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Samuel Adler: "Southwestern Sketches"

Southwestern Sketches

Samuel Adler

Born March 4, 1928, Mannheim, Germany

Instrumentation: Wind Ensemble

Duration: 12 minutes

Composed: 1961

Southwestern Sketches was Samuel Adler’s first work for Wind Ensemble, commissioned in 1961 by conductor Ray Tross and the New Mexico State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Adler’s eventual acceptance of the commission initially took some convincing because, as with composers Norman Dello Joio and Warren Benson, he “… just didn’t like the band sound so many seemed to accept from the medium, twenty-five clarinetists playing the same thing, just awful!” Adler first told Tross that he did not want to write for band. This response prompted Tross to send Adler some Eastman Wind Ensemble recordings with Frederick Fennell conducting the Hindemith, Persichetti and Giannini Symphonies. After hearing this repertoire, Adler better realized what was both possible and desired by composers and wind conductors with higher artistic standards. He again contacted Tross, this time, with a very positive response. “Now this is something I would like to get involved with!” After hearing the recordings, the enormous color palette was what most attracted Adler to write for winds and percussion. “The wind ensemble has so many colors which constantly shift as compared to the more homogenous string sound.” Adler adds that many composers have yet to realize the wide array of color available to them through the genre.

Southwestern Sketches was commissioned in 1960 in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood. The premiere performance was given in 1961 by the New Mexico State University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Ray Tross. The work was developed from earlier music Adler had written in the 1950s for the play Joshua Beene and God, starring Burl Ives. The play was similar to the Elmer Gantry story about a holy man operating in the southwest; it was very successful and scheduled to be produced on Broadway, but Ives wanted too much money for the contract, so the plan was scrapped. The music, though characteristic of the Southwest, is made up of primarily original material, avoiding indigenous folk song material, with the exception of a quotation of the hymn, Fairest Lord Jesus. Adler thought the music from the play would be a good starting point for the commission. He took short motives from the score and composed Southwestern Sketches, set in one continuous movement with the introduction followed by four distinct sections. His conceptual idea paralleled the Southwest region of the United States, a culture Adler describes “as fast-changing as the weather.”

- Program note by Mitchell Lutch

Samuel Adler, Southwestern Sketches

The United States Coast Guard Band, Lewis J. Buckley, conductor

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