Angels in the Architecture
Livestream
November 21, 2021


Program Notes:

Victory Tide
William Grant Still

William Grant Still was an American Composer who authored nearly two hundred works including symphonies, ballets, operas, film scores, choral works, art songs, chamber music, and works for solo instruments, and is often referred to as the “Dean of Afro-American Composers.” His close association and collaboration with prominent African American literary and cultural figures earn him consideration as part of the Harlem Renaissance. His list of “firsts” includes being the first American to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera, and the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra, to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and to have an opera performed on national television, among other achievements. Still was a multi-instrumentalist and worked in W.C. Handy’s band in Memphis and later in Harlem.

In 1938, William Grant Still was commissioned by the New York World’s Fair to compose the official theme. The resultant composition was Rising Tide, sometimes referred to as Victory Tide. The monumental Theme Center of the World’s Fair was the Trylon and Perisphere, two huge modernistic structures connected by what was at the time the world’s longest escalator. The Trylon was a giant needle, a 610-foot obelisk in the shape of a triangular pylon (hence “Trylon”) while the Perisphere was tremendous in size, measuring 180 feet in diameter and housing a Henry Dreyfuss diorama called “Democracity” which presented the Fair’s theme of “The World of Tomorrow” by depicting a utopian city-of-the-future. Visitors aboard a moving sidewalk viewed the diorama from above while a multi-image slide presentation was projected on the sphere’s inner dome—and the accompanying music over all, playing on a six-minute loop, was Still’s expanded orchestration of Victory Tide for orchestra, SATB Choir, and narration. Visitors exited the Perisphere through the Helicline, a 950-foot long spiral ramp partially encircling the Perisphere and yielding visitors’ a vista over the grounds of the World’s Fair as they descended the ramp to ground level.

 

High Water Rising
Sally Lamb McCune

Detroit-born composer Sally Lamb McCune was educated at the University of Toronto, California Institute of the Arts, and earned an MFA and DMA from Cornell University while studying principally with Steven Stucky, Roberta Sierra, and Mel Powell. Her music continues to gain national and international recognition with performance across North America and Europe. Her music is described as “contemporary, edgy, descriptive, and extremely soulful,” and her works range from solo and chamber pieces to music for chorus, wind ensemble, and orchestra. McCune writes of her work High Water Rising: “The piece was originally inspired by David Shumate’s 2004 poem High Water Mark. The depiction of a great flood, the water rising to record heights, all manner of things being carried away with the current, and the indelible impression such an event leaves on those who live through it, got me thinking musically. Although the piece was percolating for some time, High Water Rising was begun in 2017, shortly after the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement, signed by 195 nations, was an attempt to bind the world community in battling rising temperatures. The U.S. is the second largest polluter in the world.”

 

Three Conversations with Matisse
Robert W. Smith
Soloist: Senior Chief Musician Josh Thomas, Alto Saxophone

1. The Dance
2. The Blue Window
3. The Music Lesson

Robert W. Smith is an American composer, arranger, and teacher. Born in Daleville, Alabama, he attended Troy State University and returned there to become Director of Bands before departing for a position with Warner Brothers Publications. His position with Warner took him all over the world as guest conductor and clinician. He has since returned to Troy University to coordinate the music industry program. He has published over seven hundred works, including three symphonies, and his music has been performed by over forty drum and bugle corps from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

Three Conversations with Matisse is Robert W. Smith’s first feature work for saxophone. The work was brought to life by a consortium of thirty saxophonists in late 2019, including Senior Chief Musician Josh Thomas, co-principal alto saxophonist of the Coast Guard Band and the soloist for this premier performance. Each of the three movements is inspired by a twentieth-century work from the brush of French artist Henri Matisse, pictured below.

La Danse (second version), Henri Matisse 1910

 

 

La glace sans tain (The Blue Window), Henri Matisse 1913

 

Portrait de famille (The Music Lesson), Henri Matisse 1917

 

 

Prelude in the Dorian Mode
Antonia de Cabezón, arr. Percy Grainger

Antonio de Cabezón was a Spanish Renaissance musician and one of the greatest keyboard performers and composers of the sixteenth century. Blind from infancy and born of noble parents, he quickly rose to prominence as a composer and organist, and by the age of sixteen was employed by Isabella of Portugal to play the clavichord and the organ, notably as organist at the chapel Isabella organized soon after her 1525 wedding to Charles V of Castile and Aragon, who would later become Holy Roman Emperor. De Cabezón would remain in employ of the royal family for the rest of his life; after Isabella’s death in 1539, her son Felipe became Regent of Spain and made de Cabezón his court organist. Antonio de Cabezón and his brother Juan accompanied Felipe on various trips across Europe including England, where Antonio’s variations are thought to have influenced the likes of William Byrd and Thomas Tallis.

 Antonio de Cabezón composed richly polyphonic music primarily for keyboard instruments. Among his surviving oeuvre are twenty-nine “tientos,” which are instrumental fantasies built upon an opening motive and similar to the familiar theme-and-variations format in their development. Prelude in the Dorian Mode is one such tiento; it organizes an evolution of four-part polyphony around an opening theme in the Dorian mode, which is the minor-mode scale that begins on the second scale degree. This setting by Percy Grainger is a skillful evocation of de Cabezón’s Renaissance world, employing a dark historical quality that sharply contrasts other early music transcriptions of Grainger’s era that tended to live in a flashy, modern, and bright musical space.

 

 

Angels in the Architecture
Frank Ticheli

Frank Ticheli, born in1958 in Monroe, Louisiana, is an American composer of orchestral, choral, chamber, and concert band works. He lives in Los Angeles, California, where he is a professor of composition at the University of Southern California. Ticheli graduated from L V Berkner High School in Richardson and earned a Bachelor of Music in Composition from Southern Methodist University. He was an Assistant Professor of Music at Trinity University in San Antonio where he served on the board of directors of the Texas Composers Forum and was a member of the advisory committee for the San Antonio Symphony’s “Music of the Americas” project. The composer writes about his work:

Angels in the Architecture was commissioned by Kingsway International and received its premiere performance at the Sydney Opera House on July 6, 2008, by a massed band of young musicians from Australia and the United States, conducted by Mathew George. The work unfolds as a dramatic conflict between the two extremes of human existence -- one divine, the other evil. The work's title is inspired by the Sydney Opera House itself, with its halo-shaped acoustical ornaments hanging directly above the performance stage.

Angels in the Architecture begins with a single voice singing a 19th-century Shaker song:

I am an angel of Light
I have soared from above
I am cloth'd with Mother's love.
I have come, I have come.
To protect my chosen band
And lead them to the promised land.

This "angel"—represented by the singer—frames the work, surrounding it with a protective wall of light and establishing the divine. Other representations of light, played by instruments rather than sung, include a traditional Hebrew song of peace ("Hevenu Shalom Aleichem") and the well-known 16th-century Genevan Psalter, Old Hundredth. These three borrowed songs, despite their varied religious origins, are meant to transcend any one religion, representing the more universal human ideals of peace, hope, and love. An original chorale, appearing twice in the work, represents my own personal expression of these aspirations.

Just as Charles Ives did more than a century ago, Angels in the Architecture poses the unanswered question of existence. It ends as it began: the angel reappears sings the same comforting words. But deep below, a final shadow reappears— distantly, ominously.”

 

People Who Live in Glass Houses
John Philip Sousa

1. The Champaignes
2. The Rhine Wines 
3. The Whiskies – Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, and Rye
4. The Convention of the Cordials

American March King John Philip Sousa was exceptionally proud of his eleven concert suites and they were prominently featured in his band concerts. They are not as well known or as popular as his marches today, but the suites served an important place in Sousa’s unique programs as a middle ground between the heavier classics he often featured and the many lighter pieces he included as “musical sorbets.”

For most of Sousa’s suites, inspiration came from something he experienced or read. People Who Live in Glass Houses is no different; first conceived as a humorous “characteristic” study for band, it draws its inspiration from various forms of alcohol and their respective nationalities. Sousa was no teetotaler; despite having composed the suite in 1909 just prior to the famous Sousa Band’s world tour, he repurposed this music into an orchestral ballet for the revival of his operetta The Bride Elect. In this revival production, dancers were outfitted in large bottle costumes of the various drinks—all this in 1923, during the height of America’s raging temperance discussions and smack in the middle of Prohibition.