USC Thornton Winds Concert Program
The USC Thornton Winds is led by guest conductor Michelle Rakers in an evening performance of Robert Jager’s Esprit de Corps, Jennifer Higdon’s (arr. Nowlin) blue cathedral, Steven Stucky’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary and Alberto Ginastera’s (arr. Patterson) Estancia.
Previously the senior assistant director for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra, conductor Michelle Rakers has led countless programs at the White House, in Washington, D.C., and across the country.
Esprit de Corps
transcribed by Maj Ryan J. Nowlin
Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”
Funeral Music for Queen Mary (After Purcell)
Dances from “Estancia”
Transcribed by MSgt. Donald Patterson
I. “Los Trabajadores Agricolas”
II. “Danza del Trigo”
III. “Los Peones de Hacienda”
IV. “Danza Final (Malambo)”
Robert Jager, Esprit de Corps
Based on The Marines’ Hymn, this work is a kind of fantasy-march, as well as a tribute to the United States Marine Band, which group had commissioned the work. Full of energy and drama, the composition has its solemn moments and its lighter moments (for example, the quasi-waltz in the middle of the piece). The composer intends that this work should display the fervor and virtuosity of the Marine Band and the musical spirit and integrity of its conductor, Colonel John R. Bourgeois, for whom the initial tempo marking, “Tempo di Bourgeois,” is named. Colonel John Bourgeois is a dramatic, spirited conductor who reflects the excitement of the music being played. When a tempo is supposed to be “bright” he makes sure it is exactly that. Because the tempo of Esprit de Corps is to be very bright, the marking just had to be “Tempo di Bourgeois!”
Jennifer Higdon, blue cathedral
transcribed by Maj Ryan J. Nowlin
Higdon says, “Blue … like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals … a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression … serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world. Blue represents all potential and the progression of journeys. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth.
As I was writing this piece, I found myself imagining a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky. Because the walls would be transparent, I saw the image of clouds and blueness permeating from the outside of this church. In my mind’s eye the listener would enter from the back of the sanctuary, floating along the corridor amongst giant crystal pillars, moving in a contemplative stance. The stained glass windows’ figures would start moving with song, singing a heavenly music. The listener would float down the aisle, slowly moving upward at first and then progressing at a quicker pace, rising towards an immense ceiling which would open to the sky … as this journey progressed, the speed of the traveler would increase, rushing forward and upward. I wanted to create the sensation of contemplation and quiet peace at the beginning, moving towards the feeling of celebration and ecstatic expansion of the soul, all the while singing along with that heavenly music.
These were my thoughts when The Curtis Institute of Music commissioned me to write a work to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Curtis is a house of knowledge — a place to reach towards that beautiful expression of the soul which comes through music. I began writing this piece at a unique juncture in my life and found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives, crossing paths with so many individuals singularly and collectively, learning and growing each step of the way. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the group … our inner travels and the places our souls carry us, the lessons we learn, and the growth we experience.
In tribute to my brother, I feature solos for the clarinet (the instrument he played) and the flute (the instrument I play). Because I am the older sibling, it is the flute that appears first in this dialog. At the end of the work, the two instruments continue their dialogue, but it is the flute that drops out and the clarinet that continues on in the upward progressing journey. This is a story that commemorates living and passing through places of knowledge and of sharing and of that song called life.
This work was commissioned and premiered in 2000 by the Curtis Institute of Music”.
Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”
Arr. Paul Lavender
Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” was first performed by the New York Philharmonic on an all-Bernstein concert in 1961, four years after the opening of West Side Story on Broadway. The songs of the musical had immediately become popular standards, while at the same time, the dance music had been sophisticated enough to find its way into the concert hall, similar to music of a ballet. Most composers for Broadway were songwriters who did not write their own dance music, but Bernstein, a fully trained composer who had already written two formal ballets, crafted these remarkable dances himself.
The following dances from the musical are included in suite: The Prologue, a rivalry between the Sharks and the Jets; “Somewhere,” a dream sequence in which the two gangs are friendly; Scherzo, a continuation of the dream, as the gangs break out of the city into a world of open space; Mambo, a competitive dance between the gangs; Cha-Cha, when Tony and Maria see one another for the first time; Meeting Scene, a short, musical underscoring for their first words together; “Cool,” for when the Jets anticipate a fight; the Rumble, in which the two gang leaders are killed; and the Finale, love music and a procession that recalls “Somewhere” but now in a tragic mood.
Steven Stucky, Funeral Music for Queen Mary (After Purcell)
Stucky wrote Funeral Music for Queen Mary (after Henry Purcell) in 1991 for Los Angeles Philharmonic, who premiered the work on Feb. 6, 1992, in Los Angeles.
Stucky offers the following regarding his composition:
“It was at the suggestion of Esa-Pekka Salonen that I transcribed this music of Purcell for Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. I used three of the pieces heard at the funeral of Mary II of England, who died of smallpox on 28 Dec. 1694: a solemn march, the anthem “In the Midst of Life We Are in Death,” and a canzona in imitative polyphonic style. In working on the project I did not try to achieve a pure, musicological reconstruction but, on the contrary, to regard Purcell’s music, which I love deeply, through the lens of 300 intervening years. Thus, although most of this version is straightforward orchestration of the Purcell originals, there are moments when Purcell drifts out of focus. My version was first performed in Los Angeles on 6 Feb.1992”.
Alberto Ginastera, Dances from “Estancia”
Transcribed by MSgt. Donald Patterson
In 1937, while Ginastera was still a student at Argentina’s Williams Conservatory, conductor Juan José Castro premiered an orchestral suite from the young composer’s ballet Panambi. The performance generated substantial attention for Ginastera, and just three years later the complete ballet was staged at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Lincoln Kirstein, director of the American Ballet Caravan, attended a performance of Panambi while visiting Argentina. He was so impressed with the brilliant and colorful music that he immediately commissioned Ginastera to write a new ballet for his company, and Estancia was completed just a year later. Unfortunately, Kirstein’s American Ballet Caravan was disbanded before the premiere, leaving Estancia in limbo. Ginastera reworked four of the episodes into an orchestral suite that was introduced in 1943, but the complete ballet was not premiered until 1952, when it was presented by the Teatro Colón. In spite of this considerable delay, the work was a tremendous success and firmly cemented Ginastera’s international reputation.
The plot of Estancia, the Argentine word for ranch, features the story of a young boy from the city who is struggling to adapt to life in the country. His love for a local girl is unrequited, because she considers him too weak and unskilled to be able to compete with the local gauchos (cowboys). The boy eventually wins her affections by immersing himself in ranch life until he is able to beat the gauchos at their own games.
The suite from the ballet is cast in four scenes which paint a vivid portrait of the passion and brutality of life on a ranch: Los Trabajadores Agricolas (The Agricultural workers); Danza del Trigo (Dance of the wheat fields); Los Peones de Hacienda (The Cattlemen); Danza Final (Final Dance). This last scene culminates with a malambo — a frenetic Argentine dance in which gauchos complete to demonstrate their prowess and masculinity.
About the Artists
Dr. Michelle Rakers
American born conductor Michelle Rakers was the Senior Assistant Director for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra from 2004 – 2018. In that capacity, she led the band and orchestra in countless high-profile programs at the White House, in Washington, D.C., and across the country. She conducted ensembles for White House State Dinners, advised and conducted ensembles for White House ceremonies, and led the band on many national tours.
Ms. Rakers is in high demand as a conductor and clinician across the world. She has regularly conducted the Slesvigske Musikkorps in Denmark since 2014 and has conducted groups such as the Odense Symfoniorkester, Maryland Symphony, Saint Louis Symphony Brass, members of the Sønderjyllands Symfoniorkester, Prinsens Musikkorps, Helsinki Guards Band – Sotilasmusiikki, and the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. She was a resident at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in 2015 and 2016 and has been a guest conductor at many universities across the United States.
Michelle is a natural on the podium with an elegant yet commanding conducting style, and her rehearsal technique is efficient and effective. Ms. Rakers began her musical training at the age of five with piano lessons and her professional music career at the age of ten, when she became the church organist for her town, Aviston, Illinois. She later focused her musical studies on the trumpet, which eventually led to opportunities performing in symphonies across the United States.
Her career with the Marine Band began in 1998 after she won a national audition for a trumpet position. She then auditioned and was appointed to the Assistant Director’s position, becoming the first female conductor and first female commissioned officer in the history of “The President’s Own,” a position that she held since 2004. Throughout her tenure with the Marine Band, Ms. Rakers was an ardent supporter of educational outreach through her leadership of the organization’s education programs, including the creation of the national concerto competition for high school musicians.
Ms. Rakers earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, her Master of Music degree in Trumpet Performance from Northwestern University, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Music Management from the University of Evansville. Additionally, Ms. Rakers received an Emmy® award for her part in producing the All-Star Orchestra program, “United States Marine Band New England Spirit.” She also received the “Distinguished Alumni” award from University of Evansville and she is an honorary inductee into Tau Beta Sigma, a National Honorary Band Sorority, receiving their “Outstanding Service to Music” award in 2010.
Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most acclaimed figures in contemporary classical music, receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto, a 2018 Grammy for her Viola Concerto and a 2020 Grammy for her Harp Concerto. In 2018, Higdon received the prestigious Nemmers Prize which is awarded to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition. Most recently, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Higdon enjoys several hundred performances a year of her works, and blue cathedral is today’s most performed contemporary orchestral work, with more than 700 performances worldwide. Her works have been recorded on more than seventy CDs. Higdon’s first opera, Cold Mountain, won the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere and the opera recording was nominated for two Grammy awards. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press.
Jazzmine Van Veld
Jorge Araujo Felix
Nga Yee Wong