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Essential Repertoire: Frank Ticheli’s List

Mike Lawson • Repertoire • November 23, 2014

This installment of concert band repertoire reviews features music in a range of difficulty levels by James Curnow, Bob Margolis, Pierre La Plante, Jennifer Higdon, and Scott Lindroth. “Frank Ticheli’s List” is a compilation of core repertoire for concert band selected by composer Frank Ticheli of USC. These pieces have been reviewed by Gregory Rudgers, Lawrence Stoffel, and John Darling.

“The Two-Minute Symphony”
Bob Margolis • Manhattan Beach Music • Grade 1 • Duration: 2:00

At first glance, the notion of a two-minute symphony might strike at a band director’s sensibility. (How could any symphony be only two minutes in length?) So approaching this young band composition by Bob Margolis demands that we abandon the stricture of forms. This composition is not a symphony in the formal sense. Here the composer explores a more elemental meaning of “symphony.” Margolis aptly describes it as a proto-symphony. “The Two-Minute Symphony” presents just one theme which is thoroughly developed (“fragmented, plopped… extended, kneaded, and recapitulated,” writes the composer) while remaining firmly within in the technical constraints of grade 1 literature.

The symphony’s singular theme is immediately reminiscent of a Renaissance tune which we come to expect in much of Margolis’ wonderful band music. The melodic theme uses only the first pentachord in BH major. Its simplicity makes the theme ripe for varied treatments and development. Margolis isolates the most basic of musical matter for development: the rhythm is inverted, passing tones are introduced, accent patterns are varied, stretto is employed, as is augmentation. Although several small components of the theme are developed in many varied ways, the composition never sounds disjunct. Despite the simplicity of the theme and the myriad developmental techniques employed by the composer, the entire work is seemly and complete. And to ensure a proper conclusion to the entire work, a tried-and-true cadential device completes the composition, adding just a hint of a cliché to provide a proper conclusion to a “symphony.” 
Review by Lawrence Stoffel.


“Korean Folk Rhapsody”
James Curnow • Jenson Publications • Grade 1 • Duration: 2:40 

James Curnow has chosen a traditional folk tune as the basis for his “Korean Folk Rhapsody,” which is set for level one players. Through skillful and creative use of the percussion section, Curnow has provided bands with an exotic and authentic setting of the beautiful melody. The introduction is an example of colorful scoring with a compliment of percussion that includes: triangle, large suspended cymbal, bells, vibraphone, and several wind chimes. Flutes and clarinets join the bells and vibraphone in unison. The effect is both mysterious and pleasant at the same time and avoids the traditional cliché of fully scored grade one orchestration. In fact, the low brass and reeds do not enter until the sixteenth measure. It should be noted, however, that when they do enter, they provide a rich cushion of sound upon which the melody floats along in the saxophones and French horns. 

The second statement of the melody occurs in bassoons, clarinets, saxophones, and baritone, another example of Curnow’s creative voicing. The work continues with several statements of the original melody, both in its entirety and in fragments, and gradually builds into a full, tutti statement before returning to the gentle style of the introduction. This work is an excellent example of what can be achieved through orchestration at the elementary level. Curnow takes the ancient melody through transparency and gentleness on to strength and majesty, a rare find in elementary band. 
Review by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“Rhythm Stand”
Jennifer Higdon • Hal Leonard • Grade 3 • Duration: 3:00

Higdon states in her program notes that this piece pays tribute to the inescapable presence of rhythm involved with our daily life routines. She has created a piece that combines interesting timbres and nontraditional sounds into a spirited amalgamation of rhythms, polyrhythms, and counterpoint. “Rhythm Stand” represents a break from traditional band pieces in several ways. First, the melody is not the primary focus of the piece; as the title suggests, it’s all in the rhythm. There are repeated melodic fragments and motives, but no real melody in the expected antecedent and consequent structure. To provide melodic interest, some passages are presented in pointillistic fashion, which provides ample opportunity for Higdon to explore short counterpoint and poly-rhythmic episodes. 

Second, the harmonic framework is based on a generic tonal center that seamlessly fluctuates between EH and BH. Long, sustained, and mostly descending chords, with their own rhythmic identity, are introduced to provide contrast to the contrapuntal nature of the main idea. Six percussionists play a myriad of pitched and non-pitched instruments to color the timbral pallet. In addition to the variety provided by the different timbres of the percussion instruments, stick clicks and performing on the rim of drums adds more depth to the orchestration. The wind instruments also are required to perform rhythmic patterns by tapping pencils on their music stands and snapping their fingers.         
Review by John Darling.


“In the Forest of the King”
Pierre La Plante • Daehn Publications • Grade 3 • Duration: 9:00There are precious few works for middle level concert band that offer the opportunity for insightful directors to experience a “major” work. At three movements and nine minutes in length, “In the Forest of the King” is a welcome addition to the literature for this level. The first movement, “Le Furet,” is an old children’s song traditionally used in childhood play. It is joyful and sweet, capturing innocence and playfulness consisting entirely of quarter and eighth note rhythms at a bright and energetic tempo. The second movement melody, “The Laurel Grove,” has existed in many variations for hundreds of years and appeals to both children and adults, much like Mussorgsky’s third movement “Tuileries” from “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which La Plante describes as the movement’s inspiration. The setting opens and closes in a quiet manner, suggesting a dream like quality. The interior measures providing yet another dance or playing song described as Allegretto e Scherzando. 
The delightful and comical third movement “galumphs” along in merry glee, describing a pompous royal with his pants on backwards. In 6/8 compound meter, it alternates between bold satire and gentle fun and concludes with a “Tempo Guisto” that nearly explodes with humor and joy. This is most engaging music for both the performer and audience, and directors with the patience and courage to tackle a significant work will garner significant rewards. 
Review by Gregory B. Rudgers.


“Spin Cycle”
Scott Lindroth • Boosey & Hawkes • Grade 5 • Duration: 5:55

Scott Lindroth playfully references the final rinse stage of an automatic washing machine in the title of this, his first band composition. But set aside the mental image of the forlorn Maytag repairman! Lindroth acknowledges that the “spin cycle” reference is a whimsical description of his compositional treatment. Numerous melodic motifs are constantly swirled about. This is playful music that is (in Lindroth’s words) agile, breathless, and virtuosic. This music is deliberately exuberant and trendy. This single-movement work was composed after a period in which Lindroth had created exclusively contemplative, slow music. The whirling, swirling, insistent music in “Spin Cycle” reflects the composer bursting out of a period of calm and contemplation.

The composition is cast in ternary form. The outer sections rev through syncopated rhythms driven by a brisk tempo and an ever present, 16th-note perpetuum mobile (the “swirl”). The middle section has the same brisk tempo and rhythmic punctuation, but longer sustained chords provide a decidedly contrasting feel. Here the music is more romantic with sustained, sweeping melodies.
Lindroth has created a score that demands nothing short of virtuosic skills. The fluid yet driving perpetual motion belies the rhythmic complexity of the music. Utmost rhythmic precision and subdivided pulse are necessary. Meters are constantly jumping to and from regular and irregular time signatures.

“Spin Cycle” is contemporary, engaging, and hip music. It is yet another offering of today’s many composers who write “excursion music” – brisk, concise, rhythmic forays into musical speed races, flamboyant melodic lines, and syncopated, driving rhythms. 
Review by Lawrence Stoffel.


Frank Ticheli is a professor of Composition at USC Thornton School of Music, and is the recipient of a 2012 Arts and Letters Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the principal judge of the Frank Ticheli Composition Contest, sponsored by Manhattan Beach Music. His works for concert band are among the most celebrated in the industry.

John Darling is an associate professor of Music at Bismarck State College where he teaches theory and conducts the wind ensemble.
Lawrence Stoffel serves as director of Bands at California State University, Northridge (in Los Angeles).
Gregory B. Rudgers of Ithaca College has spent his career studying, conducting, composing, and interpreting wind band literature from beginning bands to college and university levels.

 

 

 

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