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Seen and Heard International Concert Review


Corigliano Premiere: The University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Jerry Junkin, Conductor, Robert Carnochan, Guest Conductor, Carnegie Hall, New York City, February 27, 2005 (BH)


Handel (edited by Jerry Junkin): Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749)
Grantham: Baron Cimetière’s Mambo (2004) (New York premiere)
Copland: Emblems (1964)
Corigliano: Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble (2004) (New York premiere)


You have to admire a composer willing to end a piece with live gunfire. In John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus the final note was delivered by a percussionist who rose from the back in profile, raised a rather large rifle and fired once toward the left side of the stage. And the program carried a warning, to those who might have inadvertently dozed off, but here that would seem about as likely as falling asleep while riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. Corigliano has written a new work – his first for concert band – that might be characterized as an overstimulated work about the phenomenon of overstimulation. It’s also about as ear-popping as it gets, and great fun to watch, too.


Perhaps with a nod to Henry Brant, another composer playing with the physical placement of musicians, Corigliano’s wild ride is spatially conceived, with a huge ensemble onstage, eleven trumpets ringing the first tier, a saxophone trio at the edge of the second tier immediately above, and directly across from them, a horn duo. Additional percussion could be heard from upstairs, somewhere in the back, and I’ve no doubt omitted a few, since it was often delightfully difficult to tell exactly from where the sounds were emanating. Oh, I neglected to mention the small marching band that entered from the back, paraded up to the front of the stage and then returned via the other aisle, all coordinated with freewheeling assurance by the group’s superb conductor, Jerry Junkin.


Those trumpets began the slightly mad diversions with a unison blast that seemed to circle the auditorium, but unlike some monochrome tones, this one had textural interest, perhaps created by the musicians’ changing their angle of projection and volume. In any case, the result was as if blinding searchlights had been flipped on, which spread feverishly through the ensemble until all sections of the group were in full cry, including some impressively braying clarinets. And as in his First Symphony (and perhaps his score to Ken Russell’s Altered States), Corigliano’s language is eclectic, siphoning a little from a little Mahler, Respighi, and Ligeti, and wisely taps this excellent group’s youthful exuberance, without sacrificing discipline. Among many striking moments is a section called “Channel Surfing,” in which phrases from different parts of the hall are abruptly cut off by others, followed immediately by the first “Night Music I,” with muted horn calls that sound uncannily like coyotes baying in the distance. The second “Night Music II” is an about-face into the darkness of what could be the netherworld of New York City’s late-night clubs, with jazz strains bubbling up, and then a quieter “Prayer” scene appears near the end, before the final melee. The audience reaction was almost as humorously over-the-top as some of Corigliano’s ideas, but bully for them: it’s always heartening to see people standing to cheer a new piece.


But there was plenty of excitement in the first half. The program began with an elegant arrangement of Handel’s familiar Music for the Royal Fireworks, deftly transferred for this ensemble by Mr. Junkin, and which highlighted the group’s lovely blend, and the oboes in particular. I also enjoyed Aaron Copland’s Emblems, commissioned in 1964, with its extended fanfares, interrupted midway through by strains of Amazing Grace floating through, and leaving an impression of an arcane, primitive ritual in progress. (NB: at least one recording is available, on the Klavier label with the Cincinnati Wind Symphony.) Composer Donald Grantham provided some of the afternoon’s humor with Baron Cimetière’s Mambo, a crackling exercise in sophisticated syncopation, well directed by guest conductor Robert Carnochan. He got a rousing response from his woodwind crew, and Grantham’s sinister fun made a fine choice placed between the relatively stately Handel and Copland.


As a footnote, my previous nomination for “Loudest Sound Heard At Carnegie Hall” was a few years back when Christoph von Dohnányi and the Cleveland Orchestra unleashed Varése’s Amériques on the hall’s unsuspecting plaster chips. The sixth section of the Corigliano closes with an ear-splitting chord lasting for some thirty seconds, at a decibel level that caused several people nearby to hold fingers in their ears. (Not me.) I am now pleased to award bragging rights to Mr. Junkin and his excellent ensemble from Austin.


Bruce Hodges



 

 



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