Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Friday, February 21, 7:30 p.m. Central
Mallory Thompson, conductor
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Program Note on Joel Puckett's "Blink"
In Joel Puckett’s program note, he explains his inspiration for Blink:
Have you ever had a feeling that something good was about to happen? Perhaps just an inkling? Have you ever met someone and known instantly that you were going to become thick as thieves? In the fall of 2005, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink – a book about rapid cognition. I found this concept inspiring, which led to the writing of my work for wind band by the same name. My work features quick changes of both texture and tempo (blink!) while systematically exploring a single motive.
The following is from Gladwell’s website:
"When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good."
The opening statement of Blink is a single motive first heard in the trumpets. Puckett uses this motive in a variety of ways to illustrate rapid cognition discussed in Gladwell’s book. Throughout the work, the piece abruptly transitions between fast and slow, rhythmic and lyrical, driving and peaceful. The sudden shifts in style reflect the split-second decisions that change our lives in subtle and profound ways.
Hailed by the Washington Post as “visionary” and “an astonishingly original voice” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Joel Puckett’s music has been recognized by organizations such as the American Composers Forum, Broadcast Music Inc., Chorus America, National Public Radio, and the American Bandmasters Association. He received a Grammy nomination in 2016 for the Naxos recording of his flute concerto, The Shadow of Sirius. In March 2019 the Minnesota Opera premiered Puckett’s first opera The Fix, which received critical acclaim. Puckett melds tradition with innovation to create a modern, yet broadly appealing musical language. Joel is currently on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University, and he holds graduate degrees from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Michael Daugherty, William Bolcom, and Bright Sheng.
Program Note on Cindy McTee's "Soundings"
Cindy McTee’s Soundings is inspired by the definition of its title word, “the making or giving forth of sounds,” and it encompasses the more descriptive titles of the individual movements: Fanfare, Gizmo, Waves, and Transmission. She compares the timbres of the work with “the colors of a large jazz ensemble with its brass and saxophone sections playing parallel melodies in unison rhythm.” As described by McTee, each of the four movements explores different concepts of sound:
"Fanfare employs familiar musical materials such as quartal harmony and imitative counterpoint but departs from traditional fanfares in its use of woodwind as well as brass instruments.
"Gizmo reflects my fascination with gadgets, motoric rhythms, and the sound of major sevenths.
"Waves was born out of my experience in the computer music studio and my preference for sounds whose shapes slowly expand and contract. Four musical layers are presented: (1) a steady tremolo in the percussion serves to anchor as well as to animate the music; (2) waves of sound through the lower brass and woodwinds are supported by timpani and tamtam; (3) scattered, freely-moving solos in the upper winds are complemented by; (4) a repeated melody played by trumpets, oboe, flute, and piccolo.
"Transmission is not unlike Gizmo in its reliance upon a quickly-moving, steady pulse and sonorities employing major sevenths. The title, Transmission, was chosen for its double meaning: (1) information from a transmitter and (2) an assembly of gears and associated parts by which power is transmitted from the engine to the gearbox. In Transmission, I have “transmitted” musical information using “metric or temporal modulation,” a process analogous to the one executed by the driver of an automobile smoothly shifting gears to change engine speed."
According to the Houston Chronicle, Cindy McTee’s works reflect a “charging, churning celebration of the musical and cultural energy of modern-day America and brings to the world of concert music a fresh and imaginative voice.” McTee studied composition at Pacific Lutheran University and Yale University, where she was a student of Jacob Druckman. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to study electronic music in Poland at the Kraków Academy of Music. During her residency, she studied with eminent Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki. Other awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Composer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Goddard Lieberson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. McTee taught for thirty years in addition to composing. She began teaching composition at Pacific Lutheran University but spent the majority of her academic career at the University of North Texas where she retired as Regents Professor Emerita in 2011. McTee and her husband, American conductor Leonard Slatkin, currently reside in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Program Note on Jennifer Higdon's "SkyLine" from "City Scape"
As a Pulitzer Prize recipient and Grammy Award winner, Jennifer Higdon is considered to be one of America’s leading contemporary composers. She received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, as well as a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto. Higdon’s blue cathedral is one of the most performed modern orchestral works in the United States. She studied composition at Bowling Green State University, where she met conductor Robert Spano, who became a champion of Higdon’s music. Later, she studied composition with Ned Rorem and George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania and the Curtis Institute of Music, where she currently holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Compositional Studies. Throughout her childhood, Higdon preferred listening to the popular music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, rather than classical music. She taught herself flute at the age of 15 and did not begin formal music studies until college. She has described her own compositional process as “intuitive” and “instinctive,” writing music that makes sense, rather than adhering to a strict form or structure.
City Scape was one of Jennifer Higdon’s first collaborations with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and director Robert Spano. She composed the work as a three-panel portrait of Atlanta, a city in which she spent part of her childhood. The composition can be performed as three separate works or a complete suite. In the first movement, “SkyLine,” Higdon expresses Atlanta’s profile through the steel buildings and structures that represent its signature skyline. About the movement, Higdon writes:
"City Scape is a metropolitan sound picture written in orchestral tones. Every city has a distinctive downtown skyline: That steely profile that juts into the sky, with shapes and monumental buildings that represent a particular signature for each city. The steel structures present an image of boldness, strength, and growth, teeming with commerce, and the people who work and live there. Over the past four decades I’ve watched the skyline change and grow, rising up distinctly into its own identifiable shape. Every city’s skyline is a fingerprint that the rest of the world recognizes at a distance; Atlanta has developed a powerful, distinctively metropolitan image, recognizable around the world."
In “SkyLine” Higdon explores the diverse colors of the orchestra, through the use of multiple solos and the combination of contrasting musical layers. “SkyLine” begins with stacked major chords in the trumpets and open fifths in the bassoons and horns, giving impression of multiple tonal centers sounding simultaneously. Higdon recreates the bustle of the city by layering rhythmic ostinatos, virtuosic soloistic passages, and melodic fragments. The strong rhythmic drive and bold instrumental colors combine to bring the work to an exuberant finish.
City Scape was premiered in 2002 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano, Music Director. Tonight is the wind ensemble premiere of “SkyLine,” arranged by doctoral conducting assistant Eric Scott.
Program Note on John Harbison's "Three City Blocks"
John Harbison was born into a musical family and exposed to a broad spectrum of musical styles. Harbison’s father, Elmore, was a Princeton University professor and an amateur composer in popular and classical styles. He wrote several student-produced shows while a student at Princeton and knew Roger Sessions, John’s first composition teacher. His mother was an amateur vocalist and his sisters were classically trained musicians. He began studying piano at the age of five, and by the age of twelve, Harbison started his own jazz ensemble. The genre remained an influential idiom throughout his career. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Harvard where he studied with Walter Piston, he continued his musical studies at Princeton and the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. He is the recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for his cantata, The Flight into Egypt, the 1989 MacArthur Fellowship and the 2000 Harvard Arts Medal. Harbison is currently the Professor of Composition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to composing operas, works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and choir, Harbison wrote three pieces for winds: Music for 18 Winds (1986), Olympic Dances (1996), and Three City Blocks (1991). When asked for his “artistic credo” Harbison replied, “to make each piece different from the others, to find clear, fresh large designs, to reinvent traditions.”
Three City Blocks represents Harbison’s impression of urban America. Although the title is descriptive, the work is neither programmatic nor specific to any location. Three City Blocks is influenced by jazz heard over the radio in Harbison’s youth, with the sound of the “Ellington and Thelonious Monk orchestras, and the Charlie Mingus Band, bands that I knew at that time that sounded to me like what big cities sounded like.” The high energy level of Three City Blocks is influenced not only by jazz and other urban music, but also drum corps, which Harbison heard every summer in his hometown of Madison. The language of jazz, in particular rhythm and harmony, are important raw materials of the piece, but Harbison develops them using a compositional technique firmly grounded in conventional western art music. About Three City Blocks, Harbison says the following:
"For many years the romanticism of the rural ideal dominated American arts, even as fewer and fewer people actually experienced the countryside, or pursued its labors or its pleasures. Though it still exists out there somewhere as a source of renewal or regeneration, or sheer escape, the rural vision has been replaced by another reality. We are ruled politically by the suburbs, which are neither here nor there. But we are haunted, challenged, terrorized, and energized by the city.
"So the composer who wants to deal with live materials opens his ears to the sounds of downtown. These sounds cannot be simply transcribed, they must be somehow essentialized, made to stand for more.
"The grand expanses of the American wind orchestra, one of our most abundant and flexible resources, seems a good place to explore the jangle and the clarity of this powerful urban experience. Three City Blocks should suggest places we have been, places we would like to be, places we might be afraid to be."
The first movement, Fervent and Resolute, begins with jazz-like rhythms, harmonies and melodies depicting a sense of urban vitality. Three contrasting themes are used, which are often fragmented and used in opposition. Fervent and Resolute ends with a raucous coda, in which the themes clash without resolution. The second movement, Tough, Driving, is characterized by the juxtaposition of rhythmically forceful, dense orchestration with lightly textured riffs. Throughout the movement segments of music are presented, then abruptly alternate with contrasting fragments. The final phrase fades away to a quartet of non-pitched percussion, which slowly dissipates into silence. With the tempo marking quarter note = 206, Harbison’s title With Relentless Energy is an accurate description of the final movement. The forward momentum is depicted through the manipulation of rhythm, displacement of pulse, and the layering of several themes. The final section of the work, which Harbison refers to the ‘Amen’ section, contains repeated statements of a plagal cadence. In the final section of the work, Harbison adds police whistles, sirens, and brake drums, however the pagal chords never resolve, giving an unsettled sense of finality.
Symphonic Wind Ensemble Personnel
Mallory Thompson, conductor
Eric Scott, doctoral assistant conductor
Angelina Hamada, graduate assistant conductor
Patrick Di Somma
DMA, EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC
Mallory Thompson is director of bands, professor of music, coordinator of the conducting program, and holds the John W. Beattie Chair of Music at Northwestern University. In 2003 she was named a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence. As the third person in the university's history to hold the director of bands position, Dr. Thompson conducts the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, teaches undergraduate and graduate conducting, and administers all aspects of the band program. She has recorded five albums with the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble on the Summit Records label.
Thompson received the Bachelor of Music Education degree and Master of Music degree in conducting from Northwestern University, where she studied conducting with John P. Paynter and trumpet with Vincent Cichowicz. She received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with Donald Hunsberger.
Maintaining an active schedule as guest conductor, conducting teacher, and guest lecturer throughout the United States and Canada, Thompson has had the privilege of teaching conducting to thousands of undergraduates, graduate students, and professional educators. She has served as a conductor or clinician at the College Band Directors National Association regional and national conventions, the Midwest Clinic, the Interlochen Arts Academy, numerous state music conventions, and the Aspen Music Festival. In addition to conducting all-state ensembles throughout the United States, she has had professional engagements as guest conductor with the United States Air Force Band, the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the United States Army Field Band, the United States Coast Guard Band, the United States Navy Band, the West Point Band, the Dallas Wind Symphony, Symphony Silicon Valley, the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, Monarch Brass Ensemble, and Banda Sinfônica in Sao Pãulo, Brazil. Her professional affiliations include Pi Kappa Lambda, the College Band Directors National Association, and the American Bandmasters Association.
Dr. Thompson is especially proud of her 53 graduate conducting students and the hundreds of outstanding Symphonic Wind Ensemble members with whom she has had the joy of making music at Northwestern. She treasures her relationship with the Wildcat Marching Band and is honored to preserve and grow Northwestern’s legacy.
Symphonic Wind EnsembleClose
Smallest and most select of the Bienen School’s wind ensembles, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE) presents a diverse repertoire of well-known masterworks and contemporary compositions.
The ensemble was founded as the University Chamber Band in 1954, when director of bands John P. Paynter began experimenting with flexible instrumentation in a single-player-per-part configuration. Renamed the Symphonic Wind Ensemble in 1969, the group began developing a reputation for innovation and artistic performance, honoring and expressing the orchestral training and tradition of Northwestern’s applied faculty.
Under the direction of Mallory Thompson, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble has participated in dozens of commissioning consortia and presented numerous world premieres, winning acclaim from composers John Adams, Michael Colgrass, John Corigliano, Karel Husa, Morten Lauridsen, David Maslanka, Jonathan Newman, Carter Pann, Joel Puckett, Joseph Schwantner, and Augusta Read Thomas. Alumni of the group are performing in professional ensembles around the world.
SWE has previously released seven albums, most recently Reflections in December 2017. This ensemble is open to music majors only.
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Symphonic Wind Ensemble