Wind Symphony and Concerti to Astound

Concerto concert poster thumbnailThe University of Oklahoma Wind Symphony, under the direction of Dr. William K. Wakefield, presents their final concert of the 2015-2016 academic year on Monday, April 18, at 8:00 PM in Sharp Hall in Catlett Music Center on campus. It’s going to be one to remember.

Right off the bat, the program begins with the OU Tuba Quartet, and if you are like me, you did not even know that was a thing. That’s a thing!  Members are current undergraduate and graduate students of Professor Brian Dobbins, and they’ve been quartetting performing since August 2014. In May 2015, the OU Tuba Quartet was crowned as the champion of the ensemble competition at the Great Plains Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference at OCU, and I did not know that was a thing either.  (The conference. I knew about OCU.)

With two tubas and two euphoniums (or “baritones,” as we still say in these parts), the Quartet will be performing Mike Forbes’s Synergy (warning: autoplay) for Tuba Quartet and Winds.  The version linked here is for an unaccompanied quartet, but on Monday night you can hear the original version for everyone. The composer visited campus on April 11 to work with the performers in preparation for the concert, too.

Next we find the regional premiere of the noted composer David Maslanka’s 2014 work Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble. The composer writes:

The Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble grows out of my life-long association with the clarinet. It was my beginning instrument over sixty years ago, and has stayed with me all through the years. I have written many pieces for it, and it is now a deeply personal voice through which my music speaks freely and passionately.

This concerto is full of deep feeling, but it does not have a personal story. The two movements, “Lamentation” and “Dance,” present the classic masks of tears and laughter. “Lamentation” is very interior and very beautiful – it breaks my heart. “Dance” unfolds in the old sonata form with clear melodies, a bubbling and sometimes urgent energy, and a final release into beautiful quiet.

You often wonder how difficult a concerto is for the soloist, but Dr. Maslanka makes a perusal version of the soloist’s part available on his web site. If you play clarinet, you might look at it and think, “well, that’s a lot of accidentals, but I could play that if I practiced enough.” Then you see the second movement, and you start to drink.

You know who can play this? David Cook, clarinetist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra who is currently pursuing his DMA in clarinet performance at OU with Dr. Suzanne Tirk.  In fact, David Cook earned Honorable Mention in the 2015 OU Concerto Competition on this very work by David Maslanka. This is a new, modern, heavy-duty piece that I hope you are looking forward to as much as I am.

The concert closes with Steven Bryant’s 2011 tour de force for the medium, Concerto for Wind Ensemble, a work of which John Corigliano said, “compositional virtuosity is evident in every bar.” This is vital, expansive music at a professional level from one of today’s most dynamic composers for winds—this is difficult enough that the United States Coast Guard Band is playing it the day before in New London, CT.

It is difficult even to express the scope of this concerto in five unnamed movements—in the score (and on the Web site), the composer’s own program note is 786 words long and ends by thanking the commissioning consortium “for allowing me the opportunity to create this work—all 54,210 notes of it.”

You may be thinking, “oh, great, a whole bunch of random notes with no rhythm and I’m supposed to pretend I understand it.”  You’ll get it. Go to the link and listen to movements and look at the score. It is a lot of notes, but you’ll be tapping your feet at times. Look too closely at the score and you will think, “This is impossible. This is the hardest piece I have ever seen. Trumpet 3 is as hard as Trumpet 1 is as hard as Trumpet 5. The baritone saxophone part is more difficult than some concertos I’ve seen.”

I’m not arguing. Fortunately, Steven Bryant himself is composer-in-residence at OU from  April 17-19, all around this concert, and will get to work with the Wind Symphony in multipole rehearsals ahead of performance.

This is shaping up to be a concert everyone remembers for a long time, and you will want to be there if you can. It’s a Sutton Series concert, so tickets are $9 for adults, and $5 for students, OU faculty and staff, and senior adults, and are available at the box office before the performance.  If you absolutely can’t make it, you can watch the live stream on YouTube:

But it won’t be the same without you. You gotta see (and hear) this for yourself.