Recording of “Harvest”


Well, it doesn’t get much better than last night.  (That’s what she said.)

Back in March, when Joe Alessi premiered “Harvest: Concerto for Trombone” with the West Point Band, I blogged about the concert, and I thought at the time, well, how could that ever be matched?! Let’s put the piece away, ’cause it’s done.

I, obviously, don’t intend to diminish the West Point performance in any way — that concert was insane — but in the six months since that performance (and recording session), Joe Alessi has gotten to know the piece even better, and when he arrived at UT for his first rehearsal two weeks ago, he had some ideas about things that would make the piece even more effective.

It all really came down to dynamic shape. As anybody who has performed my music knows, I tend to over-mark dynamics. That’s largely because, in my mind, dynamics say more about “energy level” than actual volume. If I mark something FFF, it doesn’t necessarily mean, “blast your chops off,” it means “this needs to be intense.” But writing everything on the computer, as I do, contributes further to less-than-artistic dynamic markings because computer samples generally sound better either really loud or really soft. (For samples that are really soft, check out the demo of “Hymn to a Blue Hour.”)

I’m aware, of course, that variation of dynamic intensity is much more interesting musically. I’m fine with loud stuff, but at some point, the piece needs to shut the hell up before getting loud again or it all just becomes a wash of noise. (Even “Asphalt Cocktail,” which is tremendously loud, has moments that are marked PPP, where nobody plays but a single harp. In that piece, those moments are intended almost as a joke — hey!  I can hear the harp! — but it does make the power-chords that follow much more effective.) Something that’s important to keep in mind as a performer, though, is that even if the printed dynamic doesn’t change, you can shape the line dynamically. A phrase marked PP can still contain a large dynamic range and still be considered PP. Dynamics are not a set number, unless you’re MIDI, and if you’re going to play like MIDI, I’d rather just listen to MIDI.

But back to Alessi. The big thing he wanted to do was make dynamics more extreme in range, not by making the loud parts even louder, but by pulling back from sections that were marked as being loud, saving the biggest volume for the real arrivals. This is something that Jerry Junkin does intuitively while he’s conducting anyway, so the combination of Alessi with Junkin — and these incredible UT players — was inspiring to watch.

FFF generally stayed at FFF, but sometimes FF would become MF, PP would become PPPP. Even those FFF sections might start FFF, move gradually to MF, and back to FFF by the end of the phrase. With every change, Alessi would ask me in the rehearsal room if it was okay with me, which was an awfully courteous thing to do, but his (and Junkin’s) ideas were always the right choice. No notes or rhythms ever changed, and none of the changes really demand that the parts be revised, but they did go into my rehearsal score so I can try to reproduce these interpretive choices when I work with other ensembles.

I’d promoted the live webcast here and on Facebook. As many people learned, the combination of Joe Alessi and the UT Wind Ensemble last night managed to break the internets.  It seems those UT servers can only handle so much, and this was beyond that.  The servers crashed, and nobody heard any of the webcast until the servers were restarted in time for the second half.

No worries.  I’ve (temporarily) posted the recording from last night’s concert, as it would have sounded had the stream not failed.  Just visit the main page for the Trombone Concerto, then click “Score and Audio.”  Alessi, Junkin, and the ensemble played the absolute hell out of this thing.  This was, without exaggeration, arguably the best performance I’ve ever had.

Backstage, after the performance, Alessi asked me when he could play “Harvest” again, as if it were somehow up to me. Joe, if it were up to me, you’d be playing it again this afternoon, but nooooo, somebody had to go home to play with the New York Philharmonic this morning. Hmph.

Go check out the recording from last night’s performance — keeping in mind that not a single thing is edited.  It’s astonishing.  Thank you, Joe, Jerry, and everybody in the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.



Carrie says

I'm happy to leave the first comment -- my son and I attended the concert last night, and I have to say that the Harvest performance was indeed "epic". The piece and the performance were both just incredible. Thank you, John Mackey!

Cathy says

I'm certainly glad that I went and saw/heard it in person. It truely was insane. Especially watching/listening to you talk in between your two pieces.

It's always nice to see you and Abby, btw!

Jonathan Allen says

Fantastic piece! I can't wait for the published recording!

Angela F. says

I had a great time performing in this concert, keep writing fun horn parts! Fun meaning loud, of course.

Andrew Hackard says

I really wanted to go, but allergies (and, I must be honest, lingering malaise from that sporting event the day before) kept me at home and more or less flat on my back most of the day. So thank you for posting the stream; I'm looking forward to listening.


Hurry, Andrew! That stream will be gone soon -- definitely within the next 24 hours if not sooner. (I'm sorry! The official studio recording will be available soon...)

Andrew Hackard says

Listening right now! (Heh -- captcha is "October berathf." I don't think they're trying anymore.)

Andrew Hackard says

It was amazing, even on my little laptop speakers. Can't wait for the full version. Thanks for making it available, John.

Claudine says

Will it be possible to get the UT Wind Ensemble recording of this? Ever? Even unedited, that performance was spectacular.
I look forward to the official, published recording. However it would also be nice to get the UTWE performance...

Scott D says

I agree with Claudine.

I will without a doubt be getting the published recording once it comes out, but I would love to have the UT Wind Ensemble recording in the meantime to get the piece more into my ear. If at all possible, please let me know!

Will Mego says

Read the write up on your visit to my state's northern cousin here:

I then had to write.

Congrats on your "expansive popularity" and sorry to hear the person "did not find Mackey’s visit to Michigan a very informative experience on an artistic level." But then it went all "I was equally awed by the momentum of his cultural relevance."

I don't even think I know WTF that even means. Are you equally awed by the momentum of your cultural relevance? Does Lady Gaga take your calls now? Bono over for the latest Ina Garten experiment this weekend?

I think it will be hard to resist writing a piece called "Three Evenings with John Mackey"...possibly with the subtitle "Also, there were Oranges, and we loved them." The piece would of course end with a march, and the score would close with a recipe for a blood orange margarita of some sort.

I'm thinking you also just found a person in MI who can write any future liner notes.


Will - my issue with the writeup on Sequenza 21 was that he pulled a bunch of stuff from time I spent hanging out socially with the student composers at a BAR -- after a martini and a vodka tonic. There was never any "would you mind if I talked about this on Sequenza 21?" It's written like an article, but it's not like I thought I was talking to a reporter. Not the best form. At least I've now learned the lesson that nothing is "off the record" anymore, so I'll more likely censor myself in front of students, regardless of the setting, and I'll think twice about spending time socially with students.

I also don't know what the fact that I only write on commission has to do with anything, particularly in relation to the writer's feeling that this somehow impacted his appreciation of my visit on an "artistic level." That's what being a professional artist means -- that people pay for your work.

Kevin Howlett says

"Highly rhythmic, laden with percussion and infused with progressive rock and other popular influences, his compositions are ideally suited for collegiate bands who are attracted to strong grooves and loud dynamics."

Not to beat up on the guy who wrote the sequenza21 piece too much, but is it just me or does that sound kind of insulting, like a more eloquent way of saying "his compositions are ideally suited for stupid people"? For that matter, how is a collegiate band, which is not a sentient entity and thus incapable of emotion, able to be "attracted" to something? Are there bands out there that exhibit a revulsion of loud dynamics? Is there anyone in a band that fears that perhaps they're GROOVING TOO STRONGLY?

Give me a break.

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