very nice woodwind balance and a great attention to detail. I could only stay for the first half of their concert. They started with Jack Stamp’s Aubrey Fanfare, one of Stamp’s many great concert openers. Roger Nixon’s Fiesta del Pacifico followed, a Latin tour-de-force for any band that showed this band’s remarkable dynamic range. Satoshi Yagisawa’s Sentimentale was pretty but had little substance. Thomas Knox’s arrangement of the hymn God of Our Fathers was a solemn and moving hymn setting. Blow, Eastern Winds, written for this group by Joseph Spaniola, started off with some very interesting harmonies, but never could settle on a cohesive musical idea. Tyler Grant’s …at Twilight was slow and pretty, joining a host of others in that category. I did not get to hear any of the following (though I wish I had) that finished the concert:
Concerto for Tuba and Wind Ensemble – Gary Ziek
I. Allegro from Symphony no. 10 – Dmitri Shostakovich, arr. Dennis Fisher
Little Suite for Band – Randall Standridge
Whirlwind – Steven Bryant
After a break, I made my way to the VanderCook College of Music Symphonic Band concert. This group has hosted the clinic and played for all of its 69 years. Many of them play secondary instruments, so their musical accomplishments on this concert were especially impressive. They played:
Internet Symphony “Eroica” – Tan Dun, ed. Peter Stanley Martin
Companion of my Voice – Randall Standridge
Solstice Dance – Jack Wilds
Bounce – Nathan Daughtrey
Blue – Robert W. Smith
Don Ricardo – Gabriel Musella & Rick Rodriguez
Overdrive – Robert Sheldon
“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess – George & Ira Gershwin, arr. Longfield
Dancing on Water – Frank Ticheli
British Eighth March – Zo Elliot, arr. Hilliard
Cinematic Fantasy – Rick DeJonge
Joropo – Moisés Moleiro Sánchez, arr. de Meij
Dun’s Eroica borrowed material from Beethoven’s Eroica in a compact and percussive mini-symphony. The Standridge did not quite live up to its “deeply emotional” description in its program note. The Wilds had a nice opening build with some folk influences evident later. Bounce used a trumpet soloist in both jazzy and classical contexts in an effective solo showpiece. The Smith left no impression. Don Ricardo was another extremely interesting and fun paso doble from the same duo that brought yesterday’s Don Hanna into being. Overdrive again left no impression. This version of “Summertime” was a fairly straightforward jazzy concert rendition. The Ticheli was instantly colorful and evocative of its title. British Eighth is a classic march, and it was expertly and joyously led by H. Robert Reynolds. The Cinematic Fantasy featured the Boston Brass as quintet soloists. They were excellent and expressive, and it would have been great to hear even more of them independent of the band (who were excellent themselves). The concert closer was an arrangement made by de Meij for the Simon Bolivar Youth Wind Orchestra in Venezuela, and it reflected that sound, with intricate cross rhythms in 6/8 time and copious section features.
The night’s final concert featured the North Texas Wind Symphony under Eugene Corporon’s leadership. Once again, I waited in a long line to get into this event, which seems to have become a theme of this conference. The house was packed, to the point that I understand that many people were turned away at the door. They had all come to hear this band that is legendary for its clean, integrated sound. For all of their polish, their programming on this headline concert of the conference was uneven. It opened strong, with Paul Dooley’s busy yet reflective Masks and Machines, the newly announced co-winner of the Revelli composition prize. Julie Giroux’s engrossing and moving Riften Wed, based on the video game Skyrim, came next. They followed with a march, A Step Ahead, a jaunty miniature played with impeccable style and written by Harry Alford. A transcribed set of Three Preludes by Gershwin came next. These piano originals indeed lend themselves to wind band transcriptions, but this particular edition tinkered with the originals too much for my taste, including adding an extra A section to the famous c-sharp minor prelude. Bruce Broughton’s In the World of Spirits seemed to stay on one chord from beginning to end. Michael Daugherty’s Reflections on the Mississippi was a highlight of the program, featuring Carol Jantsch as tuba soloist. She played a timely and entertaining encore based on “Frosty the Snowman.” The final piece was a curious choice for a composition and conference concert closer. Titled The Earth from “The Planets”, it is Jun Nagao’s attempt to add to Gustav Holst’s famous orchestral suite. It amounts to a Holst clip show, quoting many other movements of The Planets and his First Suite in E-flat. In no way does it represent what Holst might have written if he had included an “Earth” movement, nor does it add anything to the wind band repertoire that the Holst pieces quoted don’t already do themselves.
So ended my official Midwest 2015. I’m already looking forward to next year, with more concerts, clinics, and conversations to come.