Throughout the 220-year history of the organization, the United States Marine Band has commissioned and premièred new compositions, transcriptions, and arrangements from the pens of such legendary composers as Gustav Holst and John Williams. This Sunday, March 25 at 2 p.m., the Marine Band will present a Living History concert highlighting several of these works, as well as featuring the winner of the band’s 2018 Concerto Competition and guest conductor Col. John R. Bourgeois, USMC (ret.), the Marine Band’s 25th Director. The performance, which will take place in the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Va., is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. Free parking is available in the adjacent garage to the concert hall.
“I crafted a program featuring music written especially for or premièred by the United States Marine Band,” said Assistant Director Capt. Ryan J. Nowlin, conductor for the concert. “The music offers a wide variety from Bach and Holst to Williams and Leshnoff. In addition to the music, the audience can look forward to a guest appearance by our 25th Director, Col. Bourgeois, the winner of our annual Concerto Competition, Robert Black, and composer Jonathan Leshnoff.”
The concert will begin with the transcription world première of Leshnoff’s Starburst. This is the second time in two years the Marine Band has premièred a transcription of one of Leshnoff’s works, with the first being his Clarinet Concerto performed by Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinet Ricardo Morales. Starburst was composed in 2010 but has only recently been transcribed by Nowlin for concert band performance. According to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra annotator Janet E. Bedell, “Leshnoff chose the name Starburst because ‘the word has a lot of energy to it and I like the image of light.’ He adds that the piece has ‘lots of orchestral shimmer’ with its emphasis on fast patterns in the upper woodwinds and strings.”
Following Starburst, 2018 Marine Band Concerto Competition winner tuba player Robert Black will perform Edward Gregson’s Allegro Deciso from Concerto for Tuba. Black, a high school student from Vernon Hills, Ill., and principal tuba in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, received a $2,500 scholarship from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and a solo opportunity with the Marine Band upon winning the competition.
“When I found out that I won, I almost didn't believe it,” Black said “It was almost surreal when they called my name.” Regarding preparation for this concert, he remarked, “I don't plan on doing anything special to prepare for the concert on the 25th. Just lots of practicing and fundamentals.”
The concert will then continue with two works conducted by Bourgeois: former Marine Band chief arranger Thomas Knox’s transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564 and former Marine Band Leader John Philip Sousa’s March, “Semper Fidelis.” While Director of the Marine Band, Bourgeois requested a transcription of Bach’s work, and later premiered the transcription and performed it hundreds of times more during his tenure as Director, from 1979-96.
The program’s second half will feature John Williams’ fanfare “For ‘The President’s Own’” written specifically for the organization in celebration of its 215th anniversary in 2013. The piece combines virtuosic, intertwining lines with a series of playful themes and bright fanfares that brilliantly capture the many colors and textures of Williams’ inimitable music.
One of the cornerstones of the program’s second half is Holst’s Prelude and Scherzo, Hammersmith, Opus 52. The work was inspired by Holst’s love of walking through the busy streets of London and especially the particular neighborhood known as Hammersmith with the Thames river in the background and the lively cockney district. The Marine Band premièred the work at the American Bandmasters Association annual convention in 1932 under the baton of Capt. Taylor Branson, Marine Band Director at the time. Holst himself was set to conduct the première, but had to cancel due to illness and died two years later having never heard what is widely considered to be his greatest work for band.
The concert will conclude with two final works: “Habanera” from Georges Bizet’s popular opera Carmen, arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Patterson and featuring mezzo-soprano vocalist Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield; and James Barnes’ Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Niccolo Paganini, Opus 71. Bourgeois commissioned the work by Barnes that is based on Paganini’s famous theme from his “24th Caprice in A Minor” for solo violin. The composer said of the work, “My overall concept was to use the variation technique to showcase every solo instrument and/or every instrumental section of the modern wind band. In doing so, it was my intent to give the Marine Band a work they could play almost anywhere for almost any kind of audience: a piece full of energy, drama, and even a little humor.” The Marine Band premièred the piece in 1988 and performed it multiple times in later years on National Concert Tours, as well as its first tour of Russia.
Complete program and notes
Directions and parking