2005-01-25

Eastern Winds

Brian Wise offers a wide-ranging discussion of new music for American wind ensembles in a recent edition of NewMusicBox:
A number of prominent composers are either writing or awaiting premieres of new band works, including John Corigliano (from the University of Texas), Christopher Rouse (University of Florida), Richard Danielpour (College Band Director's National Association), and Bright Sheng and Michael Daugherty (both University of Michigan). Still others are enjoying successive performances of recent works, notably David Del Tredici, Michael Torke, Augusta Read Thomas, Joseph Schwantner, and Joan Tower, among others.

Many music professionals believe that bands and wind ensembles offer composers distinct advantages over orchestras, like vast amounts of rehearsal time, the potential for multiple performances (thanks to a well-connected network of university band directors), opportunities to reach new audiences, and sometimes significant financial incentives. But there are also questions about the character and quality of new band music. Can bands inspire composers to write their most innovative, complex, or demanding work? Is the influx of "name-brand" composers helping to put the band field on the path towards mainstream acceptance?

"This is one of the most composer-friendly communities that exists," says Todd Vunderink, director of the publishing firm Peermusic Classical. "That makes sense, since the conductors at the major universities, who have large budgets, are consciously trying to build the repertoire. It's a great contrast to the orchestra world, which is much more beholden to earlier centuries."

The band world has long been dogged by an identity crisis; for every Holst Suite or Hindemith Symphony in B-flat, there are associations with parades, football halftime shows, and military services. But according to Frank Korach, a band specialist at Boosey & Hawkes, over 1,000 concert band pieces are written annually, and band programs are bigger and stronger than orchestral programs at U.S. educational institutions. "Bands are more liberal than orchestras. They'll accept more than orchestras," he says. "The college band world's audience is more open to new things and non-standard repertoire."

Taiwan is home to several professional wind ensembles. All have been formed in the last decade. British and American band music represent the staples, but one also hears new works by Taiwanese composers and attractive settings of Taiwan folk songs.



Apo Hsu

I had the good fortune to attend a concert in December by the Taipei Symphony Winds conducted by Apo Hsu. The concert featured an intoxicating variety of works that drew a young crowd of high school and college-age students. Concerts here typically run at half an hour longer than they do in North America regardless of the kind of ensemble performing. This concert attracted a youthful crowd of high school and college-age students that stayed with the program the whole way and screamed for encores at the end as they would in a rock concert. Apo Hsu obliged with three encores and shared a number of bows with principal players. It made for a festive evening and an effervescent overture to the holiday season.


Brian Wise. 'Brass Tacks', New Music Box, American Music Center. 2004 December 1.

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