Washington, DC --
On May 7, at 2 p.m., “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band will present a concert titled “Arioso,” which will highlight music inspired by the connection between the human voice and instruments. Each work highlights the inspiration found in singing, and in some cases features the voice itself intermingled with the many instrumental colors of the wind ensemble. The performance, conducted by Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig, will take place at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria and includes the music of Gustav Holst, Johann Sebastian Bach, and William Bolcom. It is free, no tickets are required, and free parking is available.
The selection that inspired, and around which Lt. Col. Fettig built his program, is James Stephenson’s Symphony No. 2, Voices. The Marine Band commissioned the work and premièred it in 2016 at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. “Jim knew he was writing for the U.S. Marine Band so he pulled no punches,” Fettig said. “This piece is really, really hard but is infused with great passion, great joy and hope.”
Stephenson drew inspiration from the simple act of overhearing laughter while travelling. He realized the human voice is music in its own way and got to work. “This symphony is an exploration of as many voices as I could formalize, resulting in a kind of concerto for wind ensemble,” Stephenson said in his program note. “The culmination of the symphony is one of a unified voice, bringing together all of the different ‘cultures’ and ‘individual voices’ of the wind ensemble to express an amassed vision of hope and love; a vision I believe to be shared throughout all the world … I could think of no better messenger for such a work than ‘The President’s Own’ United States Marine Band — the commissioners of the work — who not only stand among the best musicians of the world, but also represent a country based on the principles of all-inclusiveness and celebrated diversity. It is because of this that no text is used for the mezzo-soprano voice heard in this symphony. Instead, the singing voice is another instrument in the ensemble, joining in, or emerging from, the surrounding textures.”
The core of the Symphony is the second movement, Shouts and Murmurs. “Jim skillfully weaves together two main themes you’ll hear early in the piece and puts these themes through their paces through the course of the movement,” Fettig said. “The ‘murmurs’ you’ll hear right at the outset of the movement—three antiphonal cymbals whispering on either side of the ensemble and it develops from there. I promise you won’t miss the ‘shout’ portion of this particular movement! A chorale is embedded in the middle and has these different musical styles, these voices from around the world and different styles the Marine Band plays all the time, kind of fleeting images that scamper across the stage and disappear into the texture. … I hope it will stand as a valuable and worthy addition to our repertoire.”
The other highlight of “Arioso” is and the mountains rising nowhere by another contemporary American composer and friend of the Marine Band Joseph Schwantner. The piece was inspired by Carol Adler’s poem arioso, and is scored for an augmented orchestral wind ensemble that mimics the wind, brass, and percussion sections of a symphony orchestra. Schwantner’s opus was remarkably innovative during the time of its composition in 1977 and is unique in many ways. It calls for six percussion players who play 46 different instruments through the course of the piece, and an amplified piano is featured prominently. The incredible colors achieved with the piano and percussion section are intensified by several special effects performed by the other players; in addition to performing on their conventional instruments in both specifically notated and freely interpreted and improvised passages, the musicians are also called upon to sing, whistle and play tuned crystal glasses at different points in the work. The resulting soundscape that is achieved through these extended techniques continues to be unlike that of any other piece in the wind repertoire.
The Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall is located at 4915 East Campus Drive in Alexandria, Va. For the complete program and notes, click here.