Eastman Wind Ensemble Fiftieth Anniversary Reminiscences

Originally written for WASBE Newsletter June 2002

Revised May 2009

Two events at the beginning of this century, will, I believe, come to represent a summation of the development of wind music of the last fifty years. The first was the Boston Symposium of April 2001, and anyone who wants to peruse a record of that extraordinary meeting of composers and conductors at New England Conservatory should purchase a copy of the WASBE Journal for 2001.

The second, a celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, took place in Rochester, New York, in the first week of February 2002. WASBE joined with the CBDNA and Eastman School of Music to pay tribute to Donald Hunsberger, retiring conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and his predecessors, Clyde Roller and Frederick Fennell who were both present. Like the farewell Symposium to Frank Battisti in Boston, this was an historic event. Both great schools had invited composers and conductors from world-wide to introduce new works, to discuss the present situation of the wind ensemble, and to join in tribute to men who have done so much for the wind ensemble and its repertoire.

Talking About Music, Not Band

The Rochester Symposium was organized on thematic lines which gave a wonderful overview of the period since the mid-twentieth century, together with in-depth look at a number of fascinating side topics; Harmoniemusik of the 18th century and its relevance today, Charles Ives and his use of thematic Transformation, Orchestration with a comparison of band and orchestral versions of Milhaud Suite Francaise and Schoenberg Theme and Variations, a brilliant lecture on the music of Varèse and Messiaen, and equally brilliant performances of Integrales and Oiseaux Exotiques, and a look at the last years of Richard Strauss with wonderful performances of his Vier lezte Lieder and the Symphony from a Happy Workshop.As well as the Wind Ensemble, the Eastman Musica Nova and the Eastman Philharmonia, we were privileged to hear the Ithaca Wind Ensemble under Steven Peterson, the Cincinnati Conservatory Chamber Winds under Rodney Winther, and the United States Military Academy West Point Band under David Deitrick. A further underlying theme was the place of percussion in the ensemble; the symposium began with a concert by Nexus, and they were soloists during the week.

The general outline of events can be baldly stated as follows:

  • Wednesday: The Ithaca Connection
  • Thursday: 1930-2002 The American Bandmasters Association and the College Band Directors' National Association
  • Friday: International repertoire Development - WASBE. Eastman Wind Ensemble Gala Concert
  • Saturday: USMA West Point and their commissions of 1952 and 2002

Eastman Record Tribute

Those unable to be present can catch a flavor of the events by purchasing a 3 CD set: DH001CD, Eastman Wind Ensemble at Fifty, published by Warner Brothers and available from Shattinger. CD1 starts with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A K622, played on basset clarinet, the accompaniment provided by an expanded Harmoniemusik brilliantly arranged by Robert Rumbelow. A lecture entitled Harmonieumusik for Today's Ensembles presented by Christopher Weait of Ohio State University was followed by a performance of the Concerto by Combs and the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Also on the first disc is Verne Reynold's Concerto for Piano and Wind Ensemblewith pianist Barry Snyder who gave a commanding performance of the work at the Gala Concert. The disc is completed with Last Scenes for solo Horn and Wind Ensemble 1979)by Verne Reynolds, who was for many years Professor of horn at Eastman.

There are reflections of past WASBE Conferences, and of their upcoming Gala Concert on other discs. In the sleeve notes to Nigel Clarke's Samurai, commissioned by the Royal Northern College of Music for the WASBE Conference in Japan in 1995, there is a handsome tribute to two decades of commissions at the RNCM, and in the gala concert there was a beautifully judged performance of Richard Rodney Bennett's Four Seasons, premiered by the RNCM at WASBE in Manchester in 1991. Also on these discs is the fine Ceremonial by Bernard Rands, and the Gala Concert included the world premiere of hisUnending Light. Rands describes the work as "engaging the wind ensemble in a virtuosic display of rhythmic agility, timbre and dynamic range and, though challenging in these respects, it does so without placing taxing demands on individual players. In short, it aims at a collective ensemble virtuosity rather than a soloistic one."

Five Horn Concertos
It used to be as hard to find horn concertos with wind ensemble as London busses, but suddenly five have come along almost at the same time. Dana Wilson's Concerto for Horn and Wind Ensemble is a virtuoso work which explores every facet of the horn technique but yet keeps in touch with the audience; it was given a terrific performance by Gail Williams, who had premiered the orchestral version. The other works now available with solo horn include a Concerto by Marco Pütz, The Glass Bead game by James Beckel, Shindig by Dan Godfrey, Last Scenes for Horn and Wind Ensembleby Verne Reynolds and more recently a Horn Concerto by Simon Wills, Professor of trombone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.

The Ithaca Connection was a two way tribute to the pioneer work of Frank Battisti at Ithaca High School, and the developments at Ithaca College under Patrick Conway and Walter Beeler, with special tributes to Karel Husa and Warren Benson who taught at Ithaca and Eastman respectively for many years. Two major works, the Horn Concerto by Dana Wilson and the Percussion Concerto by Stephen Stucky, emerged out of this first day; both were premiered on the superb evening concert by the Ithaca College Wind Ensemble under Stephen Peterson.

Percussion Concerto co-commissioned by WASBE
The Concerto by Steven Stucky, premiered by Gordon Stout, is a major addition to the repertoire. A birthday present to Donald Hunsberger, and co-commissioned by WASBE, it is cast in five sections and includes a marvelously elegiac slow movement: To the Victims of 9/11, 2001.

There is now a significant body of major works for percussion soloist and wind:

Warren Benson Symphony for Drums and Wind Orchestra
Bougeois, Derek Percussion Concerto
Chai, Zeckaraiah Goh Toh Concerto for Marimba
Michael Colgrass Déja Vu
Michael Daugherty U.F.O.
David Gillingham Concertino for Percussion Ensemble
Adam Gorb Elements
Jennifer Higdon Percussion Concerto
Karel Husa Concerto for Percussion
William Kraft Concerto for Four Percussion
Ian Krouse Cronica
Thea Musgrave Journey through a Japanese Landscape
Ney Rosauro Concerto for Marimba
Ney Rosauro Suite Brazil 500
Ney Rosauro Concerto for Timpani
Ney Rosauro Concerto for Vibraphone
Steven Stucky Concerto for Percussion and Wind Orchestra
Michael Torke Rapture
Nebojsa Zivkovic Tales from the Center of the Earth

Music from the Concert on 5th February 1951

Frederick Fennell's first concert with ensemble emphasis was given in 1951, and the Eastman chamber ensembles under the current conducting staff recreated part of that event.

  • Adrian WillaertRicecare
  • Samuel ScheidtCanzona XXVI
  • Orlando Di Lasso Motet: Tui sunt Caeli
  • Giovani GabrieliCanzona Noni Toni a 12
  • Ludwig van BeethovenThree Equali
  • Carl RugglesAngels, from Men and Angels

Also on Thursday there was a masterly exposé of the thematic transformation in the works of Charles Ives by arguably the three leading experts on his music, Jonathan Elkus, Philip Lambert and James Sinclair. That day ended with a reminder of what Varèse was achieving in the 1920's with his Intégralesalong with Messiaen's Oiseaux Exotiques (1956), both given extraordinarily brilliant performances by the Eastman Musica Nova. While I love Messiaen's virtuoso chirpings and fluttering, it might have been a little more adventurous to introduce us to one or both of the last two works by Messiaen for wind ensemble - Un Vitrail et des Oiseaux (1986) written for Boulez and the Ensemble Moderne, and La Ville d'En-Haut (1987-1988) - or even made use of the Eastman Theatre, where the fine acoustics would have been able to exploit to the full those massive sonorities of Et Exspecto Resurectionem Mortuorum (1964).

Eastman Wind Ensemble Gala Concert
It was a pity not to end the celebration with the wonderful Gala concert by the Eastman Wind Ensemble on the 8th February, which would have been forty nine years to the day since Frederick Fennell's first concert with the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1953. His programme then began with the Mozart Gran Partita;unfortunately he was not well enough to conduct the performance this time, he presided from the side of the stage, but the following day he was in as fine a form as ever with an Alumni Ensemble in Robert Russell Bennett's Suite of Old American Dances. However, Clyde Roller was able to share the conducting with Donald Hunsberger and contributed a finely judged performance of Elsa's Procession to the Cathdral. The complete programme was:

  • W A MozartAdagio and Allegro from the Gran Partita
  • Richard WagnerElsa's Procession to the Cathedral
  • Karel HusaConcerto for Percussion
  • Bernard RandsUnending Light
  • Verne ReynoldsConcerto for Piano and Wind Ensemble

Chamber Winds

Earlier in the day the Cincinnati Chamber Winds conducted by Rodney Winther, gave us a fine account of Richard Strauss's From a happy Workshop, which was followed imaginatively by an equally fine performance of his Four Last Songs by the Eastman Philharmonia, conducted by Mendi Rodan, with four excellent young soloists from the school. The Cincinnati Chamber Winds then worked with Frank Battisti, Donald deRoche and Rodney Winther in a session on various types of of repertoire from theHamoniemusik of Mozart and Krommer to works for mixed strings and wind by Joseph Schwantner and Dana Wilson. The invaluable handouts for this included the complete repertoire for the Taffanel Society and the Longy Club, and we were reminded of the splendid research done on this by Frank Battisti and David Whitwell for their paper at the WASBE Conference of 1991. Another paper listed a top "core" repertoire for chamber groups as selected by the three clinicians, and my mind immediately began to work on an Anglo-Austrian programme of works which I particularly enjoy, for less than eighteen players, for wind ensemble or wind and strings, which did not appear in their core listing.

  • Peter Racine FrickerSinfonia in Memoriam Benjamin Britten
  • Adam Gorb Symphony no 1 in C
  • Constant LambertPiano Concerto
  • Interval
  • William AlwynConcerto for Flute and Eight Winds
  • Arnold SchoenbergKammersinfonie no 1

Saxophone concertos

Those of us who stayed until Saturday were rewarded by a fine final concert and a fascinating session given by the West Point Band, reminding us that it was fifty years also since their last big celebration. As they did back in 1952, they have this year been celebrating their bicentennial by inviting a number of composers to write for them, and like Eastman they are bringing out recordings of many of these works. The first CD is out and includes a work from their Saturday concert, the technically complex saxophone concerto Restless Birds Before the DarkMoon, by David Ketchley, which was superbly played by Wayne Tyce.

The series of commissions led by Commander Resta in 1952 were important historically as an attempt to create a repertoire parallel to the work of Frederick Fennel at Eastman. Larry Harper introduced the programme, and it included Morton Gould's Symphony for Band, Milhaud's West Point Suite, Roy Harris'West Point Symphony. I would like to hear Lin Arison's Asrafel again, a tone poem based on Edgar Allen Poe's army experiences. However the find of the session for me was Charles Cushing's Angel Camp, a fine well constructed work which should now receive far more performances. It is based on a traditional European folk melody , which then was used as a setting for Psalm 34 but has none of the sentimental naivety which often cloys in similar works of today.

The final concert began with what for me is one of Timothy Broege's strongest pieces, Three Pieces for American Band(Set no 3), and continued with Ketchley's very convincing Saxophone concerto. Donald Grantham contributed a tautly constructed Farewell to the Gray -for the most part lyrical with one tremendous climatic point - and Samuel Adler was represented by his Dawn to Glory which was for me a little too academic. I found Ira Hearshen's Fantasia on Army Blue far from academic, but while I sat marveling at his magnificent scoring and brilliant use of the material, I could not help thinking that it simply did not, for me, add up to anything substantial. His Divertimento played at the WASBE Conference in 1999, has a similar virtuosity, none of the movements outstay their welcome, and for me it is the strongest of his works that I have heard.

This was preceded by the winner of the West Point Composition Contest, Alan Fletcher's moving An American Song featured at the WASBE Conference in Lucerne in a brilliant lecture by Mark Hopkins. This is an imaginative Ivesian collage on familiar American themes, beautifully scored with some wonderful textures and overlaid harmonies. This performance seemed a little hurried. I love the more laid-back approach by the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble and Frank Battisti, the dedicatee, on their most recent recording, but it was interesting to hear a completely different interpretation. This is certainly another major work to add to our repertoire.

Husa, Rands, Reynolds, Stucky and Wilson... and much more
As they say in the advertising world, "and much more" was to be enjoyed at this great gathering. There was an amazing Rudimental Drumming session with the great John S Pratt, Mark Fonder discussing the early days of Ithaca College under Conway, a composers session to die for with Husa, Rands, Reynolds, Stucky and Wilson, some great chamber music conducted by Frank Battisti, Donald deRoche and Rodney Winther. Above all, the emphasis here and at the Boston Symposium was on music, not just band or wind ensemble; we were indeed privileged to join in this celebration.

Thanks to everyone at Eastman for the superb organization and musicianship, and a special thank you to Frederick Fennell whose inspired vision fifty years ago changed the face of the wind band, and to Donald Hunsberger who continued that development.