Staff Selections: Advanced Works For Concert Band

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • August 2, 2011

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Searching for music that is appropriate for advanced concert bands and wind symphonies can be a daunting task. The selection of pieces to be performed is entirely subjective and reflects the taste of the director. In addition, the process of finding suitable music involves a great deal of time and intensive score study on part of the conductor in order to determine which compositions best fit a particular musical group. 

These six compositions at the grade five and six level of difficulty should be in the music library of every advanced band program. The review includes an overture, suites, a tone poem, and a symphony. All are selections that will challenge even the best performers.

Pageant by Vincent Persichetti (Carl Fischer)

Grade: 5
Duration 7:00

“Pageant” is a rhythmically exciting composition that employs a lot of imitation and overlapping of musical lines and phrases (elisions).

The piece begins with a slow chorale where a solo French horn expresses a mournful three-note theme, which the clarinets immediately echo. The music builds as more and more instruments (terraced dynamics) are added to produce a strong, resonant sonority.

The second section is faster, in alla-breve meter, and the antiphonal writing between instrumental sections is quite exciting. Dynamic contrasts are very critical and should be carefully observed in order to maximize the intended musical effect.

The heavy and vigorous lines that are played with animated urgency bring forth a stirring musical composition. “Pageant” is a very musical and excellent performance piece for band.




Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, transcribed by Clare Grundman (Boosey Hawkes, dist. by Hal Leonard)

Grade: 6

“Candide” is a comic operetta composed in 1955-56 by Leonard Bernstein. It is a text based on a play of the same name by Voltaire.

This piece is in sonata form and will make an outstanding number for a concert. Its terse and mocking lyricism is evident throughout the composition. Themes are tossed about between instruments and between sections as rhythmic interest is sustained through the use of antiphonal entrances. The piece should be performed with a flair of gusto and with panache.

A poignant lyrical theme provides contrast with the mischievous-sounding themes that precede it. The composer employs the use of asymmetrical phrasing through numerous meter changes between alla breve and 3-2 meters. The themes are developed primarily through the use of changes in instrumental coloring and alternation of tone colors.

This musically rich work has variety, a sense of development, and an intensity that makes it a must-have for band directors.



Third Symphony by James Barnes, Op. 89 (Southern Music Company)

Grade: 6
Duration: 38:00

This lengthy but mature composition was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. and deserves to be performed by highly proficient bands and wind ensembles.

I. The opening lento section, in C minor, is a modified sonata form with an extended coda. The opening theme is introduced by a doleful statement by the tuba. Long phrases and extended transitions between themes are expected in a work of this magnitude.

Some of the more unusual instruments that are required for this dramatic composition are: alto flute, contrabassoon, contra-alto clarinet, contra bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, two flugelhorns, harp, synthesizer (piano and celesta), English horn, vibraphone, piccolo snare drum, field drums, and numerous assorted percussion instruments.

The woodwinds passages are quite demanding. Due to the constancy of some of the quick-moving scale passages, there is little opportunity to breathe between phrases. This can be alleviated through the use of staggered breathing within each section. The composer cleverly makes use of contrary moving lines in the quick-moving woodwind passages.

II. Scherzo in A-B-A form is in the subdominant of F minor. The outer “A” sections are scored for woodwinds and percussion, with the “B” section scored for muted brass. Both themes return scored for the full ensemble at the end of the movement. The mood is playful and eccentric -sounding, while at the same time evoking sarcasm and bitter sweetness. This movement employs some rather unusual combinations of instruments paired in duet. An extended solo by the bass clarinet and baritone saxophone is accompanied by three bassoons, and a double bass, bass clarinet, and piccolo solo creates an unusual but quite distinctive sound. The composer makes good use of the saxophone section for background parts, as well as employing clever percussion effects.

III. Mesto, a fantasia in D flat in the form A-B-C-A-B-C-Coda. It introduces themes that produce a pensive, melancholy feeling. The haunting musical lines effectively bring forth the beauty and sonority of the ensemble at its best, while the lyrical horn lines infuse the score with tenderness and resonance. The use of the celesta, vibraphone, and crotales makes for an fascinating combination of sounds, as does the combinations of English horn and oboe, a duet using two bassoons, an alto flute solo with low woodwinds, and a musical dialogue featuring the soprano and alto saxophones. The contrapuntal writing is very effective. The movement ends on a dark and menacing chord.

IV. The Finale: Allegro Giocoso in C major is in a brisk 6/8 meter, and is again in sonata form. This last movement employs vigorous, energetic rhythms that make use of imitation of rhythmic motives that propel the piece to a thrilling conclusion. The first theme is stated by the horns, and the second theme is based on an old Lutheran children’s hymn called “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” The woodwind writing is reminiscent of composer Richard Strauss’ composition, Til Eulenspiegel. 

This mature symphony should be considered for performance due to its musical themes, masterful scoring, and variety of sounds.



Pacific Celebration Suite by Roger Nixon (Neil A. Kjos)

Grade: 6
Duration: 14:30

“Pacific Celebration Suite” embodies imagery related to the Spanish territories formerly established in California. In a sense, the work might be considered a tonal fresco. This concept is similar to that of the tone poem or the music drama in that some of the musical ideas have extra-musical connotations. It is impressionistic in that it creates descriptive impressions rather than a story.

I. Parade in alla breve meter is a fanfare-march which embodies some of the imagery and spirit of the San Fransisco Presidio, with soldiers, horses and weapons on parade, during the old Spanish days of California. The composer makes good use of the combination of woodwinds with French horns. This is a very forceful, vigorous section employing considerable antiphonal passages between sections.

II. Prayer is written in 6/4 meter and uses long phrases. These phrases reflect the prayerful meditation within the sanctuary of Mission Dolores. The tonal palette is varied during this short movement through the use of exotic percussion instruments such as the celesta, triangle, chimes, glockenspiel, and vibraphone, which evoke a dream-like atmosphere.

III. Pageant includes Spanish conquistador soldiers riding and marching, children playing in the pueblo of Yerba Buena, lovely senoritas and senoras, horsemen and more. Extensive thematic metamorphosis and variation techniques are employed within a formal outline of a variant of the rondo. The thematic ideas and motives are found in considerable number of musical contexts. The movement culminates in a cumulative gesture of energetic triumph.

This musical texture is reminiscent of the chordal textures used by Sergi Prokofiev, while the woodwind transparent scoring is reminiscent of the music of Maurice Ravel. The piece concludes with a lively, enthusiastic ending.


Preview: Celebration Suite – WB23.mp3


Dragon Rhyme by Chen Yi (Carl Fischer and Theodore Presser)

Grade: 6
Duration: 16:00

“Dragon Rhyme,” a piece in two movements, brings forth a freshness of sound and the absence of musical cliches. The motifs are economically developed throughout the work. Featuring the basic intervals found in Bejing Opera music, the thematic material in both movements is matched, and used economically for development throughout the work. The instrumental texture is rich in colors, transparent and delicate. Taking the image of the dragon, which is auspicious, fresh, and vivid, the music is layered and multidimensional. It symbolizes Eastern culture

I. “Mysteriously-Harmoniously”: The first movement is lyrical, with the harp adding rich colors to the ensemble. This movement is almost pointilistic in nature as the motives are tossed around between instruments and among sections of the ensemble. The trumpets are muted with cup mutes for most of this movement and the horns are effectively used in pedal cluster chords. The swirling scale passages in the upper woodwinds produce a demanding palette of impressionistic color. The tempos remains the same throughout (quarter note =84) while the orchestration is cleverly varied from the use of the full saxophone section to the use of sporadic woodwind figurations that meld together to form an impressionistic hue.

II. “Energetically” makes a powerful statement with its angular and assertive writing. The tempo begins at (quarter note =63). An extended section featuring the percussion section leads to a faster section (quarter note=144). Pedal-tone cluster chords in the horns and saxophone section form the foundation for this movement. The rhythmic complexity, the demands on the tessitura of the brass section and the rapid articulation makes this piece a challenging one to play for even mature bands.

This impressionistic tone poem is deserving of performance. It is an extraordinary, contemporary-sounding composition with challenging rhythmic interplay. With its oriental atmosphere, pointilistic writing, intense tonal clusters, and powerful pedal points, this piece will create a musically unique atmosphere at a concert.



Symphonic Jazz Suite by Frank Bencriscutto (Neil A. Kjos)

Grade: 5+
Duration: 21:00

“Symphonic Jazz Suite” is a composition for jazz soloists, jazz-rock combo, and concert band. It integrates the intimacy and improvisational possibilities of the small group with the coloristic variety and bigger sound of the large ensemble.

A rhythm section plus a principal soloist or soloists comprise the Jazz Combo. Combo parts are written for: piano, electric bass, alto saxophone, and trumpet. One may combine two soloists such as the alto saxophone and the trumpet. Soloists are provided with an opportunity to improvise through the use of both notated solos and chords.

I. Blues – The piece begins at a fairly rapid pace, quarter note = 208. The musical themes are reminiscent of those written by Henry Mancini in the 1960s. This movement opens with the rhythm section and low brass leading to legato lines played by the upper woodwinds, with the unison horns playing filler figures. The movement builds to the solo section, which may be “opened up” for various soloists. A quick modulation is followed by a strong ending.


II. Ballad-Rock – The vibraphone and assorted percussion instruments are included in this movement. Here the jazz combo is featured. The movement suddenly begins a new section with a rock beat, which seems out of place in this movement, but could work if the drummer plays with sensitivity and avoids overplaying and dominating the ensemble. Playing at a softer dynamic level would help this section to be played more musically. Perhaps performing this movement with a modified Latin-rock beat would provide more interest.

III. Progressive Jazz – This section features the jazz combo with riffs played by the brass section. The movement gets quite busy-sounding and then opens up for individual solos. An attempt should be made to get this piece to “groove” or to get into a “pocket” where the rhythm can coordinate and play together in a way that propels the entire ensemble.

This piece is excellent for providing the band with a jazz-related piece of music. It will offer the band a chance to improvise, to play in a combo, to play along with a rhythm section and to experience three styles of jazz.


Preview: Jazz Suite – B387.mp3


Vince Corozine has served as director of Music for the Peekskill, New York City schools, associate professor of Music at the King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., and director of Music Industry Studies at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Vince is the author of Arranging Music for the Real World, (Mel Bay). He records professionally in New York, Toronto, Philadelphia, Hong Kong and China, and currently teaches 12 music arranging courses online.

He performed and arranged for the USMA Band at West Point and served as music director for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, Pa. for WPVI-TV (ABC-Disney) for 10 years.




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