And now, like a breath — or several — of fresh air, comes the UCSB Wind Ensemble’s closing concert for the year, at 8 p.m. Thursday in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.
Under the always sure-handed direction of Paul Bambach, with graduate assistant Kelley Coker, the program will include works by Frank Ticheli (Nitro), Eric Whitacre (Lux Arumque), Gordon Jacob (William Byrd Suite) and Charles Ives (Variations on “America”), Also featured will be works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Toccata Marziale), Alfred Reed (El Camino Real), Carter Pann (Serenade for Winds, 2008) and Jack Stamp (Gavorkna Fanfare).
The reader may note that this program divides the honors between British composers (Jacobs, Williams and Reed) and American composers (Ticheli, Whitacre, Ives, Pann and Stamp), and that all but one of the Americans are still at it.
Ives (1874-1954) wrote his celebrated Variations on “America” for organ in late 1891, when he was just 17 and already making a name for himself as a virtuoso organist. He played the premiere performance himself, on Feb. 17, 1892, at the Methodist church in Brewster, N.Y. The work wasn’t published until 1949, and it wasn’t until 1963, when William Schuman (1910-1992) arranged the piece for orchestra, that the Variations became widely known and — in the iconoclastic 1960s —wildly popular. (Those who are struck by meaningless coincidences will be interested to learn that Schuman died a mere two days short of the centennial of the Variations’ first performance.)
William Rhoads (born in 1966) has now made a popular transcription for concert band of Schuman’s arrangement. The “America” of Ives’ Variations is not, of course, Samuel Augustus Ward’s “America, The Beautiful,” but what we usually call “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and the English “God Save the Queen/King.”
Jacob (1895-1984) taught composition at the Royal College of Music; among his pupils were Malcolm Arnold, Antony Hopkins and Bernard Stevens. His William Byrd Suite was composed in 1923, for the 300th anniversary of Byrd’s death, and is based on six Byrd keyboard works preserved in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. It may well have been the inspiration for Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite, which appeared in 1926.
Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque is one of the best-loved pieces of this well-loved contemporary composer. The original choral version, based on a poem by Edward Esch, was followed by a version for four-part men’s chorus, then this wind symphony transcription, commissioned by the Texas All-State Band, and finally (so far), by a string orchestra — all, apparently, by Whiteacre himself.
Pann (born in 1972) wrote, “My Serenade for Winds (2008) is an exploration in the kind of melodic writing usually equated with Schumann or (Johannes) Brahms. Nearly every gesture in this work was placed with the hope that the performers who play them would attain their highest echelon of musical expression. … This work is a grand expression of harmony and melody (quite equally so) for wind symphony.”
I have managed to listen to most of these pieces, and it will surprise no one, I daresay, that the Ives piece is by far the oddest.
Tickets to the Wind Ensemble are $15 for general admission and $7 for students, and will be sold at the door.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.