Today got off to an early start with the Clovis North Educational Center Wind Ensemble from Clovis, CA, directed by David Lesser at 8:30am – that’s SIX THIRTY IN THE MORNING for these California kids! But there was no sign of fatigue at any point in this concert – these students played cleanly, with great dynamic shading and obviously natural musicality that really connected with the audience. Their conductors (Mr. Lesser, David Gabrielson, Dr. Lawrence Sutherland, Ramiro Barrera, and Jose Vargas) all added to this already strong musicality with clear and tasteful gesture that obviously inspired the students. Their program may have featured the most diverse roster of composers in Midwest history:
Fascinating Ribbons – Joan Tower
Gently I Wander – Robert Sheldon
Dystopia – Jay Coles
“The Alcotts” from Piano Sonata no. 2 – Charles Ives, trans. Richard E. Thurston
Diamond Tide – Viet Cuong
Forever in a Golden Paradise – Gary Gilroy (world premiere)
Press Play – Vince Oliver (world premiere)
American Patrol – F. W. Meacham
Tetelestai (2nd movement) – Andrew Boss
The Tower roared through a wide variety of textures as it explored the central ribbon idea. The Sheldon was easy and pretty, a perfect vehicle for these outstanding young people to demonstrate their extraordinary musicianship. The Coles was a captivating grade 2 (NOT grade 1) piece that kept the percussion section plenty busy. When Jay Coles stood up to take his bow after the piece, I realized that this was the first time in my six Midwests that I had seen an African-American composer recognized at a Midwest concert as such. The Ives, originally a piano piece, was wonderfully brought to life by both this transcription and this performance. It was typical Ives: heavy on the Americana with rapid formal shifts and a willingness to go to strange and sometimes uncomfortable harmonic places. The Cuong used an especially evocative percussion palette in its overall gently rolling, extremely colorful texture. I plan to play this at Hartwick next year, but scores were all sold out by the time I had a chance to look! The Gilroy was pretty and percussion heavy. The Oliver used electronics to great effect, and allowed the band to demonstrate absolute tempo precision – it was essentially a narrated dance lesson for electronics and band. The Meacham was a bit anachronistic, featuring “Dixie” (among many other things) as an American patriotic song. The Boss began with energy and a lot of canonic writing, transformed into a dissonant and dark chorale, and went back to even more energy. Perhaps the most impressive moment of the concert was the very last seconds of this piece: the trumpets played a several series of high Cs perfectly in tune and out of the blue. It was a fitting end to a truly impressive concert.
I had some time off to visit the exhibit hall before heading to the Virginia Wind Symphony from Norfolk, VA, directed by Dennis J. Zeisler. (I unfortunately had to miss the T. A. Howard Middle School Band, who notably played Michael Markowski’s Reckoning, since they performed at the same time. What gives, Midwest board?). Their program included the following:
American Fanfare – James Stephenson
Fantasia in C Major, BWV 570 – JS Bach, arr. Jordan Sterk
Overture and Caccia – Gian Carlo Menotti, arr. Philip J. Lang
Nettleton – Johnnie Vinson
Song of Hope – Peter Meechan
Marche Militaire Francaise – Camille Saint-Saëns, trans. Mark Hindsley
El Vaquero! – William Owens
If I Could Fly – James Meredith
X Factor – Michael Oare
Silver Lining, Concerto for Flute and Wind Ensemble (3rd movement) – Frank Ticheli
Zinphonia – David Holsinger
Intermezzo Sinfonico, “Cavalleria Rusticana” – Pietro Mascagni, arr. Lawrence Odom
Jack Tar March – John Philip Sousa, ed. Loras John Schissel
This band was fantastically well balanced, with a very full sound from top to bottom, and an especially fine bass sound. The Stephenson was soaring and brilliant. The Bach sounded like an organ, especially in the bass (see my comment above), and every bit of counterpoint was crystal clear. The Menotti was in two movements, the first of which was a playful romp in 4/4 that used relatively conservative language reminiscent of the 19th century. The second was much more modern and menacing. The Vinson was a pretty 3/4 piece that showcased this bands excellent musicality. The Meechan flowed gently and with great resolve. The trumpet soloist, Brandon Ridenour, was breathtakingly excellent. The Saint-Saëns was a rigorous transcription with no punches pulled, and the composers natural lightness nicely preserved. The Owens may be the only actual grade 1 piece played at the entire conference, this time in the minor key variety. The Meredith used common musical ideas of soaring and motion to depict flying. The Oare featured fun contemporary rhythms in a minor key. The Ticheli used a smaller ensemble (appropriate to balance a flute soloist). It was modern, often pointillistic, very colorful, and full of wit. The Holsinger turned out to be a very special moment: David Holsinger had a stroke just after accepting the commission on this piece, and so had to work through months of physical therapy and lingering physical limitations in order to finish it and conduct this performance. But he did it, and it was a good piece, with a brooding opening fanfare that led to the familiar energetic Holsinger treatment. It was great to see him back in action. The Mascagni remains one of the most beautiful instrumental pieces of all time, executed very well by this band. The Sousa was a 6/8 with no stinger. The Shostakovich was a great closer, energetic and supremely well-played.
After another trip to the exhibit hall in which Midwest Sheet Music burned a large hole in my pocket, I made my way to hear the Summit High School Wind Symphony from Arlington, TX, directed by Chris Kanicki. Their program included:
Wild Nights! – Frank Ticheli
Kalinka – Ivan Larionov, arr. Robert Longfield
Pines of the Appian Way – Ottorino Respighi, trans. Guy Duker
Gershwin Rhapsody – George Gershwin, arr. Ralph Martino
March, op. 99 – Sergei Prokofiev, arr. James Meredith
Nostalgia – Rossano Galante
For the Glory – Ryan Meeboer
Preludio Espresiva – Masamicz Amano
His Honor – Henry Fillmore, ed. Fredrick Fennell
These students played fantastically well, with an outstanding ensemble balance and an especially brilliant horn section. It’s clear they deserved the many awards and accolades that they listed in the concert program. However, the overall musicianship left something to be desired, especially in the Pines of Rome and the Gershwin (more on those below). They were clearly able to make consistently great sounds with metronomic precision, but I would encourage their directors to put the Dr. Beat away so they can unlock a whole new level of flexible, listening-based musicianship in the future.
The Ticheli was a perfect opener for this band, unrelentingly rhythmic, energetic, and colorful. The Larionov was an accelerating Russian folk dance. The Respighi (which another band played yesterday. What’s the deal, Midwest board?) sounded impressive, but had no sense of shape or phrasing: the big cymbal crash that opens the whole thing up in the middle, for instance, sounded like just another note, not the important change moment that it needs to be. And that’s not to say that the cymbal player or the band played anything less than wonderfully, but they focused so much time on making great sounds and not enough on the shape of the music. The Gershwin, which was essentially a greatest hits medley, had a similar issue, in that the band was not flexible enough for the soloist. The Prokofiev was an easier version of a virtuoso march. The Galante was slow and lyrical, a nice tangent from his usual style. The Meeboer was a tense overture that alternated between 3/4 and 6/8. The Amano was essentially a 19th century Italian concert overture with some contemporary touches, especially around the central piccolo cadenza. The Fillmore is one of my all time favorite marches, a fitting end to a very technically polished concert.
The final program of the evening was the Wheaton Municipal Band from Wheaton, IL, directed by Dr. Bruce Moss. Here is a look at their program:
Let Freedom Ring – Ryan Nowlin
Overture, “Carnival” – Antonin Dvorak, arr. Leigh Steiger
Hymn for the Innocent – Julie Giroux
Jubilancelation! – Richard Saucedo
Pequeña Czarda – Pedro Iturralde, arr. Roger Niese
Dancefares – Jess Langston Turner
Bringer of War (After Holst) – Brian Balmages
Fanfare Sounds, op. 278 – Julius Fucik, arr. John Bourgeois
In the Words of Johnny Mercer – Johnny Mercer, arr. Ryan Nowlin
Second Thoughts – James Stephenson
Der Lehrermeister – Robert Sheldon
Dance of the Jesters – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
The Nowlin was a big fanfare with a chamber section that quoted “My Country Tis of Thee.” The Dvorak had a lot of notes! It was truly a virtuoso showpiece for the entire band, and they were tight all the way through. The Giroux was gorgeous and poignant. I’m becoming more and more convinced that she writes slow band music better than anyone. The Saucedo paid exciting tribute to the composer’s high school band director. The Iturralde was another virtuoso piece for both saxophone (featuring the jaw-dropping Eric Goluszka) and band, a Spanish composer’s take on a Hungarian dance. The Fucik was a typical Austrian regimental march. The Mercer was actually two Mercer songs: a dark setting of “Autumn Leaves” followed by a bright take on “Day In, Day Out.” The Stephenson was a young band piece that explored both the interval of the 2nd and doubt. The Sheldon was Straussian and triumphant. The Tchaikovsky was a fitting an end to a truly excellent concert.
And so my Midwest 2017 ends: I am mere hours away from flying back home so I can begin holiday travel. So there will be no coverage of Midwest days 3 and 4. While I am sad to miss the excellent bands on these later days, I am glad for what I did see, and especially glad to have reconnected with so many great friends from all over the place, and to have made so many new connections. Midwest truly is band Christmas, complete with an amazing and eclectic band family that welcomes you unconditionally every year.
While I can’t wait to come back, I suspect I will let these blog posts take a looser form next year. I found myself this year thinking “I have to go to this concert” rather than “I would really enjoy going to this concert.” And that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy every minute! But I did limit myself and my experience by committing myself to every possible concert. That is not the sort of experience that most people have at Midwest – it’s a freewheeling place, with new and old connections pulling you in all sorts of different directions with some regularity. Next year, I pledge to allow myself to have that more authentic Midwest experience. And I look forward to sharing it with my band family.