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Category Archives: Classics Concert

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

About Lauds (Praise High Day), Nelson writes:

Lauds (Praise High Day) is an exuberant, colorful work intended to express feelings of praise and glorification. Lauds is one of the seven canonical hours that were selected by St. Benedict as the times the monks would observe the daily offices. Three (terce, sext, and none) were the times of the changing of the Roman guards and four (matins, lauds, vespers, and compline) were tied to nature. Lauds, subtitled Praise High Day, honors the sunrise; it is filled with the glory and excitement of a new day.

Lauds received its world premier by the United States Air Force Band under the direction of Lt. Col. Alan L. Bonner at the College Band Directors National Association/National Band Association Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 24, 1992.

Nelson is known for writing challenging parts for clarinet (and every other instrument), and Lauds is no exception.  Clarinetists, check out this forum about tremolo fingerings in the piece.

Lauds program notes at windband.org.

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

The Dallas Wind Symphony knocks it out of the park, as usual:

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Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) was a piano and organ prodigy who was supporting himself with his musical talents by age 11.  A lifelong Philadelphia resident, he took full advantage of that city’s music institutions.  At age 20, he was simultaneously the head of the music department at Combs College, a conducting major with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute, and a piano and composition student at the Philadelphia Conservatory.  His distinctly original compositions began to be recognized internationally before he was 30.  His skyrocketing reputation led to his appointment at the Juilliard School, where he became the chair of the composition department at age 47.  He died in 1987, leaving behind a unique body of work in almost every musical medium, including a number of masterpieces for the wind band.  Among these is the Divertimento for Band, op. 42, written for the Goldman Band.

There are many articles out there about the Divertimento: the Wind Repertory Project, The Concord Band, BandDirector.comThe Claremont Winds, and the OCU Band Program Notes Database all shed light on the piece.  But the authority on all of Persichetti’s wind music, as with all other composers, is Frederick Fennell, whose chapter on the piece in the book A Conductor’s Interpretive Analysis of Masterworks for Band brims with scholarship and creative, interpretive insight.  To paraphrase: Persichetti started writing this piece with an orchestra in mind in 1949.  He began with a prologue that featured the brass section tossing the woodwinds back and forth.  Midway through this movement, he realized that the strings were never going to enter – thus began this master’s impressive oeuvre of sophisticated, accessible wind music.  The Divertimento showcases Persichetti’s lyricism, playfulness, harmonic daring, and superb orchestration skills, all while remaining accessible to the player and listener.  A listen will certainly help us understand, so I give you the North Texas University Wind Ensemble with Eugene Corporon conducting:

And for variety, our friends at the Manhattan Wind Ensemble:

You can find out more about Persichetti himself at Theodore Presser, Wikipedia, and his own Society’s website.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

The First Suite is particularly important to the later development of artistic music for wind band.  Holst wrote it in 1909 for an ensemble that came to define the instrumentation that bands would use for at least the next century and beyond.  Oddly, it was not performed until 1920, and published a year later.  Since then, the First Suite has left an indelible mark on band musicians and audiences around the world.  Its appeal is in its simplicity and its artistry.  While there are difficult passages and exposed solo work in many instruments, it places few extreme demands on the players, and it uses a straightforward and easily-identifiable theme throughout its 3 movements.  Yet this theme is turned and pulled into many different forms, and put on an emotional roller-coaster of doubts, sweet reveries, ecstatic joy, and triumph.  Truly, the impact that the First Suite still makes on those who hear it is impossible to put into words.  It is a classic piece of art music that has helped to define the development of a century of wind band music.

The US Marine Band performing the complete Suite on Youtube.  Not much to look at, but GREAT listening!

Detailed historical discussion of First Suite on Earfloss.com.

First Suite on Wikipedia.

First Suite program notes on philharmonicwinds.org (Singapore).

Gustavholst.info – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Robert Jager is an American composer educated at the University of Michigan.  He has written dozens of works for several media.  He is the only composer to have won the Ostwald Prize from the American Bandmasters’ Association three times.  He wrote Esprit de Corps in 1984 on a commission from the United States Marine Band and its conductor, Colonel John Bourgeois.  The piece is a fantasy on The Marine’s Hymn, taking the familiar theme in new, exciting directions.

From the title page of the Esprit de Corps score:

Based on The Marines’ Hymn, this work is a kind of fantasy-march, as well as a tribute to the United States Marine Band. Full of energy and drama, the composition has its solemn moments and its lighter moments (for example, the quasi-waltz in the middle of the piece). The composer intends that this work should display the fervor and virtuosity of the Marine Band and the musical spirit and integrity of its conductor, Colonel John R. Bourgeois, for whom the initial tempo marking, “Tempo di Bourgeois,” is named. Colonel John Bourgeois is a dramatic, spirited conductor, who reflects the excitement of the music being played. When a tempo is supposed to be “bright” he makes sure it is exactly that. Because the tempo of Esprit de Corps is to be very bright, the marking just had to be “Tempo di Bourgeois!”

Robert Jager’s website – including bio, list of compositions, and more.

Esprit de Corps page on Robert Jager’s website including a better-quality audio recording of the last minute or so of the piece.

Official history of The Marines’ Hymn
on the United States Marine Band website.

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band website. They are, without question, one of the finest bands in the world, no matter who is president.

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett wrote Symphonic Songs for Band 1957 on a commission from the National Intercollegiate Band, which premiered the piece at Salt Lake City’s Tabernacle.  Subsequent early performances by the Goldman Band and the University of Michigan Symphony Band featured Bennett as guest conductor.  According to George Ferencz, Bennett scholar and editor of the latest full-score edition of the piece, Bennett provided the following note for the piece’s performance with the Goldman Band:

Symphonic Songs are as much as suite of dances or scenes as songs, deriving their name from the tendency of the principal parts to sing out a fairly diatonic tune against whatever rhythm develops in the middle instruments.  The Serenade has the feeling of strumming, from which the title is obtained, otherwise it bears little resemblance to the serenades of Mozart.  The Spiritual may possibly strike the listener as being unsophisticated enough to justify its title, but in performance this movement sounds far simpler than it really is.  The Celebration recalls an old-time country fair; with cheering throngs (in the woodwinds), a circus act or two, and the inevitable mule race.

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Symphonic Songs sheet music for sale on the Canadian Brass website.  Includes a nice bit of history on the piece.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on Naxos.com.

Broadway.com tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Now for a performance.  It’s the Tokyo Kosei!  And they are very fine indeed, but they miss some of the spirit of the piece.  For instance, I think the first movement needs to be a little faster and a bit looser and more heartfelt in the lyricism.  Then they breeze a little too easily through most of the Spiritual.  Their energy at the beginning of the Celebration is perfect, but then they use the wrong kind of whistle in the middle.  So use this recording only as a reference: