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Category Archives: Columbia Festival of Winds

Spring 2013 was a busy semester!  In addition to the usual Columbia Festival of Winds and EPIC concert(s) with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, I also conducted an honor band for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in Westchester County, New York.  The repertoire was spectacular!  This semester at Columbia had special meaning: it was my last with the Columbia Wind Ensemble, as I’ll be starting my DMA in wind conducting this fall at Arizona State University with Gary Hill.  I’m very excited to move on, but also very sad to leave Columbia after 11 years!


EPIC – Monday, April 22 at 8pm at Roone Arledge Auditorium, repeated Sunday, April 28 at 2pm in the EPIC Barnard Quad.  It was also our Senior Choice concert, and my final concert with the CUWE.  EPIC it was indeed!

Raise of the Son – Rossano Gallante (for bassoonist Jimmy Caldarese)

Selections from Star Wars Trilogy – John Williams, arr. Donald Hunsberger (for trombonist and web wizard Curtis Cooper)

Italian in Algiers Overture – Gioachino Rossini (for multi-clarinetist Victor Chang)

Selections from Carmina Burana – Carl Orff, arr. Krance (for trumpeter and master politician Thomas Callander)

Hands Across the Sea – John Philip Sousa (for trombonist and future educator Sam Alexander)

Jupiter from “The Planets” – Gustav Holst, arr. Clark McAlister (for bass trombonist Matt Cowen)

Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah – Camille Saint-Saens (my choice, a repeat from my very first CUWE concert in 2002)


Westchester County School Music Association Elementary All-County Band
Saturday, March 16 at 11am, SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center
A wonderful experience – my first honor band!

Aquia Landing – Paul Murtha

Count Not the Hours – Patrick Burns

Joy – Frank Ticheli

Starscapes – Brian Balmages



Sunday, March 3 at 2pm – Roone Arledge Auditorium, Columbia University

The Columbia Festival Band opened the show with Chester Overture by William Schuman, conducted by Emily Threinen.

The Columbia University Wind Ensemble played:

Festive Overture – Dmitri Shostakovich (Senior Choice for trumpeter Tim Foreman)

Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” – David del Tredici, arr. Mark Spede

The Last Polka – Beck Hansen, arr. Andrew Pease

First Suite in E-flat – Gustav Holst
Sarah Quiroz, guest conductor

Reason for Hope in a Complex World – Oliver Caplan

At the end of the Festival, all of the participating bands massed together and played Sousa’s Liberty Bell March.


Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell in Los Angeles in 1970) is known everywhere by his first name.  He is a multi-platinum recording artist who defies genre labels, pulling his influences from every corner of the music universe.  He also has a way with words, dreaming up song titles like “Devil’s Haircut” and “Nicotine & Gravy”, and lyrical phrases like “On a government loan with a guillotine in your libido” (from “Profanity Prayers”).  He has released 11 studio albums, which cover a wide range of musical styles, and provided music for the film Scott Pilgrim.

Beck’s 12th album, Song Reader, looks conspicuously backward.  He recorded nothing for the album, but rather partnered with publishing house McSweeney’s to produce new songs to be released exclusively as sheet music.  There are 20 songs in the set, each in its own richly decorated folio.  The set includes a preface (read the whole thing here on the New Yorker blog) in which Beck describes his motivation in such an unusual project.  An excerpt:

Initially I was going to write the songs the same way I’d write one of my albums, only in notated form, leaving the interpretation and performance to the player. But after a few discussions [with author Dave Eggers], the approach broadened. We started collecting old sheet music, and becoming acquainted with the art work, the ads, the tone of the copy, and the songs themselves. They were all from a world that had been cast so deeply into the shadow of contemporary music that only the faintest idea of it seemed to exist anymore. I wondered if there was a way to explore that world that would be more than an exercise in nostalgia—a way to represent how people felt about music back then, and to speak to what was left, in our nature, of that instinct to play popular music ourselves.

He goes on to say that he intends for people to play these songs themselves and make their own versions, changing as much or as little as they like.  And so we are going to do in the Columbia University Wind Ensemble.  Beck included two instrumentals in the set, and I have arranged one of them, The Last Polka, for wind band.  The original is a prelude for solo piano.  Beck gives no dynamic markings or tempo indications, allowing for a huge range of interpretations.  The only interpretive hints lie in the initial expressive marking, (“Premonitory”), the title, and the cover illustration, which shows a deserted street in a brown palette, suggesting a softly post- (or pre-) apocalyptic scene.  The music itself supports that interpretation: the melody is rife with descending chromatic contours, a classic figure of lament.  The form is ABA, with a brief, chaotic transition from A to B.  Despite its title, The Last Polka is not a polka at all: the A section reads almost like a comical lament, and the B is, if anything, a waltz.  Sticking with the idea of a lament, I decided to keep it slow, accelerating only in the transition section.  The B section builds in intensity, such that the return of A seems like an even more heartfelt lament for a disappearing world.  Textures melt away at the end to a feeling of accepting the inevitable. Even so, there is little tragedy in this music.  It feels almost like a quiet version of the words, to quote REM, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

The Columbia Wind Ensemble plays my arrangement at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 3, 2013:

Pianist Hanna Silver plays the original and provides her interpretive notes:

A chamber group plays a version that, in the spirit of Beck’s wishes, deviates quite a bit from the original:

Beck has a great website and a Wikipedia page.  All of his lyrics are collected here.  Song Reader also has its own site, complete with descriptions of the songs and versions by musicians from all over the place.  Whiskey Clone keeps a running tab of new versions, including mine (they found it in less than 12 hours).  New versions are constantly popping up, so stay on the lookout!  For now, here is Beck talking to NPR about the album, as well as a cello ensemble playing all 20 songs from it.  Finally, Diffuser lists their five favorite versions of Song Reader songs so far.

If you don’t want to read William Schuman’s bio, skip down to the bottom of the page for a video version of sorts.  For those who do: Born in the Bronx, William Schuman (1910-1992) dropped out of business school to pursue composition after hearing the New York Philharmonic for the first time.  He became a central figure in New York’s cultural institutions, leaving his presidency of the Juilliard School to become the first director of Lincoln Center in 1961.  All the while he was active as a composer.  He received the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for music in 1943.  He shared a fondness for wind music with his Juilliard contemporaries Vincent Persichetti and Peter Mennin, from which came many classic works for wind band.

Chester is the third movement of the New England Triptych, a collection of three pieces based on tunes by the colonial-era New England composer William Billings.    Schuman wrote the collection in 1956 on a commission from Andre Kostelanetz and the orchestra at the University of Miami.  Schuman created his own versions for band later, one movement at a time.  Chester came first, right on the heels of the original.  The orchestration of the two versions is obviously different in important ways, and unlike the other movements, Schuman actually expands his treatment of Chester in the band version.  It begins as a chorale before being broken into pieces in an intense development that comprises most of the piece.  Much later (1988) Schuman also produced a set of piano variations on the tune.

Nobody could describe the history of Chester better than Schuman himself (from the band score of the piece):

The tune on which this composition is based was born during the very time of the American Revolution, appearing in 1778 in a book of tunes and anthems composed by William Billings called THE SINGING MASTER’S ASSISTANT. This book became known as “Billings’ Best” following as it did his first book called THE NEW ENGLAND PSALM SINGER, published in 1770. CHESTER was so popular that it was sung throughout the colonies from Vermont to South Carolina. It became the song of the American Revolution, sung around the campfires of the Continental Army and played by fifers on the march. The music and words, both composed by Billings, expressed perfectly the burning desire for freedom which sustained the colonists through the difficult years of the Revolution,

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet’rans flee before our Youth,
And Gen’rals yield to beardless Boys. 

What grateful Off’ring shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev’ry Chord.

Billings himself is described by William Bentley, of Salem, a contemporary, as “the father of our New England Music.  Many who have imitated have excelled him, but none of them had better original power.  He was a singular man, of moderate size, short of one leg, with one eye, without any address, and with an uncommon negligence of person.  Still he spake and sang and thought as a man above the common abilities.”  Billings, born in Boston in 1746, started his career in life as a tanner’s apprentice but soon gave up this trade for music in which he was apparently self-taught.  He organized singing schools, composing music for them which was all the more welcome because relations with England had reached the breaking point and the colonists were glad to have their own native music.  Billings’ many “fuguing tunes” achieved great popularity, but by the time he died in 1800 this kind of music gradually fell into disfavor leaving Billings poor and neglected.  Today given the prospective [sic] of history we see Billings as a major figure in American music.  His indomitable spirit still shines through the sturdy tunes he wrote.

The Ball State University Symphony Band plays the band version of Chester:

The orchestral version, while broadly similar in its chorale-allegro design, takes a very different form than the band version does, and it is about half as long:

Schuman appeared as the mystery guest on the game show “What’s My Line” in 1962.  Sadly, his episode of the show was removed from YouTube.  Instead, you can watch this video portrait of the composer made by his publisher:

More on Chester at the Wind Repertory Project, Wikia Program Notes, an analytic paper by Christopher Ritter, and a high school listening assignment based on the piece (try it!).  Schuman has bios on Wikipedia, his own official website, G. Schirmer, Theodore Presser, and Naxos.  And William Billings has at least one giant column of a website devoted to him and his music.

David Del Tredici (b. 1937) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer whose works range from intimate piano sonatas and string quartets to giant orchestral and choral epics.  Born in California, he now resides in New York City, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Music at The City College of New York.  His composition career has gone through phases: he showed an early interest in setting the poetry of James Joyce, moved on to a decade-long obsession with Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland, and has spent recent years creating settings of gay American poets.  He has won praise and accolades throughout his career, including from Aaron Copland, who said (according to Del Tredici’s website) that he “is that rare find among composers — a creator with a truly original gift. I venture to say that his music is certain to make a lasting impression on the American musical scene. I know of no other composer of his generation who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.”  He has also been recognized twice by OUT magazine as a person of the year.

Acrostic Song originates from Del Tredici’s Alice period.  It is the last aria in Final Alice, an epic series of arias and dramatic episodes that tells the story of the final chapters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Acrostic Song uses a seven-verse acrostic poem that Carroll wrote based on the real Alice‘s name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.  Del Tredici sets it with all the simplicity and regularity of the poem, preserving the simple, three-line stanzas in the musical phrasing.  The result is a profound musical experience wrapped in deceptively simple and familiar musical trappings.

A band in Texas performs the Acrostic Song as arranged (at the composer’s request) by Mark Spede:

Here is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing the Acrostic Song in its original from with soprano Hila Plitmann (yes, that’s Eric Whitacre‘s wife).  Note: the form is largely the same as the band version, but it’s in a different key.  And the ending veers off in an entirely different direction:

On February 18, 2013 David Del Tredici came to a Columbia Wind Ensemble rehearsal to hear us play through the Acrostic Song.  It was his first time hearing the arrangement live.  We ended up working through the entire arrangement bit by bit, making several changes along the way, thus creating sort an ur-text edition of the arrangement.  Those changes are listed below.

Changes to Spede arrangement of Acrostic Song:
m. 1: cresc.
m. 2: dim.
m. 3: cresc.
m. 4: dim.
m. 7: cresc.
m. 8: dim.
m. 9: cresc.
m. 10: dim.
mm.13-16 oboes rest
End of m. 18: no breath mark, connect right into m. 19
mm. 19-20: oboes rest
m. 24-25: no breath
m. 40: oboes rest, all flutes on G
mm. 47-53: all flutes play 1st part, 1 clarinet 1 8va (all others as written)
m. 53: PIU Mosso
mm. 57-60: molto molto accel to quarter=160 in m. 61, then rit.
m. 72: trombone 2 on C (2nd space), trombone 1 on G (top space), horn 2 on written G (2nd line), horn 1 on written D (4th line), ALL OTHERS REST
m. 75: subito piu mosso, anyone with 8ths dynamic should be ff
m. 82: add suspended cymbal roll starting pp, cresc. for beats 1 & 2, dim. for beats 3&4, release on downbeat of m. 83
m. 83: all winds and brass who played in 82 sustain whole note through 83

The performance, with some introduction:

There is so much extra material out there on Final Alice, including hugely extensive program notes from the Kennedy Center, a review of the definitive recording, Del Tredici’s own notes at Boosey & Hawkes, and a tribute by Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post.  For the curious (and curiouser), here is Carroll’s original poem, “A boat beneath a sunny sky”:

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

Oliver Caplan (b. 1982) is a Boston-based composer of romantically-tinged music for all combinations of instruments and voices.  He grew up in the Bronx, attending Stuyvesant high school, where he played piccolo in the band.  He left in New York in 2000 for Dartmouth College (he and I met and became friends there) where the rich outdoor environment and mix of musical personalities (like the Dartmouth College Marching Band) inspired his interest in composition.  He went on to study at the Boston Conservatory.  Caplan’s music has been performed all over the United States.  He has received commissions from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, the Juventas New Music Ensemble, and the Sinfonietta of Riverdale, among many others.  He has received numerous awards, having most recently been named as a Finalist for the American Prize in Composition.

Read more about Caplan on his website, his Twitter feed, and his Facebook page.  Also, consider taking a look at his CD, Illuminations.

Caplan wrote Reason for Hope in a Complex World in 2007 on a commission from the Columbia University Wind Ensemble.  He writes:

Commissioned by the Columbia University Wind Ensemble, Reason for Hope in a Complex World was inspired by the work and words of Jane Goodall. In Spring 2007 Dr. Goodall spoke in Boston, addressing the question: Is there hope for the future? Hope, she responded, stems from the incredible nature of the human spirit, but there is only hope if we all come together as a global community – we must each be a part of compassionate change.

The piece draws from this idea of binding together to become greater than the sum of our parts. Contrasting passages derive from a fanfare theme, presented in its entirety only at the work’s finale. The structure loosely resembles a theme and variations in reverse. The fanfare serves as a point of arrival that unifies the work’s various threads. In a sense, this mirrors Dr. Goodall’s idea of disparate people coming together to realize their common humanity.

The composition opens with chords meant to evoke the tolling of bell towers, focal points of community that mark the passage of time and call people together. Meanwhile, members of the ensemble murmur words of Walt Whitman about the busy egotism of society. The music proceeds through several sections – from urban-inspired reflections on constant sensory input to contemplations of spaces lonely and longing. The bell chords return, and finally the brass section presents a fanfare theme of hope.

You can listen to Reason for Hope in a Complex World on Caplan’s website (scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll see it).  The performance is the Columbia University Wind Ensemble premiere at Dartmouth College in February, 2008.  You’ll hear some text in there – that’s from Walt Whitman, and reads as follows:

This is the city… and I am on of the
citizens.  Whatever interests the rest
interests me… politics, churches, schools, benevolent
societies, improvements, banks, tariffs, factories,
markets, stocks and stores and real estate and
personal estate.  They who piddle and patter here
in collars and tailed coats… I am aware who
they are… I acknowledge the duplicates
of myself under all the scrape-lipped and
pipe-legged concealments.  I know perfectly
well my own egotism.

Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither.
Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give way,
substances mock and elude me.  Out of politics,
triumphs, battles, life, what at last finally remains?

Everyone loves videos, so here’s a behind the scenes look at the making of Caplan’s album:

Spring 2012 will go down as truly legendary in the memory of the Columbia Wind Ensemble.  With only 9 rehearsals total, we put on a giant festival, our usual senior concert, and 2 run-outs.  The main event was the Columbia Festival of Winds, the Columbia Wind Ensemble’s band festival and fundraiser, which happened on Sunday, March 4.  Our final big concert of the year, on Saturday, April 14, was called PERSPECTIVES.  We also were invited to play at St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia campus on Tuesday, April 17.  To cap the semester, we played outdoors at Riverside Park on April 29 (although it felt more like March thanks to a chilly wind in the air).


COLUMBIA FESTIVAL OF WINDS – Sunday, March 4, 2012, 2pm-6pm

The Columbia Festival Band played Clifton Williams’s Symphonic Dance no. 3, Fiesta, under the direction of Dr. Christian Wilhjelm.

The Columbia University Wind Ensemble played:

American Overture for Band – Joseph Wilcox Jenkins (senior choice for Hannah Waldrip)

Cuban Overture – George Gershwin, arranged by Mark Rogers (senior choice for Andrea Gillis)

Slava! – Leonard Bernstein, arranged by Clare Grundman (conducted by Sarah Quiroz)

Kingfishers Catch Fire – John Mackey

At the end of the concert, all participating ensembles joined together in one massed band to play Sousa’s King Cotton.


PERSPECTIVES – Saturday April 14, 2012 at 12 noon

Huapango – Jose Pablo Moncayo, transcribed by Leroy Osmon (senior choice for Raul Ruiz)

William Byrd Suite – Gordon Jacob (senior choice for Toni Ma)

Gnomus from Pictures at and Exhibition – Modest Mussorgsky, arr. Mark Hindsley (senior choice for Jenn Altman-Lupu)

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst (senior choice for Sean Healey)

Alas, we had to cut Bacchanale from Samson et Delila – Camille Saint-Saens, arr. Philip Egner from the program due to the aforementioned lack of rehearsal time.  Seriously, we put that concert together in 3 rehearsals, but we did it well!


ST PAUL’S CHAPEL – Tuesday, April 17 at 6pm.  We shared the concert with Columbia Classical Performers.

William Byrd Suite – Gordon Jacob

Comedians’ Galop – Dmitri Kabalevsky, arranged by Erik Leidzen (senior choice for Andrei Popescu)

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst


RIVERSIDE PARK – Sunday, April 29 at 2pm

Flourish for Wind Band – Ralph Vaughan Williams

William Byrd Suite – Gordon Jacob

Comedians’ Galop – Dmitri Kabalevsky, arranged by Erik Leidzen

Second Suite in F – Gustav Holst

King Cotton – John Philip Sousa


In addition, I co-chaired the Rockland County Music Educators Association Intermediate All-County Band, which met on Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3.  That brought together the best 5th and 6th grade band students in Rockland County for a weekend of great music-making.

Clifton Williams (1923-1976) was born in Arkansas and attended high school in Little Rock, where he became an accomplished french horn player. He studied composition at Lousiana State University and the Eastman School of Music. He taught composition for 17 years at the University of Texas at Austin before becoming chair of the composition and theory department at the University of Miami in 1966.  He held this post until his untimely death.  His first compositions were written for orchestra.  His career as a wind band composer took off in 1956 when Fanfare and Allegro, his first composition for band, won the inaugural Ostwald Award given by the American Bandmasters’ Association.  His Symphonic Suite won him the award again the following year.  He went on to write over 3 dozen works for band, many of which are considered essential repertoire.

No one describes Symphonic Dance no. 3: Fiesta better or more succinctly than the Foothill Symphonic Winds:

Fiesta was originally one of Clifton Williams’ five Symphonic Dances, commissioned by the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 1964. In the original suite, each of the five dances represented the spirit of a different time and place relative to the background of San Antonio, Texas. Fiesta is an evocation of the excitement and color of the city’s numerous Mexican celebrations. The modal characteristics, rhythms, and finely woven melodies depict what Williams called “the pageantry of Latin-American celebration – street bands, bull fights, bright costumes, the colorful legacy of a proud people.” The introduction features a brass fanfare that generates a dark, yet majestic atmosphere that is filled with the tension of the upcoming events. The soft tolling of bells herald an approaching festival with syncopated dance rhythms. Solo trumpet phrases and light flirtatious woodwind parts provide a side interest as the festival grows in force as it approaches the arena. The brass herald the arrival of the matador to the bullring and the ultimate, solemn moment of truth. The finale provides a joyous climax to the festivities.

Fiesta will be the sole piece played by the Columbia Festival Band , which will open the 4th annual Columbia Festival of Winds on 3/4/2012.  Dr. Christian Wilhjelm of the Ridgewood Concert Band will conduct this band, which will be made up of members from each of the bands participating in the Festival.  We also played it in Columbia Wind Ensemble in 2003.

Since I won’t be conducting it this time around and don’t know exactly how Dr. Wilhjelm will like it, here are several version of Fiesta for your listening (and hopefully practicing!) pleasure:

First, a studio recording by an anonymous band:

A live performance by a Japanese high school band:

Finally, here’s a slightly different live interpretation by a Texas honor band:

Clifton Williams bio at Wikipedia.

Clifton Williams on the Ostwald Award site.

Clifton Williams at the Wind Repertory Project.

Brooklyn’s Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were among the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1920s and 30s, with countless popular songs and six Broadway musicals to their name.  But George (1898-1937), who wrote all of the music to Ira’s lyrics, longed for a place in the classical music pantheon.  In 1924, his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and band (later orchestra) established his credentials as a serious composer.  Its use of jazz elements within classical structures became a hallmark of Gershwin’s style.  His Piano Concerto in F and An American in Paris continued in this direction, culminating in his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.  Despite his success in the classical arena, Gershwin’s requests for lessons with other major composers were repeatedly denied.  Arnold Schoenberg, for example, told him “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Gershwin wrote Cuban Overture in 1932 after a vacation in Havana in February of that year.  He returned from that trip with Cuban rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.  The overture was premiered on August 16, 1932 under the title Rumba.  It was retitled Cuban Overture by the time of its second performance at the Metropolitan Opera on November 1, 1932.  For that occasion, Gershwin provided his own program notes:

In my composition I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material.  The result is a symphonic overture, which embodies the essence of the Cuban dance.

It has three main parts.  The first part is preceded by an introduction featuring some of the thematic material.  Then comes a three-part contrapuntal episode leading to a second theme.  The first part finishes with a recurrence of the first theme combined with fragments of the second.

A solo clarinet cadenza leads to a middle part, which is in a plaintive mood.  It is a gradual developing canon in a polytonal manner.  This part concludes witha climax based on an ostinato of the theme in the canon, after which a sudden change in tempo brings us back to the rumba dance rhythms.

The finale is a development of the preceding material in a stretto-like manner.  This leads us back once again to the main theme.

The conclusion of the work is a coda featuring the Cuban instruments of the percussion.

Cuban Overture marks a great leap forward in Gershwin’s symphonic music, both in its harmonic sophistication and its orchestration.  His program notes, with their emphasis on the form of the work, may have been an attempt to quiet his critics who faulted him with awkwardly-constructed music.  But Cuban Overture, with its roots firmly in Gershwin’s famous sound and clearly tempered by his Cuban experience, met with critical praise from its first performance.  This was among his last large-scale instrumental concert works, written when Gershwin was 33.  Had he lived beyond the age of 38, Cuban Overture might have pointed the way towards another era of sophisticated Gershwin compositions.

Further program notes and information on Cuban Overture can be found at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Redwood Symphony, and on the blog of Gershwin biographer Walter Rimler.

Before listening, I highly recommend that you watch this 1930s tourist film about Cuba.  It puts the piece wonderfully in context, and it shows what a truly different place Cuba has become now.

Here is the US Coast Guard Band playing Cuban Overture. It’s techinically all there, but a bit lacking in the groove:

Now the orchestra version, recorded with a nice professional polish, but too fast in the middle.  Also, it’s a whole step higher than the band one (although it did come first, so I guess the band version is therefore a whole step lower) so don’t let that throw your ears off:

Gershwin often wrote a short score for 2 pianists of his symphonic pieces before orchestrating them.  Cuban Overture is no exception:

Finally, a bit of a curiosity: in 1938, the year after Gershwin’s death, pianist Rose Linda got together with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra to record a jazzy version of the Overture:

About the composer: – the official Gershwin family website.

Gershwin’s death announcement and obituary from the New York Times.

George Gershwin bio at

Another Gershwin bio, with portraits, at

The 2012 performance of this is a senior choice for CUWE treasurer and oboist Andrea Gillis.

There are so many reasons that I’m excited to play Slava!  First, the title actually contains that exclamation point.  Second, it’s by Bernstein, a true American character, and he wrote it about Rostropovich, another great character of the 20th century.  Third, it allows me to put on this blog the most jaw-dropping musical performance I’ve ever seen. (More on that later).  Finally, it’s just so much fun to play!  So, about this piece…

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Bernstein wrote Slava! in 1977 on a commission from its namesake, the legendary Soviet-born cellist and conductor, Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich.  Rostropovich at that point had just assumed the post of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.  He asked Bernstein to help him present a concert of the composer’s own work early in his first season.  He got three new pieces out of that request: Three Meditations from “Mass”, Songfest, and an untitled “political overture” that was only barely finished in time for the concert.  The latter work turned out to be Slava!, a fun and irreverent tribute and welcome for Rostropovich, who conducted the premiere performance on October 11 of that year.  “Slava” is a common nickname for Russian men whose names contain “-slav”, and Mstislav Rostropovich was known as “Slava” to his closest friends.  “Slava” also means “glory” in Russian.  The program notes at the Kennedy Center, home of the National Symphony, delve deeper and are worth a read.

There is much material about Bernstein on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface. – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at

You’ve been waiting all this time for that jaw-dropping video.  I found this by searching for “best Japanese elementary school band”.  To really make your jaw drop, look what they’ve done with their music stands.  To make it drop even further, listen until the end of Slava! for the famous chant.  Now, without further ado:

Now here’s a look at Slava himself doing what he did best, which was making beautiful music with his cello:

Sarah Quiroz will conduct the 2012 Columbia University Wind Ensemble performance of Slava! at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 4.

John Mackey (b. 1973) once famously compared the band and the orchestra to the kind of girl a composer might meet at a party. The orchestra seems like she ought to be your ideal woman, but she clearly feels superior to you and talks a lot about her exes (like Dvorak and Beethoven). The band, meanwhile, is loud and brash, but loves everything you do and can’t wait to play your stuff, the newer, the better! (I’ve rather poorly paraphrased Mackey – it’s best understood in his original blog post on the subject).

With this attitude and his prodigious talent, John Mackey has become a superstar composer among band directors. He has even eclipsed his former teacher, John Corigliano, by putting out a dozen new band works, including a handful of commissions, in the last 5 years. All are challenging, and all are innovative. Mackey’s works for wind ensemble and orchestra have been performed around the world, and have won numerous composition prizes. His Redline Tango, originally for orchestra and then transcribed by the composer for band, won him the American Bandmasters Assocation/Ostwald Award in 2005, making him, then 32, the youngest composer ever to recieve that prize.  He won again in 2009 with Aurora Awakes.  His compositional style is fresh and original. I once heard him state that he counted the band Tool among his musical influences.

John Mackey publishes his own music through Osti Music.  The website for this company doubles as his personal website and his blog, which is very informative for anyone looking for a composer’s perspective on new music. He is featured on wikipedia and the Wind Repertory Project.

Mackey wrote Kingfishers Catch Fire in 2006-2007 on commission from a consortium in schools in Japan.  Says Mackey:

A kingfisher is a bird with stunning, brilliantly colored feathers that appear in sunlight as if they are on fire.  Kingfishers are extremely shy birds and are rarely seen, but when they are seen, they are undeniably beautiful.

The first movement, “Following falls and falls of rain,” is suspended in tone, but with hope, depicting the kingfisher slowly emerging from its nest in the early morning stillness, just after a heavy rain storm.  The second movement, “Kingfishers catch fire,” imagines the bird flying out into the sunlight.  The work ends with a reference to (and a bit of a pun on) Stravinsky’s Firebird.

Mackey himself provides even more program notes on this piece, both on his website and in more colorful detail on his blog. You can also look at the score and hear a recording of the piece (first movement, then second movement) there.

Those too lazy to click a link can hear Kingfishers Catch Fire, or at least the 2nd movement, via YouTube here:

In case you were wondering what bit of Firebird Mackey is referencing, you can find out on my post about that piece.  For the link-challenged among you, here’s the video clip.  It’s one of the greatest conducting videos ever made, so it deserves reposting.  Listen to the very end of both pieces and you’ll hear the reference for sure.

And now a bonus image: a Kingfisher!