On September 29. 2015 I had the pleasure of witnessing the performances of the USA Symphony Band conducted by Michael Phillips and the USA Wind Ensemble conducted by William H. Petersen. The set list consisted exclusively from the composers of late 19th and, predominantly, 20th century. The symphony band featured a respectable array of instruments including flutes, oboes, bassoons, clarinets, bass clarinets, alto saxophones, tenor saxophones, a baritone saxophone, trumpets, horns, trombones, euphoniums, tuba, a string bass, percussion, and a keyboard/organ. Curiously enough, the wind ensemble that performed afterwards did not feature any differences safe for the absence of any keyboard instruments.
The first part of the concert was fulfilled by the Symphony Band. The opener was “Alleluia! Laudamus Te” from 1973 composed by Alfred Reed. The piece established a rather solemn mood – quite appropriate for the size of the orchestras that were performing that night. It was commissioned by Malone College at Canton, Ohio as the dedication to the local concert band director Richard S. Mountford. One could classify it as the honorable hymn and praise without words. It was clearly created with the woodwinds in mind, because there are three themes, each executed by either brass, horns and woodwinds, or trumpets. Each section of the orchestra was given the opportunity to flex some sound muscles. The effect was immediate as the massive wall of sound clearly enveloped all listeners at once. The task of any opener is to turn attention, and it was exactly what it did. The orchestra demonstrated great ability to exemplify certain instruments when necessary.
The next piece, “Pageant,” by Vincent Persichetti composed in 1953 was taken from the Psalm series. French horn began playing solo, a beautiful motive consisting of three notes. The more the piece proceeded, the more it was developing, meaning that other sections started plugging in. At first, the clarinet choir started developing the theme. Brass and woodwinds alternated furthermore while the tempo was slightly increasing. It was interesting to notice how more and more melodic lines were added on top of the primary motive, constantly enriching the sound. The rest of the part one consisted of “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss” by David Holsinger composed in 1989 and “Satiric Dances” by Normal Dello Joio composed in 1975. Of these two, the latter was more interesting as it features easily recognizable elements of Spanish music mixed with the classic European tradition. Then came the intermission.
The second act was a bit less impressive due to several factors. The absence of keyboard, even though the previous orchestra had only one, was immediately noticeable. Keyboards and organ, each exclusively used during a piece, filled out the texture of the sound nicely, constantly providing background canvas for the woodwind sections to lean onto during quieter spots. The feature was absent in the second part to the detriment of the overall sound. Moreover, the second orchestra was not as focused. There seemed to be more imperfections that detracted from the music in the negative way. The set list features “Pas Redouble” by Camille Saint Saens, a great merry dance number, Divertimento for Band, op. 42 by Vincent Persichetti, which consisted of several movements (prologue, songs, dance, burlesque, soliloquy, and march), “Be Thou My Vision” by David Gillingham and “Pineapple Poll – Suite from the Ballet” by Arthur Sullivan.