Frost Wind Ensemble gives superb Ticheli symphony a new look

By Lawrence Budmen


Composer Frank Ticheli [Photo:Charlie Grosso]

Composer Frank Ticheli

The Frost Wind Ensemble presented a concert of 21st century American music on Wednesday at Festival Miami. This snapshot of works from the past decade revealed a profusion of compositional styles and techniques, from pop art fusion to avant garde experimentation. 

            The orchestral version of Symphony No. 1 by Frank Ticheli, the oldest work on the program, received its premiere on the same Gusman Concert Hall stage in October, 2001. It was performed Wednesday in a new transcription for wind band by Frost Wind Ensemble director Gary Green.  

             Ticheli’s arresting opus follows a musical journey from youthful exuberance to spiritual transcendence.  The opening movement Of Youth flows with vivacious energy and echoes of  Aaron Copland’s prairie Americana phase. A ruminative clarinet solo opens Of Wisdom, a song of melancholy lyricism that grows to a dramatic climax but concludes with a question seemingly unanswered. Angry horn calls and brass figurations punctuate Profanation with a relentless rhythmic undertow by mallet percussion. Brief jazzy interludes fail to quiet the waters. The final Prayer opens with an eloquent saxophone solo that seems to arch upward. A plea for peace and hope is intoned by a tenor soloist, masked in rhapsodic stasis. 

            Ticheli’s beautiful and imaginative score is a major contribution to the American symphonic canon. Green clearly loves this work and conducted his version with fervor, inspiring his student musicians to playing of remarkable cohesion and sensitivity. John Bragle, the artful tenor soloist, brought the subtlety of a fine lieder singer to the final rumination.            

Steven Bryant

Steven Bryant

Ecstatic Waters by Stephen Bryant combines live performance with electronics from a laptop computer. Inspired by poetry of William Butler Yeats. the score juxtaposes man and machine, order and chaos. An initial haunting solo by the celesta is echoed electronically but the mood is broken by a jaunty brass motif. In the second movement Augurs, the combination of brass fanfares in irregular rhythms and electronics is reminiscent of the spatial music of Henry Brant. The Generous Wrath of Simple Men unfurls a battle between serialism and tonality, apocalyptic explosion and repetitive pulse, which is resolved by the beautiful aching blues sung by the clarinet in the opening of the fourth section The Loving Machine of Justice. An epilogue brings a surprisingly poetic conclusion after the sound and fury that preceded it. 

            Bryant combines divergent elements with the wry impishness of Charles Ives. Ecstatic Waters’ best moments come in these unlikely syntheses of combustion, mechanized rhythm and songful melody. At other moments the composer seems to have created a less interesting, more conventional band piece. The score could benefit from judicious editing. Green and the ensemble made the best possible case for the work’s uneven invention. 

            Raise the Roof by Michael Daugherty is a joyous romp that adds rock and big band sounds to the classical mix with lovable irreverence. Utilizing six timpani and cymbals, mallets, wire brushes, and maraca sticks, new UM faculty member Svet Stoyanov was the percussion soloist, giving a bravura demonstration of agility at lightning speed in Daugherty’s festive party piece.

Posted in Performances

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Thu Oct 15, 2009
at 12:00 pm
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