The American composer Dwight Beckham Sr, an alumnus of Wichita University, studied composition with Homer Keller, Harold Moyer, Joshua Missal and Robert Marek. He has spent a fair portion of his life teaching, but also boasts a second career as a trumpeter with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, the Wichita Wind Ensemble and the Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra. He was recently awarded the accolade of Outstanding Bandmaster by the Kansas Bandmasters Association, and several of his compositions have been the result of commissions for concert band.
Beckham’s work as a trumpeter and his experience as a bandmaster, without doubt, inform the general tenor and direction of the music here. In the rousing Fanfare 40, a commission for the inauguration of the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra’s 40th season, the burnished brass and timpani provide a spectacle of sound. The strings’ noble ‘big tune’ is augmented by florid decoration from percussion and woodwind. It’s as impressive a curtain-raiser as you’re ever likely to encounter.
Flourish and pageantry characterize the next piece - Memorial Ode. It was composed in memory of Harold Romoser, whom I presume was a friend of the composer. Romoser's favorite hymn tune was Sine nomine by Vaughan Williams. I know the hymn by the words ''For all the saints who from their labors rest''. To set the ‘religious’ mood, the work opens with a gentle tolling of a bell and a solo flute. The hymn tune is given out in full on the strings. A second verse introduces other orchestral forces. Soon brass flourishes and timpani enter, heralding in another attractive melody, very much in the Vaughan Williams mode. At one point in the score Beckham incorporates a rhythmic figure in the timpani which spells out in morse code the initials HR. Sine nomine' returns in majestic splendour at the end, providing a potent climax.
Again, working to a commission by the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra, Feather Sound, three Symphonic Statements, was premiered in 2000. The work takes its title from Feather Sound in Florida, where the composer’s eldest grandson was married. Beckham incorporates a theme into the score that he composed in his young days in high school. The outer Statements are notable for their broad orchestral gestures and rich melodies. Statement 11, at just under two minutes, provides an element of mood contrast, with its playful and witty demeanour.
In demonstration-class sound, Beckham’s music provides an eminently listenable experience. Petr Vronský and the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra do full justice to these compelling scores. With a total running time of only 22 minutes of music, it left me wanting more.