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The University of Texas Wind Ensemble: Migration

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

The University of Texas Wind Ensemble: Migration Reference Recordings

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Expertly helmed by Jerry Junkin, The University of Texas Wind Ensemble has been commissioning new music and performing world premieres for more than three decades. Its latest release, Migration, upholds that tradition in featuring three world premieres plus the premiere of a new wind ensemble transcription of John Corigliano's Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble. Having a work appear by one of the greatest living American composers bolsters the release's appeal, but compositions by Jennifer Jolley, Stephen Montague, and Adam Schoenberg also recommend the release. That's Adam, not Arnold, by the way, the same Adam Schoenberg whose 2017 Reference Recordings release featuring American Symphony brought the young composer (b. 1980) deserved recognition. At almost eighty minutes, Migration has plenty of quality music to offer, the title work by Schoenberg for starters.

Formally titled Migration: Symphony No. 2 for Wind Ensemble, his five-movement piece explores the immigrant experience with all the hopes, dreams, and struggles that undertaking entails. The overture-like “March” inaugurates the kaleidoscopic work with a dizzying swirl of horns, thudding percussive accents, and snare patterns. Whereas “Dreaming” builds from a serene hush of woodwinds into a radiant expression teeming with hope and anticipation, “Escape” is naturally action-packed in its evocation of the anxiety felt in leaving one home for another. An air of mystery permeates “Crossing” in conveying the uncertainty of people grappling with an unfamiliar new place, though tentative excitement is suggested too in the slow blossoming that emerges halfway through the movement and segues directly into the triumphant “Beginning” that symbolizes the journey's successful culmination. In being sophisticated in its musical design yet instantly engaging, Migrationis very much characteristic of Schoenberg's music and shows why he's been twice named one of the most performed living composers by orchestras in the United States.

It's fitting that his piece should be followed by Corigliano's, considering that Schoenberg studied with him at The Juilliard School. The Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble premiered in itsConcerto for Clarinet and Orchestra form in 1977 and was performed for the first time in its wind ensemble version (created by Craig B. Davis) in 2015. Structured in three parts, the treatment lasts about thirty minutes and features Jonathan Gunn as the clarinet soloist. The aptly titled opening movement, ”Cadenzas,” features two, the first introducing the work with rapid, acrobatic runs and the second preceded by an interlude. During this central section, the ensemble elements assert themselves alongside the clarinet, the instruments intertwining like vines and the sinuous lead soloist inciting excited declarations from the others. Furious glissandos and horn convulsions appear, the blustery mass almost burying the clarinet when it agitatedly swells. Almost imperceptibly, the second cadenza arrives, this one punctuated by ensemble outbursts before the activity level lessens and the movement resolves. Corigliano wrote the work's second movement, “Elegy,” in memory of his father, who was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for over twenty years and died in 1975. It honours his memory by opening with a long, unaccompanied part for the violins before the clarinet enters. The tone is solemn, even mournful for the ten-minute duration, the composer purposefully eschewing an emotional climax so as to maximize intensity and tension. Corigliano structured the daring closing movement “Antiphonal Toccata” into two sections, the first deploying alternating calls on the stage and the second situating the musicians around the hall. Brass and percussion, for example, are positioned so they can partake in antiphonal conversation. Musically, the movement's music develops from initial pulsations into volatile flurries of horns and woodwinds, the gestures often aggressive and sometimes jazz-tinged in their rhythmic exuberance. In this dazzling set-piece, Gunn glides confidently over the ever-shifting base and sometimes engages in antiphonal to-and-fro with the ensemble's players.

With The Eyes of the World Are Upon You, Jolley set out to memorialize the seventeen people killed at the University of Texas in 1966, the site of the nation's first campus mass shooting, as well as those who survived. What prompted her to compose the piece was a 2015 newspaper article reporting that a bill had been passed by Texas lawmakers permitting concealed handguns at public and private universities in the state. Chilled by the development and the fact that the law was scheduled to go into effect on the fiftieth anniversary of the shooting, she created the twelve-minute setting as a powerful elegy, defiant statement, and expression of horror. Unsettling episodes appear, but so too do elegiac ones that honour the victims' memory.

Inspired by a 2001 concert of early South American liturgical music, Montague's Intrada 1631offers a dynamic conclusion to the recording. Moved upon hearing a seventeenth-century Catholic liturgical chant composed by the Franciscan missionary priest Juan Pérez Bocanegra, Montague used his twenty-bar hymn as the basis for an expanded processional scored for symphonic brass choir and field drums. Intrada 1631 was first performed in 2003 in Bath Abbey, England as the opening processional for a late-night multi-media production called Abbey Mode: A Sonic Light Event and is as procession-like in its design and tone as one would expect. Pounding drums introduce the ten-minute rendering, with horns soon entering and the music's grandiosity reinforced by the insistence of the drumming and chorale-like brass voicings. The album's four works differ dramatically in character and style, though that's hardly a bad thing; if anything, it enhances the impact of the release in showing the range of which The University of Texas Wind Ensemble is capable. Its musicians prove themselves as adept at essaying Corigliano's challenging score as capturing the emotional essence of each of the other three pieces.

October 2022

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