Fanfare Magazine Home Page

IssuesConductorsPerformersEnsembles and OrchestrasInstrumentalistsInstruments

SingersVoicesVocal RolesSACDsReviewersLabels

Archive Home

Feature ArticlesComposersCollectionsJazzVideoBollywoodBook ReviewsThe Want ListsThe Hall of Fame

         

Fanfare Archive Subscriber-Only Features

 Listen to Audio & Video 

Anthony Newman: Works for Organ

James Kreger: CHOPIN, BRAHMS, BEETHOVEN

Mark Abel: Home is a Harbor

Michael Antonello: Collected Works

Michael Habermann: SORABJI: Piano Music

Nancy Roldán, José Miguel Cueto, Gabriella Cavallero: Piazzolla Here & Now

Open Goldberg: Open Goldberg Variations

Pedro H. da Silva / Lucía Caruso: Jeanne d’Arc, Le Voyage dans la Lune

The Crossing: Selected Works

Thomas Murray: Symphonic Masterworks of Grieg & Franck

Varda Kotler: YouTube Channel


Fanfare Archive Advertisers

Buy & Sell Classical CDs at Princeton Record Exchange

Interview by Ronald E. Grames, Review By Huntley Dent

Thomas Leslie Talks about The Return of the UNLV Wind Orchestra
By Ronald E. Grames

Somehow, despite a great affection for wind ensemble music, I have missed, until now, the fine Wind Orchestra at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Talk about being late to the party. Friends who teach music at another well-regarded school tell me that the quality of the program at UNLV is well known in academic circles. But, better late than never. A feature article in Fanfare occasioned by the ensemble’s 10th release for Klavier, The Return, serves as my introduction to this exceptional ensemble and its dynamic director, Thomas G. Leslie.

Since auditioning this latest CD, I have tracked down most of the rest of them, a very impressive 19 releases total since the first in 1994. Clearly this is a program I wanted to know more about. So, I initiated an email conversation with Leslie, who is not only director of wind band studies but also professor of conducting at UNLV. My interviewee, who maintains a busy academic schedule and is active in professional organizations—he was president, for instance, of the American Bandmasters Association in 2012–2013—was also involved in recording sessions while we conversed. His crazy schedule did not, however, seem to dampen his enthusiasm for talking about working with students and colleagues.


I believe these last few decades at UNLV have been very productive, especially with regard to the recordings. When I first arrived on the UNLV campus in July 1985, I knew that we would be building the program first through quality and later by quantity. After the first 10 years, it became obvious to me that the way to get the word out about what we were doing was through recording. We didn’t have the resources to go on tour, or to play at conferences and conventions, so we recorded and tried to get those discs in as many places throughout the globe as possible.

I guess it makes sense, on reflection, that Las Vegas, being an entertainment city, would have a university with a good music program. But I have to say that the quality I hear on this new CD, and on several others that I have been listening to, is most impressive. What are you feeding your music students there at UNLV that you are getting results like this?

I am working with wonderfully talented student musicians, performers, and staff members, so I ask of them daily to rehearse and perform in the most musical and expressive way they know how. It seems as if it’s a true point of pride for them, and for me as well. We have developed a unique composite sound with the UNLV Wind Orchestra, producing a genuine orchestral sonic landscape. We provide the ensemble a special approach to balancing and blending tonal colors, which conveys a distinctive proprietary series of interesting musical textures. The musicians use these opportunities to express themselves in the most musical way possible. I also feel a personal responsibility to the ensemble and to the music to score-study, to conceive and deliver interpretive details that help the music to come alive. Our musicians are continually searching for ways to heighten the effect of these interpretations.

I suspect that since UNLV is not on one of the coasts or in the Midwest musical power centers, it may be overlooked by others than just me. Please tell us a little more about your school and the work you did to build the program over the last 32 years. I am particularly impressed that the band is made up of undergraduates—music and non-music majors—with some, rather than all, graduate students. One would never guess this from listening to these Klavier recordings.

When I first arrived on the UNLV campus the total university student population was between 8,000 and 10,000, mostly undergraduate degree-seeking students. The graduate program was very limited across the entire campus, not only in music. While the campus became a blend of diverse undergraduate students, musicians came to the UNLV Music Department to perform in our ensembles. In the late 1980’s most of our students were non-music majors, and they really just wanted to participate in the concert ensembles, as these performing groups were thriving and successful.

Our historic challenge at UNLV has been a lack of sufficient financial aid necessary to recruit extraordinarily talented music majors on a national/international basis. As a consequence, we built the quality of this program by recruiting motivated young players and musicians that wanted to be a part of something special. We could not afford to have a large student population in the music department, nor could we afford to bring in many ultra-talented soloists from across America and beyond.

As time went on, the high quality performances by our ensembles became far more noticeable and competitive with other programs in our region and across the country. During this time, UNLV was growing at a rapid rate because of affordable tuition and a high-quality education offered to the students on our campus.

At this juncture, the decision was made to venture a step further, resulting in the performance of the UNLV Wind Orchestra at a CBDNA regional conference. This yielded our very first live recording, The UNLV Wind Symphony 1994, in which we premiered UNLV alumnus Eric Whitacre’s blockbuster, Ghost Train.

From that point, one recording turned into two, two into 10, 10 into almost 20 recordings of interesting, unique, and imaginative performances of cutting-edge repertoire for the wind orchestra. Throughout the years, these many recordings helped us to recruit talented players internationally into our program. Now, the UNLV School of Music stands at almost 500 music majors. I think back through those decades and I am amazed, as I was privileged to watch it all happen!

How did the university respond to your initial goal of focusing on quality of program, rather than size?

Throughout the years, scholarship and financial aid opportunities for students interested in coming to UNLV were limited. As a result, we continued to focus on providing a quality experience musically and educationally for our student musicians. We had little control over budgetary constraints, but we realized that quality was always preferred to quantity, so we just kept plugging along, believing in that mantra.

I note that a fair number of your students are local, though others are from across the country and around the world. Is there something special about the city of Las Vegas that supports the quality of your program, and how have you gone about finding and recruiting young musicians of this caliber?

The students who attend UNLV after graduating from Las Vegas area high schools come to us with a very diverse background culturally. These are talented young men and women who have grown up in a unique culture, and have had numerous opportunities to see and hear a variety of professional performers working at the highest level possible. I revere our students from these schools, as they bring an intangible ingredient to our wind orchestra that is dynamic and unique to this amazing city. Through the years, many talented music students have come to UNLV from beyond Nevada’s borders for the incredible opportunities afforded them by this great university and the wondrous city in which we live and work.

And now, to come full circle (thus The Return), many highly talented students from around the globe have come to Las Vegas because of the comprehensive collection of recordings that our students past and present have so artistically and diligently executed throughout the past 25 years.

This recording is the 10th which you have released on the Klavier label—there were previous recordings on Mark—and many of the others have whimsical covers and names. This one has a rather dark cover: no Venetian acrobats or Lost Vegas signs. So, from what is The Return? And how do cover art and title tie in with the program?

After a three-year hiatus from any and all recording, the title The Return is simply that: a return to recording and to our commitment of artistic expression that we at UNLV have enjoyed these past 25 years. The cover art, by our close friend Rick Metzler who passed away a year ago, serves as a tribute to his artistic contribution to the UNLV band program. It’s visually descriptive image conveys how our recordings have helped us to come “full circle” through the decades. I believe that cover art is a true expression of how I feel about each CD release, and the vast majority of these pieces of art were commissioned specifically for those releases. It is a labor of love.

How so?

The Return became a labor of love for me because I wished to honor my recently departed friend Rick Metzler. Rick was a very talented artist who had been a set designer in the movie business, and even had starred in a movie from the 1970s entitled Blackula. Rick enjoyed music immensely, especially jazz. Many times during recording sessions on the UNLV campus, Rick would attend, putting on headphones in the control room and spending the day listening to the wind orchestra and our many special guest soloists. Although he and I had discussed the idea of using his artwork for the Klavier series, we were late by one year as Rick passed away in January 2016. The cover art for this new CD was discovered hanging on a wall of a mutual friend, Jennifer Flynn, who provided it so that we could honor Rick in this final way.

I have always enjoyed creating a special aesthetic by using commissioned art for the front covers of our CDs. When we first started recording for Mark Custom Recordings, we commissioned caricature paintings from a local Las Vegas artist, Steve Thomason. We tried to keep it a little glib with those covers—not too serious.

When we started recording for Klavier Recordings, we included Steve in the process for the first two CDs. When Steve retired, I discovered the amazing Clifford Bailey, an extraordinarily talented painter from Los Angeles. The third Klavier CD included a third-stream piece, 4 Flew Over the Hornet’s Nest, so Clifford’s jazz-influenced artwork matched our intent perfectly. The whimsical cover art for both Vegas Maximus and The Quest were commissioned from my Venetian friend, Carlo Marchiori. The cover art for the next four CDs were commissioned pieces from Clifford, but that required a crossover in style. Due to an extraordinary imagination, Clifford executed them brilliantly. (Covers can be seen at unlvbands.wixsite.com/unlvbands/new-discography.)

Through the years, I have received considerable communications from friends, colleagues, and music lovers who enjoy our cover art. I find that flattering, yet it’s all for a very simple reason. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but when it comes to making the music, it’s all serious business, all the time.

So, what caused the three-year pause in recording?

I took three years to develop repertoire for this CD and to prepare for the 2016 concert tour to the south of France. Sometimes we need to move tangentially with different goals in mind so that we can come back to original projects with added vigor. This process helped make recording the new CD more joyful and more creatively fresh!

Is this how you encourage the focus on expressive playing you mentioned earlier? It is not a mediocre commodity these days, even in professional ensembles. And in what way are the unique musical textures built? I had always assumed the latter was closely tied to the scoring itself, but you suggest there is an underlying approach to balance and blend that is your own. I do note a particular richness to the band’s sound that is part of its attraction, but I suspect there is more to this. Would you be willing to share a bit more about this with our readers, many of whom are musicians themselves?

I believe that expression is the primary means needed to communicate musically with the listener. If the performer does not invest emotionally or descriptively in what the music portrays, the listener will not be able to comprehend and understand the intent of the composer. It is our prime responsibility to provide the listener with the most pure and genuine performance, to be able to communicate confidently on that special aesthetic level.

Texture, balance, and blend begin with the basic score and the written orchestration. However, the imagery of the composite sonic combination is in the ear and mind of the conductor, or, that person who rehearses and structures the acoustic to match his or her own timbral imagination.

In any musical score, melodic and counter-melodic lines should take precedence over background voices. Specific combinations of unison voices will achieve a combined color blends. For example, blue and yellow when mixed together will result in a green hue… add more blue and you change the blend and the converse is also true. This is very similar when combining acoustic tone colors....

When considering balance, the conductor must construct the overall musical presentation by assigning priorities to corresponding lines within the score. This is similar to decisions a theatrical director will use to determine which actor has more significance at any specific moment in a production. Finally, the only limiting factor in building an ensemble’s total sound is one’s sonic imagination.

I can’t imagine that anyone would disagree with you regarding expression in music, but I have had other music educators say that this seems to be a problem for a generation that has grown up with a popular music that is often divorced from the kind of expression that more serious concert music needs. When the hook and the groove are not part of the equation, or where rhythms are not pounded out in a wash of raw energy, where does an educator connect with the student who only knows the unsubtle and rather formulaic realm of the popular? Or do the Las Vegas schools, and the unique surrounding of the entertainment industry in your city, really take care of that for you?

Many times expression in music can be difficult for the younger players, especially if their musical experiences before coming to campus were limited to simple note and rhythm preparation. The players that I conduct and teach are very serious about how a phrase or a line should be played in order to best communicate with the listener. They are also curious how I personally would shape the line in order to create this level of expression.

Quite often I ask our principal players to demonstrate phrases for the other performers in the ensemble. I find this to be very useful, especially when I am insisting on a true sense of musicality. Many of our principal musicians have a wonderful background in solo playing, and they can very easily translate it into the ensemble experience. A high percentage of these soloists are in Las Vegas both to get a music degree and to work in the industry throughout the valley. So, in essence, I would say that Las Vegas is at least a partial reason for high-quality expression in our wind orchestra. Because we program a wide variety of stylistic repertoire, our students have the opportunity to perform in numerous musical styles before they graduate. As a result, these young performers understand how to communicate with the listening public in any of the aforementioned styles.

You have pointed out the variety and strength of the repertoire that you record. It certainly helps to have an alumnus like Eric Whitacre who, I gather, has maintained a relationship with his alma mater. But there are a lot of other well-known names: Michael Daugherty, Daron Hagen, Bruce Broughton, Frank Ticheli, Donald Grantham, David Manslanka, plus UNLV’s own Anthony LaBounty and Zane Douglass. All have appeared on relatively recent CDs as composers or transcribers, some more than once. Please talk a little about these relationships, about the selection process, and about commissioning.

In my very early years at UNLV, I made a serious effort to commission young composers. Certainly I would emphasize that our UNLV alumnus, Eric Whitacre, was helpful in the process of finding great young composers and establishing musical relationships with them. I thoroughly enjoy the collaborative process, and as a result, I have continued to search for composers who would write in specific styles for our wind orchestra. Many of these composers have become close personal friends, and we have worked on numerous projects together several times through the years. We also commission composers to write to commemorate special occasions on campus. Having Anthony LaBounty and Zane Douglass work in the same office with me makes it quite convenient to communicate and collaborate almost on a daily basis.

I have significant respect for the composers you named and others that are writing high-level works of great artistry. I am fortunate that many of these composers are now wonderful friends and are very interested in the UNLV Wind Orchestra.

When commissioning a specific composition, I always have a concept in mind regarding the style and genre of the music, how and when the piece will be premiered, and its potential for being recorded by the UNLV Wind Orchestra.

Would you be willing to explain how you put a program together? I’d particularly be interested in knowing how The Return was assembled.

When programming a concert, I consider very seriously the need for pace, variety and artistic substance. I find that I enjoy other ensembles’ performances when there is a unique and an artistic approach to programming. I personally prefer a series of significant musical contrasts within a concert, and I find that this is best accomplished by performing a variety of musical styles during the program.

We usually record specific pieces that have worked well within our annual concert series. Given this process, the compilation of the pieces programmed on The Return are works from successful performances that were most compelling for our audiences. I find this programming style to be uniquely varied and somewhat proprietary to how we do business.

Fair enough, I certainly didn’t want you to be revealing any trade secrets. I would, however, be interested in knowing about the composers and works that you included on The Return. Can we talk about how each of these pieces came to your attention, or what led to the commissions if they were written for your ensemble? And what is special about each of them, especially as a means of providing that important musical experience for your student musicians?

Programming this new CD was a joy for me, as it brought new pieces to my musical table. I learned of Maslanka’s Traveler from one of my doctoral conducting students who loved the piece very much. When I first heard the piece, I knew immediately that the potential for true music-making existed within. I found myself disagreeing with the standard interpretation, choosing to enhance dramatic effects through space and time. I might add that our musicians loved the piece from the reading to the recording.

Michael Daugherty’s Raise the Roof is something of a classic, of course, and there are several recordings of that. What led you to add another one? And how did you come to ask Ted Atkatz to play the timpani solo?

The Daugherty was challenging and exhilarating for the entire ensemble. I actually backed into this title because I had been selfishly wanting to work with Ted Atkatz, who had been the youngest timpanist and principal percussionist ever appointed to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Michael Daugherty wrote a definitive timpani concerto when he composed Raise the Roof. Not only is it tour de force for the solo timpanist, it is also a monstrous display of technique and color for the Wind Orchestra. As with all of Michael’s pieces for winds, I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it, but listening to Ted’s artistry took this experience to a new level for me.

I am particularly interested in Bordello Nights, with its inclusion of a jazz combo in the concert band, sinfonia concertante style, giving an opportunity for a number of challenging solo turns.

Jennifer Bellor’s composition, Bordello Nights, had been an amazing collaborative project for both of us in the year prior to its premiere. I have always appreciated the art of weaving the jazz and classical musical genres into a tapestry of both light and dark. Jennifer’s special ability to guide the listener on an introspective tour encompassing a wide range of emotions is realized with this brilliant composition. Combining a small jazz band with the Wind Orchestra produced a series of rehearsals, concerts, and recordings that provided all involved an incredible series of musical experiences. Having had several opportunities to work with [alto saxophonist] Eric Marienthal throughout the past two decades, I have completely realized that I can never have too many of those opportunities. He is truly the best in the world at what he does. Not only is Eric a virtuosic musician, just as importantly, he is a great friend and brother. In addition, working with Colin Gordon [soprano sax], Mitch Forman [piano], Kevin Axt [electric bass], and the illustrious Bernie Dresel [drums], elevated everyone’s musicianship while performing with them.

Does Bordello Nights have any improvisation, or is it all written out? I’m curious if you’d consider it a third-stream composition.

That’s a really good question, because this composition is seamless when it comes to this concept. Many who have heard the piece have the same question: Is it all through-composed or is it improvisatory? The answer is, simply, both. Ms. Bellor was able to transition smoothly and cleanly from improvisation into melodic and counter-melodic writing, and these performers are absolutely convincing, making it hard to know if it’s real or Memorex.

I do consider Bordello Nights to be a third-stream piece. The use of contemporary/popular music compositional form and technique, the essence of a jazz-like performance, and a serious piece for wind orchestra such as this, are great combinations resulting in this superb piece for wind orchestra and jazz ensemble.

And there are the two powerful, shorter works.

My colleague, best friend, and confidante Anthony LaBounty composed TRIUMPH to commemorate a special invitation to perform at the prestigious Les Anches de Azur Music Festival in La Croix Valmer, St. Tropez, France in the summer of 2016. To us, the piece represented the remarkable efforts by our musicians and our academic leadership at UNLV to secure the necessary funds to make this international appearance possible. Tony has a unique language of melody and harmony that is like no other. He truly challenges the artist to be compelling and convincing in the performance of his music.

Return from the White City was a suggestion from a friend. I heard a recording of it and fell in love with Tom Davoren’s writing. He is a very talented young British composer who can write music anytime for the UNLV Wind Orchestra!

What occasioned the repeat release of your 2007 recording of Frank Ticheli’s Sanctuary?

For me, Frank Ticheli’s Sanctuary is among the most beautiful of all pieces in the wind repertoire written in the last 30 years. These melodic motives speak to me on a level I can’t explain, yet I can feel. The performance of Sanctuary on The Return is actually from an earlier UNLV Wind Orchestra recording, The Quest. I love the piece and the performance so much that I use it for reference material when interpreting other compositions in this style and mood. I quite often thank Maestro Ticheli for this special music for the heart.

I honestly believe that each one of these selections on this new release represents a completely different musical style, challenging the performers to rise to an incredible level of competence technically and artistically. As a conductor and music educator, these challenges are among the most important goals I can provide for my students.

You have mentioned the trip to France a couple of times. That sounds like a big deal. Please tell us about it.

The French concert tour last summer was held in a very exclusive village outside of St. Tropez. Les Anches de Azur Music Festival is now 20 years old and very prestigious. The UNLV Wind orchestra was invited to play the grand finale concert of this festival both in 2005 and once again last summer. Other ensembles performing this past year were from Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia. In 2005, the UNLV Wind Orchestra became the first American university ensemble invited to attend this event. Typically, bands and orchestras invited are professional or civic ensembles.

The French Riviera, a beautiful June night, playing a concert next to the beach, palm trees … an incredible Las Vegas-style concert….The unique format of this festival on the Cote d’ Azur makes it a wonderful opportunity for musicians from throughout the world to perform. Incidentally, the festival pays the entire land package (room and board, wine tours, gallery tours, cruises on the Mediterranean, and other amazing tourism opportunities) for the guest ensembles, so only airfare was needed to get there. It truly is a first-class event!

It sounds amazing, and what a remarkable experience for your musicians!

The Return is, as we mentioned earlier, the 10th release in a series with Klavier that started in 2004. Ten CDs in 13 years—not to mention the Hagen opera on Albany—is an enviable release schedule, and these are commercial releases, not on a university label, fine as some of those are. Plus, there were eight releases on Mark Records in the previous 10 years. How do you manage to make that happen, and from where does the funding for that come?

I learned from my mentor Dr. Harry Begian that recording is a necessity and yet an honor, and it serves as documentation for the ensemble’s participants of their history in the ensemble. We have made it a priority for this reason, and because we are financially unable to tour on a regular basis.

These recordings allow us to be heard throughout the globe, and this is truly an exceptional privilege for all involved in the wind orchestra. We self-fund these recordings through our operating budget; it is an expensive process, but when you look at the entire body of work, it is easy to see that these fine recordings will continue to be a living legacy forever.

In another direction: Tell me a little bit about working with Bruce Leek. He is a magician, I understand, in finding just the right sound for each ensemble with which he works.

Having had multiple opportunities to record and edit with the legendary Bruce Leek throughout the past 15 years, I realize what a powerful and positive impact he has made on my life and the lives of my student musicians. Bruce and I work closely together to record and document the special sounds of the UNLV Wind Orchestra. Once we have finished the recording project, the time we spend together mapping and editing the performances of the Wind Orchestra is magical, yet especially grueling for the ears. Bruce hears things that no one else can, and I am constantly learning under his tutelage. Bruce is like a brother, and thankfully he enjoys great wines as much as I do!

And where are you going from here? Any plans that you could share with the readers: premieres, conferences, tours, upcoming recording projects?

After having just returned from an international tour and recording back to back annual CDs, I have now set my sights on a series of amazing projects for the next two years. I have been asked by Bruce Broughton to lead, premiere, and record a new commission for a definitive concerto for trombone and wind orchestra featuring the legendary Joseph Alessi. I am quite certain that working with Bruce and Joe on this project will be a life-changing experience for my students and myself, and I cannot wait! In addition, I have commissioned Mitchell Forman to write a three-movement third-stream piece to feature my great friends and world-class artists, Eric Marienthal and bassist John Patitucci. Mitchell Forman represents American jazz history, having written for and performed with Jerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughin. This piece, featuring Eric and John, I am sure will be like no other third-stream music written for wind orchestra.

A third project to accompany the prior two is a future composition featuring the incomparable Bernie Dressel on the drum set. For those who have never heard his performances with Brian Setzer and the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, his abilities and musicianship are like no other set player I have heard in decades. This composition is still in the development stage and will be a superb collaboration for all of us with the UNLV Wind Orchestra.

THE RETURN Thomas Leslie, cond; University of Nevada Las Vegas Wind O KLAVIER 11217 (67:41)

MASLANKA Traveler. DAUGHERTY Raise the Roof. TICHELI Sanctuary. DAVOREN Return to the White City. BELLOR Bordello Nights. LABOUNTY Triumph.

The use of “wind orchestra” to describe the ensemble on this exciting CD isn’t an exaggeration. The sophistication shown by these contemporary composers calls for a high level of orchestral execution, as witness the xylophone riffs at the outset of David Maslanka’s Traveler. They’ve done some traveling of their own from Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin, and later we sojourn in Tchaikovsky’s Russia, complete with a celesta used with Sugar Plum Fairy delicacy and an oboe solo haunting enough to be in the pas de deux for Odette and Prince Siegfried. Elsewhere Traveler slips into a quasi-Oriental soundscapes, driving Minimalism, and glamorously cinematic surges of drums and brass—a wild ride.

Michael Daugherty created a timpani part for Raise the Roof that defies belief. The former principal timpanist of the Chicago Symphony, Ted Atkatz, plays front and center in what amounts to a concerto, and my ears seemed to hear an impossible range of notes and techniques. For enlightenment I emailed Atkatz to ask how he did it. First off, how many timpani was he playing? Six. This accounted for all the extra notes I wasn’t imagining, but not entirely. He also had to change pitch during the piece. The part I was the most baffled by was the cadenza, where my ear insisted that two drummers must be needed, one to play extended rolls while the other covered the notes of the motif. But it’s all a product of Atkatz’a virtuosity: “I played everything that you heard! The cadenza is written as 16th notes throughout; I tried to create a pedal tone (or roll) while bringing out the moving line, or melody.” Like Maslanka, Daugherty is a novel orchestrator. (I know of no other piece that opens with an extended solo for tuba with cymbal accompaniment.) Traveler and Raise the Roof are both richly exuberant works.

Jennifer Bellor tops exuberance with raciness in Bordello Nights, evoking smoky erotic haunts in New Orleans. The piece features a smaller jazz ensemble—alto and soprano saxophone, piano, bass, and drums—set against the full orchestra. The two saxophones lead the way, and we get real swing and charisma from Eric Marienthal on alto and Colin Gordon on soprano. There’s no mention if they are students, faculty, or guests artists, but Bellor is amazingly deft at pitting jazz soloists against big-band splashiness. At 18 minutes, Bordello Nights is the longest work on the program by a few minutes; I was riveted and entertained by its unfolding air of fantasia and improvisation.

As the title implies, Sanctuary is elegiac in tone, its textures closely harmonized, almost hymn-like at times, its melodic line reflective. Intersecting woodwind lines sometimes act as commentary rising above block chords in the brass. An air of Copland and Bernstein permeates the score—I mean that as a compliment—in a nostalgic populist way. Composer Frank Ticheli uses a wind ensemble more in the vein of Holst than in the adventurous way the previous composers do, and the sense of inward consolation is palpable. This is music that slowly rises and falls in waves of contemplative feeling.

Two shorter works fill out the disc. Tom Davoren’s Return to the White City begins with restless woodwind chatter juxtaposed against a grand outpouring of brass and bright accents of tubular chimes. In the absence of program notes, the title is enigmatic, but perhaps the “white city” is Las Vegas and its electrified brilliant nights. The score’s overall effect is of a four-minute fanfare underpinned with contrasting agitation. Every piece here exploits a phenomenal expanded percussion section. They create a wall of sound in Anthony LaBounty’s Triumph—the title indicates the music’s victorious tone. Inside its brief four minutes the piece brilliantly recaptures the crushing advancing army in Respighi’s Pines of Rome but with updated harmony and even more kaleidoscopic color.

Like many readers and fellow reviewers, I played instruments in high school band and orchestra, vaguely fantasizing that I was a musician until I ran across classmates who had actual talent. Some went on to study in college music departments, but I wonder if they ever matched the remarkable skill and musicianship of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas players who perform so impressively here. This release is their 10th CD, I gather, and conductor Thomas Leslie deserves full credit for the splendor of a true-to-life orchestra. “Wind band” doesn’t do justice to what this select ensemble is capable of. Heartily recommended. Huntley Dent

 

Our Advertisers
About Fanfare / Contact Us
Advertise in the Fanfare Archive


NOT TO BE MISSED!

Reviews and interviews
Just click and read!

If you don't see images below, please disable your browser's Ad Blocker for this site