David Gillingham (b. 1947), a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Michigan State University, spent decades as a composer and composition professor. Prior to his time as a tertiary academic, he served in the US Army and was deployed to Vietnam as a member of the US Army Band program. Gillingham has an international reputation for the works he has written for wind band and percussion, of which many of these works are now considered standards in the repertoire. With over sixty works for wind band, choir, percussion, chamber ensembles, and solo instruments, Gillingham’s impact on musicians is global.
The Concertino for Four Percussion seeks to explore the timbres of keyboard, membrane, and auxiliary percussion instruments with the marimbas, xylophone, timpani, vibraphone, and bass drums as the featured instruments, assisted by crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, bells, chimes, triangle, and hi-hat to enhance both the ensemble and the solo instruments.
Two thematic motives are used as a point of departure for this work. Both appear in the slow and mysterious introduction. The first, played by the marimbas, is dramatic and the second is haunting and played by the vibraphone and bells. The following Allegro is structured similar to a rondo with recurrences of both themes interspersed by episodic sections. The first theme, however, is transformed into a very lively arpeggiated tune played by the xylophone and marimba. The coda is marked by a relentless rhythmic competition of two sets of bass drums which accompany the primary thematic material as first heard in the slow introduction. The work draws to a resounding conclusion when the second haunting theme is stated dramatically in tour de force by the brass.
Joan Tower(b.1938) – Musical America’s 2020 Composer of the Year – is regarded as one of today’s most important living American composers. During a career spanning more than sixty years, she has composed compelling and uncompromisingly well-crafted works that includes compositions for wind band, orchestra, chamber ensembles, and ballet. She has made lasting contributions to musical life as a composer, performer, conductor, and educator. Tower, as the New York Times describes is “a composer whose directness and eclecticism make her music instantly accessible, and whose imaginative sense of development – often by way insistent but evolving rhythms and surprising juxtapositions – gives it an original, distinctive personality.” Her tremendously popular six Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman have been performed by more than 500 ensembles.
The composer writes about Fascinating Ribbons (2001):
- "I am happy to be finally entering the band world – a generous and hard-working world that has generated so many excellent wind, brass, and percussion players. It seems also to be a place of people that actually love living composers! In naming the piece, I noticed that there are many contours of motives that are shaped in curved “ribbon” patterns. I immediately thought of the work “fascinating.” And the ending dotted-rhythm reminded me of Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythms – hence the title."
Catherine Likhuta (b. 1981) is an Australian-based composer, pianist and recording artist. Her music exhibits high emotional charge, programmatic nature and rhythmic complexity. Catherine holds a bachelor’s degree in jazz piano from Kyiv Glière Music College, a five-year post-graduate degree in composition from the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine, and a PhD in composition from the University of Queensland.
About Home Away from Home (2019), Likhuta offers these notes:
- "I was born and raised in Kyiv, Ukraine, and then lived in the United States for eight years before moving permanently to Australia in 2012. As a result, all three countries became home to me, and I always miss them and my friends in each of them when I am away. I feel equally at home in all three. It so happened that Jason’s commission came just before my family and I went on sabbatical to Ithaca, New York (our home in 2005-2009) from Australia for six months, also stopping by the Ukraine on our way there. It was a very special time, filled with somewhat forgotten youthful thrill, wonderful reunions and nostalgic experiences. It made me realize that, in a way, each of these three places is my home away from home…
The opening section of the work represents the initial excitement associated with the new beginning, somewhat similar to a plane take-off: you are strapped in and have no control over what’s going to happen next, yet somehow you know you are in for an exciting experience. You hear the engine starting, which makes your heart rate go up (mine, anyway!).
The melancholic section that follows is a moment of reflection, inspired by the experience of visiting a house where your loved ones used to live, for the first time after they are gone. The experience cannot be put into words - it can only be lived through. I have lived through it and felt like sharing it by means of music. After the initial sadness and sorrow, which are inevitable parts of this experience, your mind brings forward wonderful memories associated with these loved ones, making you sad and happy at the same time.
The next section is desperate and determined, building the tension and bringing the listener to the gutsy climax inspired by Ukrainian folk music, before returning to the original youthful, optimistic and funky opening material. The piece ends on a positive note, with a little quirky waltz surprise thrown in just before the end."
Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974), one of the most prolific French composers of the twentieth century, studied at the Paris Conservatory, and eventually became a member of Les Six (along with Poulenc, Honegger, Auric, Durey, and Tailleferre). Milhaud’s compositions are particularly noted as being influenced by jazz, their use of polytonality, and his love of layered themes (often leading to simultaneous recapitulations of the multiple themes of the piece).
Milhaud writes about the Suite Française (1944):
- "For a long time, I have had the idea of writing a composition for American colleges and universities. The five parts of this suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground of liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Île-de-France (of which Paris is the center, Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence (my birthplace). I used some folk tunes of these provinces. I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought."
Described as “elegant, beautiful, sophisticated, intense, and crystal clear in emotional intent, the music of Omar Thomas (b. 1984) continues to move listeners everywhere it is performed. Thomas holds degrees in music education and jazz composition from James Madison University and the New England Conservatory, respectively. While completing his course at the NEC, at age 23, he was appointed to the Academic Staff of the Berklee College of Music to teach harmony. He is a relatively recent arrival to the wind band world: his first piece in the genre was 2016’s Of Our New Day Begun, but his music (of all genres) has been winning international composition awards for years, including the first William Revelli Composition Prize to be awarded to an African-American composer.
A Mother of a Revolution! (2019) is Thomas’s fourth (of five) composition for wind band. About this piece he provides the following background:
- "This piece is a celebration of the bravery of trans women, and in particular, Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson. Marsha is credited with being one of the instigators of the famous Stonewall uprising of June 28, 1969 – one of the pivotal events of the LGBTQ liberation movement of the 20th century – which is commemorated annually during the worldwide Gay Pride celebrations. Existing as a trans woman, especially a trans woman of color, and daring to live authentically, creating space for oneself in a transphobic world is one of the bravest acts I can imagine…the disco vibe in the latter half of the piece is meant to honor club culture, a sacred space held amongst LGBTQ persons in which to love, live, mourn, heal, strategize, connect, disconnect, and dance in defiance of those outside forces who would seek to do LGBTQ persons harm simply for daring to exist and take up space."
Program notes written and compiled by Nicholas Williams