They are energized. They are expressive. They are the UI Bands!

The University of Iowa Concert and Symphony Bands, conducted by Kevin Kastens, Dr. Richard Mark Heidel, and three DMA students, presented a concert at the Iowa Memorial Union on October 9, 2014 at 7:30pm.  They played an enjoyable program from the 20th and 21st centuries. It had great variety, through lyrical woodwind solos, the brass with beautiful hymns and rambunctious, loud sections, and a vivacious, but also militaristic percussion section.

“Band” is derived from the French word bande, which means “troop.”  The first appearance of bands in the United States was during the Revolutionary War, in the form of military bands.  At first, they were to accompany soldiers during battle, but then they became town bands that would perform on special occasions and holidays.  John Philip Sousa, known as the “march king,” was a bandmaster that held many concerts, promoting bands and their music.  Sousa used several melodies from his operetta, The Free Lance, to produce this march.  This was the only march he published in 1906, as the rest of the year was spent campaigning with Victor Herbert for composers’ royalties on recorded music, which led to many of the copyright law still in effect today.

Other pieces performed by the Concert Band were Ron Nelson’s Mayflower Overture, Robert Jager’s Third Suite, and Clifton Williams’s Caccia and Chorale, which were all composed in the latter half of the 20th century.  Warwick Charlton and the Plymouth Plantation cultural museum collaborated to make a replica of the Mayflower that had brought the pilgrims to Massachusetts in 1620.  The Mayflower II, as it was called, completed her trans-Atlantic voyage in1957, and Nelson, wrote this piece to spark interest in the story.  The piece is comprised of sections called “Departure,” “Storm” and “Alleluia,” and it contains familiar tunes, such as “Simple Gifts.”  The first two movements of the Jager, were “March” and “Waltz.”  Both had frequent meter changes, making them feel off balance.  A waltz implies a dance in three, but this composer must have enjoyed the thought of people tripping with his waltz in 5.  The piece ended with a traditional, triumphant “Rondo.”  The composer of Caccia and Chorale, Williams, had rather lofty goals for his piece, when he said, “The first, Caccia, means hunt or chase, and is intended to reflect the preoccupation of most people in the world with a constant pursuit of materialism.  The Chorale is, by contrast, an urgent and insistent plea for greater humanity, a return to religious or ethical concepts.”

The Symphony Band took command of the stage with Justin Freer’s Rio’s Convergence, written only four years ago, with brilliant brass lines, flourishing woodwinds, and a zealous percussion section.  Sanctuary by Frank Ticheli was written in honor of Harrah Robert Reynolds, Director of Bands at Michigan for 26 years, “as a symbol of [their] enduring friendship.” Reynolds was a horn player, so the piece commences with a horn solo using a set of pitches derived from his first name.  It is a lush, nostalgic, and reverent piece, which contains many soloistic lines.  The next piece they performed was Vittorio Giannini’s Symphony No. 3 for Band.  Just like a symphony written for an orchestra, it contains four movements that demonstrate the luxurious expression and high energy of the ensemble.  The concert closed with a short piece by Percy Grainger called Mock Morris.  It contained rhythmic, dance-like figures that were perfect for a concert ending.

The two ensembles put on a fantastic concert.  The bands had great dynamic contrast and energy, and the soloists could be heard well.  The showed their enthusiasm with great attention and much applause. I would highly recommend a performance by the UI Bands, if you have the chance!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “They are energized. They are expressive. They are the UI Bands!

  1. I find your view point interesting. As a “band guy,” it comes as no surprise to me that almost all of our programmable repertoire comes from the 20th century or later, as composers just didn’t really write much for large wind groups prior to that. We have some chamber works and wind ensemble works by some of the more renown composers (Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, etc) but the band didn’t really start developing an artistic repertoire until the middle part of the century when conductors like Frederick Fennell and Frank Battisti determined that was what the medium needed.

    What’s so interesting about going to band concerts is the variety in musical styles, even though most of the works are contemporary. Wind conductors are frequently commissioning new works from composers and what’s great about the band medium is that these works are quickly picked up. If the piece is any good it will get several performances in its first few years. I’m not sure the orchestra medium does this kind of work to the same degree, mostly because it has already established its standard repertoire and the band medium is so young by comparison. I think you’ll see fresh, new works on band concerts for many years to come.

  2. randil300

    I certainly enjoyed listening to and performing in this particular concert. One thing that I have truly come to appreciate about the band repertoire is how incredibly diverse it is (which was definitely demonstrated here). Being able to hear the obvious differences between a Sousa piece and a composition such as “Rio’s Convergence” really only scratches the surface of the different styles of music that wind ensembles are currently performing. As Carl mentioned, the wind ensemble repertoire is expanding quite quickly right now and I am so incredibly interested to see what new composers create for the medium as playing and listening to these pieces is always such a delight for me.

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