by Frank Ticheli
This study documents the rehearsal process of a major 21st Century work by the American composer, Frank Ticheli. The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra is recognised as one of the leading conservatory ensembles in the world. Through a unique series of concerts, commissions, broadcasts, and more than fifty professional recordings, it has transformed the repertoire and performance standards of music for wind ensemble. The Orchestra was the first conservatory ensemble to be invited to perform at the BBC Promenade Concerts and has also appeared at major festivals in the UK, France, Holland, Japan, Poland, Switzerland, and United States. It has commissioned and given world premieres of major works by composers including Sir Malcolm Arnold, David Bedford, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Michael Berkeley, Judith Bingham, Martin Butler, Gary Carpenter, John Casken, Nigel Clarke, Martin Ellerby, Anthony Gilbert, Adam Gorb, Edward Gregson, Kenneth Hesketh, David Horne, Gordon Jacob, Stephen McNeff, and Geoffrey Poole, as well as dozens of UK premieres.
Mark Heron, Head of Conducting at the RNCM and lead content author for ConductIT, can be seen working with the ensemble from the beginning of rehearsal 1, through to the performance. Given in November 2021, the performance was one of the first large ensemble concerts given in the RNCM without social distancing in 20 months! The programme also included Colin Currie as soloist in Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto, Lightway by Jennifer Jolley, and the premiere of a new work by RNCM student Eden Longson.
Here is Frank Ticheli’s own programme note.
The symphony’s three movements refer to celestial light — Shooting Stars, the Moon, and the Sun.
Although the title for the first movement, “Shooting Stars,” came after its completion, I was imagining such quick flashes of color throughout the creative process. White-note clusters are sprinkled everywhere, like streaks of bright light. High above, the Eb clarinet shouts out the main theme, while underneath, the low brasses punch out staccatissimo chords that intensify the dance-like energy. Fleeting events of many kinds are cut and pasted at unexpected moments, keeping the ear on its toes. The movement burns quickly, and ends explosively, scarcely leaving a trail.
The second movement, “Dreams Under a New Moon,” depicts a kind of journey of the soul as represented by a series of dreams. A bluesy clarinet melody is answered by a chant-like theme in muted trumpet and piccolo. Many dream episodes follow, ranging from the mysterious, to the dark, to the peaceful and healing. A sense of hope begins to assert itself as rising lines are passed from one instrument to another. Modulation after modulation occurs as the music lifts and searches for resolution. Near the end, the main theme returns in counterpoint with the chant, building to a majestic climax, then falling to a peaceful coda. The final B-flat major chord is colored by a questioning G-flat.
The finale, “Apollo Unleashed,” is perhaps the most wide-ranging movement of the symphony, and certainly the most difficult to convey in words. On the one hand, the image of Apollo, the powerful ancient god of the sun, inspired not only the movement’s title, but also its blazing energy. Bright sonorities, fast tempos, and galloping rhythms combine to give a sense of urgency that one often expects from a symphonic finale. On the other hand, its boisterous nature is also tempered and enriched by another, more sublime force, Bach’s Chorale BWV 433 (Wer Gott vertraut, hat wohl gebaut). This chorale — a favorite of the dedicatee, and one he himself arranged for chorus and band — serves as a kind of spiritual anchor, giving a soul to the gregarious foreground events. The chorale is in ternary form (ABA’). In the first half of the movement, the chorale’s A and B sections are stated nobly underneath faster paced music, while the final A section is saved for the climactic ending, sounding against a flurry of 16th-notes.
My second symphony is dedicated to James E. Croft upon his retirement as Director of Bands at Florida State University in 2003. It was commissioned by a consortium of Dr. Croft’s doctoral students, conducting students and friends as a gesture of thanks for all he has given to the profession.