I attended some great sessions this morning, including one that highlighted the new Small Band Repertoire Initiative (please click and contribute!) and another that explored repertoire for solo voice and winds. The first concert of the day was the Oklahoma State University Wind Ensemble, led by Joseph Missal. They played:

Funeral Music for Queen Mary – Henry Purcell, transcribed and elaborated by Steven Stucky

Konzertmusik, op. 41 – Paul Hindemith

Hivemind – Peter Van Zandt Lane

Coast of Dreams – Paul Dooley

The Purcell/Stucky is a thoroughly 20th century take on the classic Purcell music. This performance featured antiphonal brass for added effect. The Hindemith displayed all of his technical virtuosity (it may be one of the hardest pieces in the repertoire) and sheer compositional giddiness. Hivemind showed great inventiveness and imagination – Peter Van Zandt Lane is definitely a composer to watch in the future. The Dooley was a highlight of the conference so far – from its initial flugelhorn solo to its final note, this piece teemed with color, energy, and humanity.

 

The University of Miami Frost Wind Ensemble, led by Robert Carnochan, had the afternoon concert. Their program was:

Ondine’s Epilogue – Andy Akiho

Clarinet Concerto “Nekudim” – Jonathan Leshoff, with soloist Margaret Donaghue-Flavin

Fanfares and Arias – Steven Stucky

Sideman – Mason Bates, with soloist Svet Stoyanov

The Akiho, a world premiere, was precise and brutal, with a vast palette of percussion sounds dominating the texture throughout. The Leshnoff, a transcription from its original orchestral version, sometimes left me longing for the original string sounds. But it was dark and beautiful overall, with a gorgeous lyrical theme and excellent solo playing. The Stucky was alternately angular and lyrical, as its title suggested, frequently contrasting discrete sonorities. The Bates, a solo percussion concerto featuring at least a dozen different instruments, was brought to life by an extremely impressive performance from both the ensemble and Stoyanov in a witty, very accessible piece.

 

Our hosts, the UMKC Conservatory Wind Symphony, had the evening event. I hesitate to call it a concert – it was so much more than that. It integrated dance, theater, choral music, and absolutely flawless, passionate playing. Steve Davis, their director, is a visionary who delivers.

The night began with a piece that looked innocent enough in the program: Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront, arranged for band by Jay Bocook. The dance floor on the front half of the stage and rudimentary set suggested that something extra was about to happen. With no ensemble on stage, the lights went black. A spotlight on a single horn player, high above the stage, signaled the start of the piece. Other spotlights revealed several small ensembles around the hall, each of which took their turn with a piece of the introduction. The rest of the ensemble, including a team of dancers, gradually made their way on stage, all costumed as dock workers and mobsters, including Davis. The next 30 minutes featured amazingly kinetic choreography that told a clear story of love and conflict, accompanied by the absolutely amazing and committed UMKC Wind Symphony. The players were seamlessly and naturally (or, as naturally as a dockworker with a contrabassoon can be) integrated into the choreography. It was a complete artistic triumph that elicited a long standing ovation.

The second half of the concert (which was more concert than before) featured the Wind Symphony and UMKC choirs in the following repertoire:

Smetana Fanfare – Karel Husa

Begräbnisgesang – Johannes Brahms

Concerto for Wind Symphony: Ancient Echoes – Zhou Long

A Musical Toast – arr. Scott Boerma

The playing was equally impressive in this half, enhanced by the beautiful singing of the UMKC choirs. The opening Smetana Fanfare is a classic beautiful-and-terrible Husa miniature that quotes Smetana. The Brahms is a chamber piece for 12 winds and choir which served as a moving tribute to Husa. The Long, another world premiere, explored an ancient Chinese epic in six movements which ranged from violent to gently flowing. Each movement sort of darkly evoked its title with a decidedly Eastern flavor. The event closed with A Musical Toast, which was essentially a fun remix of Irish Tune From County Derry for St. Patrick’s Day, complete with a leprechaun and his pot of gold. No one in attendance will ever forget this astounding, inspiring musical event.