CBDNA : Composers Bein’ Damn Nasty – Aye!

Last week was huge. HUGE, I tell you! It was the week of the College Band Directors National Association convention, a party so rockin’ that they only hold it every two years, and this year it was right here in Austin, Texas. It’s a little weird attending a big convention where I live (driving home every night, rather than just taking an elevator up to my room, means the amount of alcohol consumption is greatly reduced), but it was nice sleeping in my own bed every night.

The day before the convention started, I got some new camera equipment, including the Canon 5D Mark II and what has to be the nicest lens I’ve ever used — the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II. This is a shot straight out of the camera (no processing) shot at f/1.2.

But on to the convention! The whole thing ran Wednesday through Saturday, but let’s jump ahead to Friday, when the real fun got going. That’s when I finally got to rehearse with Kevin Sedatole and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony. I got there a few minutes early, and I got to watch some of the rehearsal of Carter Pann’s new piano concerto, with Carter as soloist. The guy is a freak of nature, as Steve Bryant put it. How many composers today can play piano like this?!

The band also rehearsed William Bolcom’s new First Symphony for Band. This is a great piece, and one I’m sure to be hearing a lot over the next few years.

Here, Bolcom gives notes (HA!) to Kevin Sedatole.

After rehearsal, we all headed to The Salt Lick for some BBQ.

It’s pretty tasty stuff. I’d never been. The place is about 40 minutes outside of Austin, but worth the drive. Well, unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case, you’re screwed. Hope you like beans.

Towards the end of lunch, William Bolcom and his wife, Joan Morris, gave an impromptu (well, at Sedatole’s urging) performance of one of Bolcom’s country songs. I swear this actually happened. This was amazing. If only I’d figured out how to get the video feature on the 5D to work.

I’d never met Bill or Joan before last week, and I LOVE them. What an amazing, lovely couple. And Bill’s symphony is wonderful. After the performance on Saturday, AEJ described his music as “authoritative and commanding.” I couldn’t agree more and I couldn’t put it any better. What AEJ said she meant is that his music feels platonic in a way that sounds like it can only be that way. Whether you like his choices or not, there is no hesitation from him, as he has no doubt about what he is trying to say, so it says to the listener that it can only be the way he has written it.
Oh, and lunch ended with peach cobbler.

But seriously, if you’re a vegetarian, The Salt Lick is not for you.

Can I just tell you how much I love the new Keith Urban album? I’m a huge Keith Urban fan anyway, but one song on the new album, “Only You Can Love Me This Way,” is fantastic. I need to rip off his guitar hook. And then when the banjo comes in during the second verse… Awesome. I don’t have a picture of Keith Urban, but here’s a shot of Eric Whitacre on Friday night. They have similarly spectacular hair.

Ah, yes. Friday night. The night of the UT Wind Ensemble performance. The program started with Strauss, then the CBDNA premiere of Steve Bryant’s masterpiece, “Ecstatic Waters.” I don’t know what to say about Steve’s piece, except that I felt, for about 24 hours after I heard it in that setting, that my career was over. Steve and I write very different music for sure, and there’s hopefully room for both of us here in BandLand, but I felt that night that while I write music that’s perfectly fine, Steve has written a piece that’s important. The audience response confirmed what we all knew was coming: Steve Bryant is now officially (and finally!) a friggin’ rock star.

Next up on the program was John Adams’s piece, “Grand Pianola Music.” It was a great performance (as expected), but I really don’t like this piece. I think Adams is brilliant at pacing, but not at writing a tune. This piece, for me, has bad pacing and is far too long, and the tune in the third movement is cheeseball crap. I owe a lot of my sound to Adams, and I’ll give him a shout-out when it’s warranted (hello, Harmonielehre), but not for this one.
The closer on the concert was “Mr. Tambourine Man : Seven Poems of Bob Dylan” by John Corigliano, in a spectacular new transcription by Verena Mösenbichler. Here, left to right, are John Corigliano, Verena, Steve Bryant’s mom, and Steve.

In February, the CD of “Mr. Tambourine Man” (the orchestra version) won several Grammy awards — one for Best Contemporary Composition (for John Corigliano) and one for Best Vocal Performance for a soprano named Hila Plitman. Because this is the charmed world of The University of Texas and everything Jerry Junkin touches turns to gold, UT, of course, hired Hila as soprano soloist for the premiere of the band transcription. How many college bands perform with a Grammy-winning soprano?

It goes without saying that Hila is incredible. And intense.

The performance was incredible. I’ve never seen so many people cry at a band performance. This was one of those concerts that people will remember for a lifetime. It didn’t matter whether it was band or orchestra or whatever. It was just two hours of great music.

Here are the big stars of the evening, Steve and Verena. Oh, and did I mention that they’re engaged? Holy friggin’ power couple.

We had a fun house guest with us during the convention. None other than Dr. Seduction, composer extraordinaire Joel Puckett.

There was a panel discussion on Saturday morning with John Corigliano and William Bolcom.

Here, conductor Jerry Junkin chats with John Corigliano after the panel. How awesome is this new lens?!

And here I am with John. It’s always good to see him. Can you believe he’s 71? Good lord. I’m pretty sure the key to aging this way is to not have children.

The Michigan State performance was on Saturday night. Holy HELL, it was incredible. The whole concert — Copland, Carter Pann’s piano concerto, a fantastic new piece by Ricardo Lorenz called “El Muro” (with one of the best endings I’ve heard in a long time), the new Bolcom symphony… Awesome. The concert opened with the premiere of Asphalt Cocktail, and it was off the hook, balls-to-the-walls. Howard Gourwitz, who funded the commission, was there for the premiere, and he couldn’t have been kinder. He seemed pleased, which was good, as I’d hate for his reaction to have been “well, I’m never doing that again.” I think Frank Ticheli’s description of Asphalt Cocktail was my favorite: “It’s kind of like being a masochist going one round in the ring with Mike Tyson. In a flash you are beaten to a pulp and knocked cold with one final punch, but you actually enjoyed it, and even thank him afterwards.”
It was intense, and I couldn’t sit still. I’ll post the recording as soon as I get it, but keep in mind that you’ll lose a lot on the recording — like the visual of the smashing of the trash can into the floor on back beats, and the visual of Kevin Sedatole rocking out on the podium, and the whole MSU percussion section grooving like I’ve never seen a percussion section groove.

A big, heartfelt thanks to Kevin, Howard, and the entire Michigan State University Wind Symphony for one of the performance highlights of my career. You guys rocked. Oh, and I’m told that the entire band signed the (now nearly destroyed) trash can and presented it to Howard Gourwitz as a souvenir. Howard said he’d put it in his trophy case.


Steve says

Wow. I'm reliving the whole thing through this post, and underneath all the amazing memories, I can't stop thinking "holy crap those pictures are amazing!!!" Great shots of Verena, and Corigliano and Bolcolm, and, hell, *everything*.

I'm jealous of your lens. I'm sure you get that a lot...

Also, my jacket was very wrinkly. I didn't know that.

Travis Taylor says

Now I wish that I made the trek to CBDNA.

Benford says

I'm sorry I missed it after all. :(

Colton says

Get that recording of Asphalt Cocktail up soon!!!

Caroline in L.A. says

Hila Plitman and Eric Whitacre are married, last I heard. Another power couple.

Mark S. says

Carter Pann has wonderful piano parts.

I played the piano part on Slalom about a year ago.

That was hard, but I'm glad I did it.

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