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Trends and Changes in Today’s Wind Orchestra Scene

Johan de Meij • May 2022Trends • May 2, 2022

This is the first installment in a multi-part series of articles by leading composers for wind bands. The acclaimed composer and conductor Johan de Meij has compiled this fascinating article involving his colleagues from around the world.

Major, sweeping changes are stirring up the original repertoire for the wind orchestra. And it’s happening now, even as we speak. The last 25 years have been exhilarating with literally thousands of new works written and published. Among them are some true masterpieces that will undoubtedly journey into the standard repertoire for winds. At the same time, many thousands of mediocre works were also spawned. We can only hope they will go back to where they came from and disappear from our concert programs. 

Keep in mind it’s only been about 100 years since the first original works for wind orchestra were written. By contrast, the repertoire for symphony orchestra goes back an additional two centuries. This makes those in the wind orchestra world part of a young, fresh, and accelerating movement in modern day music. In my opinion, one work marks the beginning of this development: Florent Schmidt’s Dionysiaques, written in 1913, the same year as the tumultuous premiere of Strawinsky’s ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’.

Here is a partial list of major works that have become our standard “classical” repertoire for the wind orchestra: 

Hector Berlioz – Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale (1840) 

Florent Schmidt – Dionysiaques (1913-1914)

Gustav Holst – Suites for Military Band No. 1 (1920) and No. 2 (1922), 

Hammersmith – Prelude & Scherzo (1930)

Ralph Vaughan Williams – English Folk Song Suite (1923), Toccata Marziale (1924)

Jules Stens – Danse Funambulesque (1925)

Ottorino Respighi – Huntingtower (1932)

Percy Grainger – Lincolnshire Posy (1937)

Arnold Schoenberg – Theme and Variations, Op. 43a (1943)

Alfred Reed – Russian Christmas Music (1944)

Darius Milhaud – Suite Française (1945)

H. Owen Reed – La Fiesta Mexicana (1949)

Paul Hindemith – Symphony in B-Flat (1951)

Morton Gould – West Point Symphony (1952)

Boris Kozhevnikov – Symphony No. 3 “Slavyanskaya” (1950/1958)

Vincent Persichetti – Symphony No. 6 (1956)

Vittorio Giannini – Symphony No. 3 (1958)

Ingolf Dahl – Sinfonietta for Band (1961)

Karl Husa – Music for Prague (1968)

Alfred Reed – Armenian Dances (1973)

Serge Lancen – Manhattan Symphonie (1962), Symphonie de Paris (1973), Symphonie de l’Eau (1985)

Ida Gotkovsky – Symphonie pour Orchestre d’Harmonie (1960), Poème de Feu (1978), Symphonie de Printemps (1986)

Many listings and articles mention Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1921) and his Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1924), but they are not scored for wind orchestra. They both just feature the woodwinds and brass section of a symphony orchestra, so therefore I have not included these two masterpieces.

I invited several internationally renowned composers and conductors to contribute to this article by giving their vision on today’s trends and changes, and asked them the following questions: 

Which new trends have you noticed over the last 20–25 years in:

A. The repertoire of the wind orchestra – for instance the use of electronics, different styles like minimal or hip-hop etc.?

B. The instrumentation for the wind orchestra?

C. Your own compositions (if applicable)?

Alex Shapiro – Composer 

The newer style, instrumentation, and production trends I’ve observed (and have contributed to in my own pieces) would be:

The inclusion of amplified rhythm sections (guitar, bass, keyboards) and drum set.

The use of a live or prerecorded accompaniment track/soundscape for electro-acoustic works.

The use of non-traditional materials as instruments (paper, metal bowls of water and big sponges, rocks, etc.).

The creation of multimedia performances, with lighting, staging and physical movement being an integral aspect to the concert.

 The broadest possible approach to styles and genres, incorporating every imaginable kind of music.

My experience is there are neither rules nor boundaries limiting where a composer’s imagination can go, and this expressive freedom is met with the welcome enthusiasm of band directors and musicians who are genuinely excited to bring new and sometimes unusual pieces to life!”

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