Award-winning orchestral composer and conductor Frank Ticheli will be a guest conductor at the Cal Poly music department’s annual Winter Band Concert performed by the Wind Ensemble and Wind Orchestra this Saturday.
The winter concert will be Ticheli’s first appearance at Cal Poly and the last winter performance for director of bands William Johnson.
Johnson, who has been at Cal Poly since 1966, said he has been working to get Ticheli to come for approximately five years but, due to time conflicts, wasn’t able to schedule him until this past summer.
“Dr. Ticheli is considered one of the great wind band composers in the entire world,” Johnson said. “He’s in constant demand all over the world as a composer and a guest conductor. So we’ve talked him into coming to Cal Poly and spending a couple of days with us.”
Ticheli’s ability to fuse different styles of music into one composition, creating a more exciting experience for the audience, is what Johnson said puts him in such high demand. It’s also the reason the concert will solely feature works composed and conducted by Ticheli, a rarity because most performances involve compositions from multiple composers. Johnson said the reason for this is it’s hard to create a diverse set with just one composer, because most composers stick to a similar pattern with their work.
Ticheli’s eclectic style of composition is what wind ensemble drummer Courtney Wolfe enjoys. Wolfe, a music senior, compared Ticheli to film composer John Williams, the man behind the Star Wars theme song. She said in the way that people hear the Star Wars song and connect it to Williams, so do many people with Ticheli’s work.
“At least from a drummer’s stand point, we’ve got a lot of music we can play. He’s pretty good at finding that right sound to get from us,” Wolfe said. “He really brings out what the bands can do and the musicianship. Once it comes together, it really sounds wonderful. He’s a wonderful composer, and it’s an honor to have him.”
Spending time at Cal Poly and with other bands and orchestras is what Ticheli said he loves to do. Ticheli, a University of Southern California professor who grew up in New Orleans, travels around the world as a guest conductor. He said he’s always known he wanted to make music his career.
“There was never any sort of a career crisis or a decision crisis,” Ticheli said. “I just knew I wanted to be a musician at an early age and I just never looked back, I never stopped. I knew what I wanted to do, and I did it. I just enjoy making music.”
As a musician, Ticheli is known for being not only a conductor, but also a composer. His work has been performed in orchestras across America and Europe, and Johnson said he is most excited about hearing his newest composition, “Angels in the Architecture.”
“It’s different from any of the other pieces I’ve heard him write, and it’s dramatic. It’s extremely dramatic. I’m looking forward to hearing him conduct it,” Johnson said.
The song, defined as “operal” by Ticheli, starts off slow, and Ticheli said in his program notes that the song is meant to unfold as a “dramatic conflict between the two extremes of human existence — one divine and one evil.” The opening, with the soft voice of a singer, is meant to represent the angel and the divinity of humans. As the singing fades out, a stream of fast-paced and loud instruments “sneak in” to represent “darkness, death and spiritual doubt.”
“There are sounds that are not typical of a wind band, especially the opening,” Ticheli said. “There’s an exotic quality to it that, I think, is just something that I find appealing, and I think the audience will enjoy it.”
For Ticheli, simply making music with others who are as passionate as himself is enough.
“The joy that I get comes from the music and sharing the music with my fellow human beings,” he said. “The music that I do is all instrumental or mostly instrumental, and what I love about it is it expresses things and takes us to places that words can’t touch. It is a place that is wholly occupied by music, and it transcends words. You thank your lucky stars that you’re a musician.”
The concert begins at 8 p.m. March 13 in Harman Hall at the Christopher Cohan Center. Tickets are available at the Performing Arts ticket office for $8 and $19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays or by phone at 805-756-2787.