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Inspired By The Past Anniversary Season And Austrian Tour, Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble Opens 2017-18 With Nothing Less Daunting Than "Empires And Everything Else"
Orange County, Calif. — October 23, 2017
It will be difficult for Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble (PSYWE) to top last season’s milestone 10th anniversary, culminating in a triumphant European Tour, but if anyone can, it’s this highly talented group of young musicians. In 2016-17, PSYWE paid homage to the band tradition and the ensemble’s history in the Pacific Symphony family, and this season, they take that valuable experience and forge new roads along their musical journey—beginning with bravely tackling “Empires and Everything Else.” So, hold onto your armrests, as PSYWE’s opening program—swift, varied, diverse and exciting—begins and ends with works by Richard Wagner, sprinkles in Spanish gems, one English nugget, a little American Sousa—and everything else!
Led by Conductor Gregory X. Whitmore, PSYWE performs its first concert of the 2017-18 season on Sunday, Nov. 12, at 1 p.m., in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, this season’s concerts are free to attend, but tickets are required. To reserve a general admission seat, call the Symphony’s box office at (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.
“Last season was a big one,” says Maestro Whitmore. “It was our 10th anniversary, a season full of collaborations, celebrations and a seminal tour of Austria. But 2017-18 is perhaps even more significant, as we undertake our second decade and an important time to cement the establishment of our first. We will present a season that is both current and classic, looking both forward and back. The overall theme reflects a return to works that celebrate cornerstones of the wind repertory, beginning with our concert, ‘Empires and Everything Else,’ which is quite varied!”
The program opens on a festive, traditional Spanish note, with a piece by Ferrer Ferran, born in Valencia, Spain, in 1966. A traditional Spanish pasodoble (a popular march played during the entrance of bullfighters, which literally translates as “two-step”), the work was dedicated to Consuelo Ciscar, a devotee of the Valencian culture. The music paints a picture of Ciscar’s flamboyant Spanish personality through its colorful harmony and orchestration, adding spice to any performance.
True to the concert’s programmatic ethos, it features works of empires. “The true empires of the past, the fictional, and the ‘not so much,’ ” notes Whitmore. Hardly any composer was as controversial (rejected and celebrated by his contemporaries) as Wagner. Musicologist Hugo Riemann described him as “the greatest dramatic composer of the 19th century.” The concert spotlights Wagner’s “Huldigungsmarsch” (Homage March), written in 1864 for military band in Starnberg, Germany, for the 19th birthday of his patron, King Ludwig II. The first of Wagner’s three large-scale marches, this was his principal contribution in his small legacy of works written for winds.
Next, the “William Byrd Suite,” showcases both Byrd (1540-1623), an English Renaissance composer, and Gordon Jacob (1895-1984), a 20th-century English composer who, along with Holst and Vaughan Williams, is known as an early champion of the wind band. Jacob assembled the suite in 1923, for the tricentennial of Byrd’s death, transcribing it from six pieces of Byrd’s keyboard work appearing in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, a collection of almost 300 pieces written between 1562-1612 by more than a dozen composers. Jacob artfully added dynamic shadings and instrumental color, for which the wind band is known.
Two more works of Spanish influence follow. First, a traditional bullfighting piece by Bernardino Bautista Monterde, “La Virgen de la Macarena” (for trumpet soloist and winds). This version of the famous Spanish song was arranged in 1902 by Rafael Mendez, in Cartagena, Spain, and is an homage to the Virgin of Seville, considered the protector of bullfighters. An ornate statue of her likeness is on display in the Basilica Macarena, with crystal tears down her face. During Easter week, travelers flock to witness processions of floats and gaze upon the weeping statue. One of Spain’s legendary matadors, Jose Ortega, presented the Virgin with five emerald brooches, hoping for protection. It worked for eight years ... until he was gored to death in the ring.
Antonio Alvarez’s “Suspiros de España” (Sighs of Spain), another pasodoble, is infused with Spanish-tinged melodies, harmonies and rhythms. Although written as an instrumental march, it has become popular to add lyrics to the tune and it has been sung and recorded by major Spanish singers. The sentiment of the music typically expresses the beauty of Spain and the desire of Spaniards away from home to return to its splendor.
After intermission is Sousa’s “The Inaugural March of President James A. Garfield.” The only two marches Sousa dedicated to U.S. presidents were composed for Garfield, marking the beginning and end of his short tenure. Whitmore says: “The programming of this work, the actual inaugural march of President Garfield, is significant in that this is the inaugural concert of PSYWE’s 11th season, and more importantly, this little-known work by Sousa is not often performed.”
Additionally, the concert features the William J. Gillespie Concert Organ for English composer Percy Grainger’s largest work for winds, “The Power of Rome in the Christian Heart.” Composed for organ soloist and wind ensemble, this piece was Grainger’s last original work for wind orchestra, commissioned in 1947 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the League of Composers, and also the 70th birthday of Edwin Franko Goldman, an American band composer of the early 20th century, known for his marches.
To close, the program returns to Wagner with “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” from the German Romantic opera, “Lohengrin,” which premiered in 1850. It tells the story of Elsa, a princess in Brabant (now Antwerp), who is rescued by Lohengrin, a mystic Knight of the Holy Grail. The procession marked the imminent betrothal of Elsa to her knight, who’d come to deliver the people of Brabant from Hungarian invaders. Drama and tragedy ensue in typical Wagnerian fashion. The music has become a staple of the band repertoire.
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