The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Wind Ensemble will premiere Windborne by composer Kevin Day, a horn concerto commissioned by Glenn Korff School of Music alumnus Steven Cohen.
The piece will premiere at the Wind Ensemble Concert at 7:30 p.m. on March 30 at the Kimball Recital Hall. The concert is free and open to the public. It will also be broadcast live. To visit https://music.unl.edu/webcasts the day of the performance for the link.
The concerto will also be performed at the College Band Directors National Association’s North Central Division conference in April at the University of Wisconsin, as part of the Wind Ensemble’s invitation to perform there.
“The College Band Directors National Association was founded in the 1940s, and it came together at a time when enough college programs had been springing up all over the country and a new kind of energy was coming in,” said Carolyn Barber, Ron and Carol Cope. Professor and Director of Harmonies and Director of the Wind Ensemble. “It really is the national organization for college orchestras. And the North Central District encompasses most of the Big Ten. It is the historic centerpiece of bands in the United States.
Cohen is excited to perform at the convention.
“I’m excited because it’s a wonderful opportunity, and I feel honored to be able to work solo at CBDNA, but I’m really, really excited for Kevin,” he said. “I also have friends and colleagues who are professors at other universities who will be there, so I will be able to reconnect with them. It will be an event of connection and collaboration, which I think is something so necessary, especially at this time with everything going on in the world.
Barber said it’s customary for guest bands to create a new piece at the convention.
“It’s like a potluck,” she says. “Each group brings a new play, and that’s how we make literature grow. I said to myself, that’s perfect, we’re going to put this piece on the program.
Miami-based composer Day has become one of the most important young voices in the world of music composition. His music oscillates between powerfully introspective and joyful exuberance. A winner of BMI Student composer prize and many other distinctions, he composed more than 200 works.
Cohen was introduced to Day’s music when a colleague of his was preparing his “Euphonium Concerto” for performance at a regional band conference.
“I was just like, ‘This is amazing. Who is this guy?’ says Cohen. “I started doing my own research, discovered Kevin and was absolutely smitten by his music. It’s really unbelievable.
Cohen, who studied horn in Nebraska with horn teacher and assistant director Alan Mattingly, has been heard internationally as a soloist, orchestral, Broadway and chamber musician. Originally from New York, he is in demand as a soloist and is a proponent of creating new music. He is currently pursuing an MBA from Nebraska’s College of Business.
Cohen has commissioned and premiered over 25 works from a collective of composers. He commissioned Day to write this piece for horn and wind ensemble.
“It was about doing it for horn and orchestra or horn and wind ensemble,” Cohen said. “One of the great things about Kevin is that he writes eloquently for both ensembles. But there are so many concertos for horn and orchestra. horn and wind ensemble.
Cohen said “Windborne” is an “absolute adventure”.
“It’s a trip I couldn’t have imagined, but it’s all I could have wished for,” he said. “The piece is based on a relative of Kevin’s who was an aeronautical engineer and worked for the Rockwell International Space Shuttle program. It’s the journey of flight throughout a concerto, and it’s absolutely amazing. is very, very challenging work, and it’s very exciting work. It’s something that gets stuck in your head, which I think is fantastic. And it just has these moments that are really transcendent.
Barber said its title, “Windborne,” is a perfect name for the piece.
“It really does, because it seems to be flying,” she said. “It has different qualities like a fighter jet, zooming in, and then the second movement is very floaty, ethereal, and soft, and then you come out roaring until the end. This is going to be a very fun whale to play. Steven must be having a good time. It’s tough, no doubt. Kevin seems to have taken the horn as totally available, without limits, and he has tremendous momentum. It’s definitely the way Steven plays, so it’s a good combination of songwriter and soloist, and hopefully the band once we get a chance to put it together.
Cohen looks forward to performing the piece with the Wind Ensemble, both in Lincoln and at the conference in April.
“When the concerto premieres, it will be over two years since my last live public performance,” he said. “I’ve done things virtually, but there’s no substitute for having a live audience. I am delighted to be able to engage with, first and foremost, a generation of students from whom I am estranged. To be able to share not only this piece, but my experience at ONE and putting something like this together is something that I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to do.
Cohen frequently champions new music.
“There are a lot of composers out there who need their voices heard through their music,” he said. “I think a lot of times the classical music world gets stuck in Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, etc. While there are incredible contributions to the world of music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary eras, the last 10 years or so, in particular, has seen such tremendous growth from 21st century composers that I think musicians should have an obligation to discover new composers and their music. Dr. Barber is a prime example. She works really hard to schedule various concerts with a collective of composers from different eras with themes. It’s one of the things I took away from my time at ONE shows how diverse a program can be from a unique perspective.
The Wind Ensemble program will also include “A Fugal Overture” by Gustav Holst, arranged by Robert Ponto; “March! by Jennifer Jolley; and Ira Hearshen’s “Symphony on Themes of John Philip Sousa”.
The Wind Ensemble is the first concert band of the university.
“It was designed to be, in the words of Frederick Fennell, [the creator of the wind ensemble concept] ‘a flexible sonic resource’ so that a composer could write whatever they wanted, and the wind ensemble would be designed in such a way that if we needed a little more of that instrument or a little less this instrument, we can be flexible,” she says. “While a symphonic band is generally considered ensemble instrumentation, the wind ensemble tends to be the band that does the most commissions and the most new music because of this flexibility.”
Barber is looking forward to Cohen and Day working with the Wind Ensemble.
“I think it’s going to be a ball,” she said. “One, having the composer in a room is a hoot because everyone sits more upright. Of course, you hope the composer likes the work you do, but I also look forward to conversations.
She is grateful for the support given to the realization of this project.
“A big thank you to Steven for the idea, and Kevin, of course, for all the work he does, and Dr. Sergio Ruiz for the financial support,” Barber said. “It’s really a team effort to make it work, and we’re reaping the benefits.”
“It really is an exciting, emotional and incredible musical adventure,” Cohen said.