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ASU Wind Bands to premiere groundbreaking, diverse compositions

Portrait of composer Kevin Day.

Composer Kevin Day

February 11, 2022

The Wind Symphony and Wind Ensemble in Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre will premiere two new works by internationally acclaimed composer Kevin Day at ASU Gammage on Feb. 16.

The Christian Science Monitor describes Day as “breaking racial and age barriers in classical music” with a life story that is “a testament to the revivifying power of music.”

Day has composed more than 200 pieces for concert bands, chamber and symphony orchestras.

“Kevin Day is one of the most in demand composers right now for band compositions,” said Jason Caslor, director of bands and associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

The ASU Wind Symphony, conducted by Jamal Duncan, assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, will perform the world premiere of “Lightning Round,” written by Day specifically for the wind symphony. The piece, commissioned by Duncan, was completed on Jan.10.

“His music is being played everywhere, and this is a great opportunity to give voice to an African American composer who is on the rise,” Duncan said.

Day described “Lightning Round” as “a composition that depicts high energy and fast kinetic motion, as the motivic ideas pass from one instrument to the other, becoming more intertwined. Like a lightning round of a video game, you must think quick on your feet to pass, and in this case, to make it through the composition.”

The Wind Ensemble, conducted by Caslor, will also perform the consortium premiere of Day’s virtuosic five-movement “Concerto for Wind Ensemble.”

The ASU Wind Bands is one of 23 other schools and universities that are part of the consortium that commissioned Day to write the concerto for the College Band Directors National Association Conference. Day wrote the piece while he was a doctoral student at the University of Georgia pursuing a double focus in composition and conducting study with Director of Bands Cynthia Johnston Turner. The concerto was never premiered due to the pandemic, and after more than a two-year delay, the world premiere took place in fall 2021.

In his program notes, Day said that his experience and inspiration for the work came from a world of various intersections in his life. He knew he wanted to write something that reflected his upbringing as a young Black man and the musical culture that he grew up in, which is not often represented in concert band music. Growing up listening to hip-hop, R&B, jazz and gospel music while simultaneously learning classical music through playing in band and orchestra, he wanted to merge his intersecting worlds in new fusions, paying homage to his parents, the culture he grew up in and the wind band world.

Duncan said the wind symphony commission came about when classes moved online in fall 2020. Guest artists were invited to meet virtually with students, and Day presented a virtual lecture. At the time, he was completing his concerto for wind ensemble and previewed some of the tracks for the students.

The students and Duncan were so excited by the concerto piece that Duncan asked Day if he would write a piece for the Wind Symphony. Day agreed, and a little over one year later, the group will present the world premiere.

“Commissioning is a very big part of what we do, and we feel very fortunate that ASU continues to help us with bringing new works of art to life,” Caslor said.

Day will also be in residency during the concert week with all three wind bands — Wind Symphony, Wind Ensemble and the Maroon and Gold Bands — and work with approximately 200 students. During his four-day residency, each band will play some of his works. He will also work with student composers in their studio class, and individually with several students to review their compositions.

Caslor said a professional multi-camera video and audio recording of the “Concerto for Wind Ensemble” by the Wind Ensemble will also be recorded. Clarke Rigsby, faculty associate in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and recording producer of Tempest Recordings, and Nita Blum, clinical assistant professor in The Sidney Poitier New American Film School, will lead the collaborative project. Students from Blum’s classes will be involved, learning how all the different parts of the recording industry work.

“We have some of the finest musicians in the entire country and want to showcase our amazing students and create a special memento for all of us involved, so we put together a team to capture the concerto performance,” Caslor said.

Duncan said there has always been emphasis placed on the student experience for concert programming. In addition, both he and Caslor said they want to make sure that students in the wind bands are exposed to a diversity of composers of all different types of music.

“ASU is number one in innovation, and part of our philosophy is how wind bands can be on the forefront of also championing new and different voices,” Duncan said. “We want to program the historical and traditional pieces, and, at the same time, program the composers of our time and the underrepresented voices as well.”

“Old, New, Borrowed and Blue"
7:30–9:30 p.m. Feb. 16
ASU Gammage
Purchase tickets

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