william bolcom's first symphony for band



One of my favorite highlights of The Midwest Clinic was a performance of Bolcom's Symphony No. 1 for Band (2008) performed by The President's Own United States Marine Band.


I thought I missed this ensemble because they had a concert on Wednesday night, and since I arrived late Wednesday night, I didn't want to venture into town that evening. I merely read about the Wednesday night concerts via my friends's Facebook statuses, so when I found out The President's Own was performing again, I was elated. Plus they would be having a clinic with Bolcom himself discussing his piece before they performed the whole piece. Joyous.


A couple of things stuck with me since the Bolcom clinic. One was his mention of the genesis of the piece: Bolcom was struck with John Corigliano's Circus Maximus, and in friendly competition, also wanted to write a substantial piece for band. (If you don't already know this piece, please go to a live performance. LIVE. Or check it out on Blu-ray. It is a fantastic piece.)


Also, Bolcom did not take the band genre seriously at first; however, his band piece has received 25 performances in the past year (25!), and this has never happened with any of his orchestra pieces. In fact, he comments about this in the program notes:

"I think this is why more and more composers of art music are turning to the band--is the fact that band people work hard and long on a new piece. They will spend weeks in rehearsal perfecting and internalizing it. And there is something infectious about the youthful enthusiasm a good college band will put into a performance."

Take that, orchestra.


If there is one thing I wish I would have learned from Bolcom before I wrote my first band piece was his approach to orchestration. Take advantage of what you have, he says. (This is also something that Rodney Winther emphasized, so I get the hint.) Throughout the piece, he highlights the different ranges of the instruments, like when he uses the low range of the euphonium instead of the tuba. (He jokingly said during the first rehearsals of this piece, the tubas thought he had made an error.) My other favorite orchestration moment was in the second movement: he has the double bass and the harp accompany the cornet solo, but doubles the harp (and sometimes bass) with muted horns.


If you want to hear this piece, a recording of his first symphony for band is here. If you want to hear the live recording of The President's Own's performance at The Midwest Clinic, it will eventually be up here.


I later on when I was crashing the Michigan State reception, I fortunately heard Bolcom and his wife Joan Morris perform a cabaret tune! What a treat. I'm thankful I crashed the reception, even though I knew almost no one.

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