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Premieres and Composer’s Visit Highlight USM Wind Ensemble Concert

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The University of Southern Mississippi Wind Ensemble will be in concert Oct. 8. (Submitted photo)

The University of Southern Mississippi Wind Ensemble will present a concert featuring two premieres of works commissioned by the ensemble on Thursday, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Bennett Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus. 

Concluding a residency at Southern Miss with this concert, David Maslanka will be on hand to hear the premiere of his piece “Hosannas.” The concert is free and the public is invited.

The program opens with the first movement of “Alchemy in Silent Spaces” by Steven Bryant. The movement, “The Logic of All My Dreams,” is drawn from music the composer wrote as an undergraduate while studying with notable composer Francis McBeth.

The opening is sparse to create a floating sense of timelessness. This gradually builds, ultimately launching itself into a grandiose, warm, harmonically consonant blanket of sound, after which it concludes with a single chord repeated four times at pianissimo. The music is for the most part delicate and quiet, relying on silence and space to create drama.

The evening features two premieres, each commissioned by a consortium.

“Being part of a consortium at this level is very special,” says Dr. Catherine Rand, director of bands at USM. “We are only the third ensemble in the United States to perform Luminosity; being this close to the top of the performance list is important for our students because it puts them at the forefront of performing modern compositions by major composers.”

The first of the two premieres is “Luminosity: Concerto for Wind Orchestra (2015)” by Joseph Schwantner. Known for his dramatic and unique style and as a gifted orchestral colorist, Schwantner is one of the most prominent American composers today. Several Grammy nominations, many awards, grants and fellowships, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his orchestral composition “Aftertones of Infinity,” have marked his compositional career. He describes Luminosity as his “latest and most ambitious work.” Cast in three movements, it is bookended by material that exploits the wind, brass, and percussion sections, with a “mini-concerto for solo clarinet” at its center.

The second premiere is Maslanka’s “Hosannas.” His music for winds has become especially well-known. Among his more than 130 works are 40 pieces for wind ensemble, including seven symphonies, 15 concertos, a Mass, and many concert pieces. His chamber music includes four wind quintets, five saxophone quartets, and many works for solo instrument and piano.

In addition, he has written a variety of orchestral and choral pieces. “Hosannas” is dedicated to famed music educator Gary Green, with the inscription “from those of us whom you have impacted so greatly – students, friends, and colleagues – with all our love.”

Rand notes, “Hosannas is very personal to me. Gary Green is a close friend and was my doctoral conducting teacher; this performance is a way to honor his contributions to the field.”

The music is deeply rooted in the composer’s long-time interest in the chorales of J.S. Bach. Maslanka noted, “The melodies and titles are certainly Christian in origin, yet I have come to see and feel them as a deep expression of a common humanity, transcending origin and label. Their attitudes in this composition are centered and quiet, opening the space for self-reflection and the voice of praise.”

Clarinettist Mike Sanchez, a master’s student from Miami, Fla., added, “It’s a very challenging program, especially considering two of the works haven’t been recorded by other ensembles. There’s little research that can be done to see how other groups have mastered the performance.”