This week, I am at the Midwest Clinic, the annual gathering of instrumentalists and conductors in Chicago featuring concerts, clinics, a giant trade floor, and plenty of after-hours activity. As before, my focus is on the repertoire being featured.

I rolled into town just in time to catch the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Wind Symphony in concert.

Scherzo Fantastique Excerpts – Joseph Suk, arr. Gerald Sebesky

Harvest Hymn – Percy Grainger, arr. Joseph Kreines

A la Machaut – Andrew Boss

Ecossaise for Military Band WoO2 – Ludwig van Beethoven, arr. Todd Salter

Salvation is Created – Pavel Chesnokov, arr. Michael Brown

Hammersmith – Gustav Holst

Illyrian Dances – Guy Woolfenden

Tears of St. Lawrence – Aaron Perrine

Concerto Grosse for Saxophone Quartet (4th movement) – William Bolcom

Circus Days March – Karl King, arr. Loras Schissel

 

This band sounded great from their tuning note. They played with extraordinary transparency and sensitivity, and their balance was absolutely exquisite. If I had to guess, I would say that they play as softly as possible in their warm-ups every single day. They had an absolute Hall of Fame of conductors in front of them, including Kenneth Williams, Allan McMurray, Tim Reynish, Gary Green, and their own director Ted Shistle. Their program was equally fine. The Suk was a fun, free, witty scherzo. The Grainger featured a number of top-flight solos in this gorgeous gem of a piece. The Boss was a more contemporary slow piece, with cloudy harmonies and a constant ebb and flow. He is a composer to watch. The Beethoven was cute, though I am not sure it actually passes muster at the stated grade 1. Likewise, the Salvation transcription, while accessible to many bands at grade 2, lacks brilliance in the B sections. Hammersmith is Holst’s beautiful dark twisted fantasy – I’ve written about it in the past here. The Woolfenden was 3 minutes of mixed meter fun. The Perrine was essentially a pretty piece with some percussion moments. The Bolcom proved that bop and swing were still alive and well, featuring great sax quartet writing played extraordinarily well by the student quartet. The King was a standard circus march that might have been a grade 3 if taken at half the concert tempo.

 

Next up were the Central Winds from my backyard outside Syracuse, New York. They bill themselves as “A Music Educator’s Wind Ensemble,” and they represented the very best of what music educators can do as performers with a strong ensemble sound and mature, musical playing.

Ecstatic Fanfare – Steven Bryant

Atlas – William Palange

Moon by Night – Jonathan Newman

Red Rock Mountain – Rossano Galante

Beep, Beep – Steven Frank

Spirals of Light – Sean O’Loughlin

Concert Suite – William Bolcom

Hail to the Spirit of Liberty – John Philip Sousa, arr. Schissel

Kinetic Dances – Randall Standridge

Backstage Pass – Brian Balmages

March of the Belgian Paratroopers – Pierre Leemans, arr. Michael Brown

Rio Grande – Michael Daugherty

 

I have written about the Bryant here – it was a great and fitting concert opener. The Palange left no impression. The Newman was essentially a pretty piece with several interesting surprises and a decided edginess built in. The Galante was exactly what you would expect from this composer: lyrical and film-score-like. The Frank, their token grade 1 piece, was a jazzy gimmick featuring an actual horn. The O’Laughlin got my attention as a 6/8 fanfare and held it when the subsequent 4/4 section retained many of the 6/8 rhythms to interesting effect. The Bolcom, featuring Timothy McAllister on alto sax, was immediately colorful and strongly reminiscent of Gershwin. The Sousa was a very nice march indeed! Kinetic Dances reminded me of Standridge’s other work, this time with 7/8 meter over a series of chord progressions. The Balmages was a wide-ranging Broadway-style overture dedicated to a young performer who was taken too soon. The Leemans arrangement, as far as I could tell, was not all that different from the original except for being taken down a whole step, thus retaining most of the difficulty and missing the mark on grade 2. Rio Grande had all of the Daugherty hallmarks, with drum solos, very colorful wind writing, and a supremely sophisticated rhythmic structure. Sadly, as a rental piece, it will not get played as often as it should.

 

After taking some time to connect with friends, walk the trade floor, and attend the WASBE reception (whom I hope to see again in Utrecht in 2017), I attended the second concert of the absolutely astounding President’s Own United States Marine Band. This especially piqued my interest because they premiered two symphonies, which you will soon be able to read about at my other site, the Wind Band Symphony Archive.

George Washington Bicentennial – John Philip Sousa

Symphony after Hafiz – Donald Grantham

Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 – Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Edward Elgar, trans. Ryan Nowlin

Galop from Geneviéve de Brabant – Jacques Offenbach, ed. John R. Bourgeois

Trumpet Concert (first movement) – John Williams, trans. Paul Lavender

Symphony no. 2, Voices – James Stephenson

Armed Forces Salute – arr. Thomas Knox

 

The Sousa was a delightful start to the concert, and it prepared the palette for the Grantham. This symphony created instrumental settings of three poems by Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet renowned by other poets worldwide. These were all extremely effective and affecting, ranging from energetic to ethereal to dangerous to joyful. The Bach was also extremely effective and masterfully led by Capt. Nowlin, whom I was pleased to see in action after meeting him at a conducting clinic in 2012 (hi Ryan!). The Offenbach was, oddly, a can-can treatment of the Marine’s Hymn!!! As the announcer said, no one is really sure how this melody became the famous Marine anthem. The sophisticated trumpet concerto certainly bore the John Williams sound stamp in a decidedly symphonic style. The Stephenson was more tortured and introspective than the Grantham, with an imaginative color palette suggesting all kinds of extremes. It opened and closed with some enormous organ-like chords that sounded absolutely magnificent in the hands of the Marine Band.

Bravo to all today. More to come tomorrow!