John A. Thomson


Selected Programs

Selected Repertoire

Selected Writings

Clinic Presentation

My Mentors

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John A. Thomson- Conductor

Commission

COMMISSIONED WORKS

John A. Thomson

The New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble commissioned several new compositions over the years by talented young composers of this generation.  This provided New Trier students with the opportunity to meet and work with contemporary composers and offered them the thrill of a World Premiere Performance.  All but a few of these commissions were financed by the popular and innovative "Buy-A-Bar" fund raising campaign.

COMMISSIONED BY AND DEDICATED TO
THE NEW
TRIER HIGH SCHOOL WIND ENSEMBLE: 

STARSPLITTER
Philip Rothman (b. 1976)
World Premiere Performance, May 2, 2007
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Manuscript

“STARSPLITTER is a fast-moving, colorful soundscape, with each instrument playing an important role in the vibrant sonic palette.  I arrived at the name STARSPLITTER after considering many combinations of celestial terms to describe this piece’s explosive energy.  It’s also an apt metaphor for New Trier director John Thomson, for whom the piece is written.  In commissioning new works by young composers throughout his impressive career, Mr. Thomson has been responsible for creating a formidable body of wind band literature comprised of many ‘stars’.” - Program note by Philip Rothman

O WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YE
Larry Daehn (b.1939)
World Premiere Performance, May 2, 2007
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Daehn Publishing

“I was pleased to be asked to compose a piece for John Thomson, who is so widely admired by musicians and educators, and for the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble, one of America’s finest bands.  The composition is based upon an old Highland folk tune, a musical nod to Mr. Thomson’s Scottish heritage.  With five variants of the tune, I tried to show the many colors of this fine ensemble, with several different combinations of woodwind, brass and percussion sonorities.  The work is a tribute, a salute, a musical milepost, a thank you, and a fond farewell.” - Program note by Larry Daehn

CONVERSIONS             
Sean Spicer (b.1981)
World Premiere Performance, April 27, 2005
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Manuscript

“CONVERSIONS was written on commission from the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble.  The ensemble’s conductor, John Thomson, envisioned a composition which would feature the group’s outstanding percussion section and wind section soloists.

CONVERSIONS is a symphonic band work that explores the different colors and timbres of today’s modern wind ensemble by manipulating each instruments’ specific sound qualities and utilizing the percussion’s expansive sonorities.  The composition is in five-part form with an introduction and coda.  With the composer’s original intention of writing a slow melodic work, CONVERSIONS’ middle section was actually the first section composed.  However, with his desire to write for intricate and thickly scored percussion, he decided to expand upon its melodic material both before and after the initial section.

Throughout the work, there are two main themes that are manipulated rhythmically, stylistically, metrically, and melodically.  The composer uses an array of compositional styles similar to composers such as Paul Hindemith, Karel Husa, David Gillingham, Joseph Schwantner, and Ian Krouse which include melodic and aleatoric sound screens, metric modulations, color and tone exchanges, retrogradation, and melodic motifs.” - Program note by Sean Spicer

BATTERY PARK SUITE                
Philip Rothman (b.1976)
World Premiere Performance, April 30, 2003
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Manuscript

“BATTERY PARK SUITE was written on commission from the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble.  The ensemble’s conductor, John Thomson, envisioned a composition which would feature the group’s outstanding percussion section.  While this piece certainly does contain a considerable amount of percussion playing, I also used the qualities of the different percussion instruments as an organizing and structural principle for the ensemble
and the work as a whole.

In the first three movements, I limited myself to using only the instruments from a single group in the percussion.  Thus, the four movements are as follows: Metal - bright, shiny, brilliant; Drum - resonant, echoing, but also distant; Wood - sharp, biting, quick and rhythmic; Finale - a reworking of earlier material, using all the different types of percussion.

The Titles of the first three movements are also types of objects that one might encounter in a park.  As a New York resident, the titles of my recent compositions have recalled different aspects of this city.  The piece continues that trend, evoking the downtown park that overlooks the harbor, but there’s an appropriate twist - ‘battery’ is also a term for the percussion section of a musical ensemble.” - Program note by Philip Rothman

COURAGE AND COMPASSION
James Bonney (b.1971)
World Premiere Performance, November 4, 2003
Concert Wind Ensemble
Gaffney Auditorium
New Trier High School (Winnetka Campus)
Published by: Manuscript

“There is a very fine line you tread when attempting to write something simple yet eloquent. Ernest Hemingway was a master at this, and with this piece, I tried to apply Hemingway's aesthetic to my work. There are also elements of French Impressionism, orchestral Americana, and compositional techniques used by Renaissance composers. This was a very difficult process, and COURAGE AND COMPASSION took longer to write than any other piece I've attempted. I'm no longer sure whether it is an expression of what I had originally intended, or an expression of what I was thinking and feeling in the process of actually writing it.
COURAGE AND COMPASSION is dedicated to my grandmother, Margaret Kemper Bonney, who never heard more than my finished piano sketch before she passed.” – Program note by James Bonney

PORTA NIGRA FANFARE
Scott Boerma (b.1964)
World Premiere Performance, March 1, 2002
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Cornog Auditorium
New Trier High School (Northfield Campus)
Published by: Neil Kjos Music Company

“Known to be the oldest town in Germany, Trier was established by the Roman emperor Augustus in 16 B.C.  At the entrance to Trier stands the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), a fortified Roman gateway whose truly colossal dimensions make it a unique monument of its kind and time.  Constructed of sandstone, it was built by placing one row of huge blocks on top of another and then joining them with iron clamps, without the use of mortar.  Its construction dates from the 2nd century A.D., when Trier, until then an open town, was surrounded by walls, towers and gates.  The Porta Nigra served a duel purpose: as a strong and effective defense and as an equally effective and impressive symbol of might and power.

Commissioned by conductor John A. Thomson and the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble of Winnetka, Illinois, PORTA NIGRA is a fanfare composed to celebrate the opening of the high school’s newly refurbished Cornog Auditorium.  With its bold, energetic, and driving rhythms, PORTA NIGRA is a testament to the strength of this outstanding band program, known throughout our nation as one of the finest.” - Program note by Scott Boerma

AURORA BOREALIS                                       
Robert Rumbelow (b.1965)
World Premiere Performance, May 2, 2001
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Neil Kos Music Company

“AURORA BOREALIS is a one-movement work based upon the luminous bands and streamers of light sometimes appearing in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere, believed to be electrical discharges in the ionized air.  The luminous bands of light are also known as the Northern Lights.  The word ‘borealis’ pertains primarily to things ‘northern’ while the word ‘aurora’ comes from Roman Mythology (The Goddess of Dawn).

The work begins with washes of various suspended cymbal sounds accompanied by disruptions in bass and tenor drums that are organic rhythmic motives of the work.  As this introductory material begins softly, rises to fortissimo, and then recedes again, the transparent air of the calm night appears rather magically as an enveloping chordal harmony representing the calm night.  A deep and romantically inspired melody sets the mood of the still night with the grandeur of the earth and heavens.  As this section of the work draws to a close, all dissipates as the listener (viewer), alone in the darkness, awaits with great anticipation the advent of the Northern Lights.

The next section of the work introduces a joyful ‘sparkling’ motive in the marimba that is joined by the piano.  This ostinato employs some interlocking ideas common to Balinese Gamelan music.  Bright sounds and shimmers occur with brightly muted brass instruments.  Streamers of light begin to form with small groups of performers that evolve and progresses into the center section of the work in all of its colorful splendor and grand brass fanfares.  The full spectacle of the Northern Lights in view, the feeling of grandeur, the figure of Aurora (The Goddess of Dawn), great electrical discharges with reactions of luminous bands of light is the tonal picture that becomes the central portion of the work.

As the central (middle section) recedes, the ‘sparkling’ motive returns with a new orchestration and softer muted brass (cup mutes).  Although similar to the ‘sparkling’ section from above, the orchestration and length is quite different.  This brief section returns us naturally to the transparent air and enveloping night where we began our journey.  Although familiar material, the orchestration is also quite different and leads dramatically with bass drum, timpani, and suspended cymbal into the exhilarating coda.  Propelled by further electrical discharges and fragments from all major themes this enveloping closing recalls the grandeur and excitement of the experience, finishing with a flurry of activity to an impressive, invigorating, and uncomplicated major triad that rings forth triumphantly.

Commissioned by the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the energetic yet artistic nature of this work provides a fitting tribute to New Trier High School on their 100th Anniversary and to the exciting future of their outstanding music program.” - Program note by Robert Rumbelow

CENTENARY FANFARE                                         
Michael Miller (b.1965)
World Premiere Performance, March 17, 2001
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Gaffney Auditorium
New Trier High School (Winnetka Campus)
Published by: Manuscript

“CENTENARY FANFARE was composed for John Thomson and the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble during the summer of 2000 in honor of their school’s centennial celebration.  The idea for the piece stemmed from a conversation with Mr. Thomson in which he described a piece he was interested in playing that would be grand and flashy, showing off the forces of the school’s premiere wind group.

The piece opens with the kind of sounds the composer imagined from this description - a dazzling but harmonically pungent fanfare theme that winds its way contrapuntally through the ensemble and comes to a rapid fortissimo climax.  This gives way to the primary theme, a frisky tune based on the fanfare, played by the solo clarinet and backed by a quartet of horns.  The theme is not quite allowed to finish, but is interrupted by the ensemble in a transition that quickly leads to a restatement of the theme by the trumpets and full ensemble.

A second, darker, theme follows in the low voices, with hints of the fanfare theme heard in the upper woodwinds.  This, too, is not quite allowed to finish as the horns and full ensemble interrupt in an aggressive, ragged-edged development of the fanfare, which itself comes to a brief climax echoing the one at the beginning.  This music eventually rebuilds into a full ensemble recapitulation of the primary theme, this time in the trombones, and a final augmented restatement of the fanfare theme, bringing the piece to a rapid conclusion.” - Program note by Michael Miller

SOL SOLATOR (The Sun, The Comforter) 
(In Memory of Anne Steiner, NTHS Class of 1994)   
Timothy Mahr (b.1956)
World Premiere Performance, May 5, 1998
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Neil Kjos Music Company

“The work entitled SOL SOLATOR was commissioned for the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble in memory of Anne Steiner, class of 1994.  At Anne’s memorial service it was mentioned that Anne loved to watch sunsets, and she always tried to find someone to watch them with her.  Each summer, she and her family spent two weeks at a cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin and the sunsets there were spectacular.  Anne’s family gave me a photograph of a particularly beautiful sunset from the spot where Anne had spent so many twilights watching the grand unfolding of light, color and glory.  It was also said at the service that Anne’s spirit would live on in each sunset seen by anyone who knew her.

I mounted this photo above my piano and as I wrote this piece, I found myself drawn to the comforting nature of a sunset - how it meaningfully draws to a close that particular day while providing hope for the day ahead.  I found the idea of a sunset also represented the ending of life on earth while making evident the promise of salvation.  In the photo, the setting sun creates a lighted pathway along the lake’s surface that draws the viewer in to its dazzling textures and invites a journey of the eyes.  To me, the reflection of the sun’s path on the water reveals the strong Christian message of God’s promise of new life and hope through resurrection that can be found by those who follow the Son’s path.
The title for this composition, SOL SOLATOR, is a Latin phrase which means ‘the sun, the comforter’.  The music came about by imagining me sitting at the edge of this lake, just listening.  Melodies in my composition start with great promise but do not find melodic completion, their ‘lives’ cut short.  Much of the music is calm or contains a quiet agitation.

Anne was a band student of mine as well, having been a two-year member of the St. Olaf College Band.  Anne’s favorite piece on the band’s 1996 tour of Norway, which finished just days before she died, was Aaron Copland’s VARIATIONS ON A SHAKER MELODY.  The band’s compact disc recording of the music from that tour, which includes Anne’s musical contribution on clarinet, is dedicated to her with the phrase ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free’.  I chose to incorporate phrases from the SHAKER MELODY into this work dedicated to Anne’s memory, as she exemplified the sentiment of that beloved tune in all that she did.” - Program note by Timothy Mahr

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF WALTER MITTY                 
Chris Salerno (b.1968)
World Premiere Performance, May 6, 1997
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Manuscript

HANDS UP!
Andrew Boysen (b.1968)
World Premiere Performance, May 2, 1996 
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Wingert-Jones Music, Inc

HANDS UP was commissioned by the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble, John Thomson, director, which presented the premiere performance.  The second performance was conducted by Donald Hunsberger, then conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, who performed it with a high school honor band in Hawaii.

This creative new work incorporates original techniques to enhance the resources of the modern concert band.  Both the aural and visual aspects are used effectively to create an exciting new rhythmic musical adventure in sound and in the visual presentation.

The title alludes to the use of hand clapping as an integral part of the composition.  The notation used for the clapping indicates not only when to clap, but also the pitch (high or low), and the location of the clap, either high (above the head) or low, adding an interesting visual dimension to the performance.  In a letter about this work the composer wrote, “I intended the use of the clapping to be an integral part of the fabric of the piece.  It is not a novelty piece.”  The original score was completed in February 3, 1996.

ANCIENT VISIONS: A FANFARE FOR WINDS AND PERCUSSION                   Thomas Stone (b.1957)
World Premiere Performance, May 5, 1994 
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall
Northwestern University
Published by: Daehn Publications

“ANCIENT VISIONS was commissioned by conductor John A. Thomson for the New Trier High School Symphonic Wind Ensemble of Winnetka, Illinois.  It is the band version of my
CENTENNIAL FANFARE, published by Grand Mesa for eight brass.  This piece was originally composed during 1987-88 for The Latin School of Chicago.  They celebrated their Centennial on October 14, 1988 at a ceremony with then Governor James Thompson in attendance.  The fanfare was played at this ceremony.  The octet fanfare version has been played by the Dallas Wind Symphony as recently as 2002.”  - Program note by Thomas Stone

AFRICA: CEREMONY, SONG and RITUAL        
Robert Smith (b.1958)
World Premiere Performance, March 19, 1993
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Gaffney Auditorium
New Trier High School (Winnetka Campus)
Published by: Belwin Mills Publishing

“AFRICA: CEREMONY, SONG and RITUAL is based on the primitive folk music of Western Africa.  Inspired by the recordings and research of Mr. Stephen Jay, the work features traditional
ceremonial music for dance and entertainment as well as dynamic percussive invocations and historical songs.

African musicians feel that they bring life to their instruments just as God gives life to the musician.  As a result, individual instruments are believed to possess consciousness and are treated with the same respect and reverence given to an honored living person.  The drum, the featured section in this work, is considered a sacred object as well as a musical instrument.  It is believed to be endowed with a mysterious power which has been incomprehensible to the many missionaries and early travelers on the African continent.  As one listens, the mind experiences a wide range of emotions including joy, hope, and grief.

OYA ‘Primitive Fire’ recreates man’s conquest of fire.  In the beginning of time, man discovered that he could create the illusive power by striking two flints together.  He gathered his sticks and dry leaves and kindled them.  The flames begin to rise very slowly, yet steadily building higher and higher into a large writhing body of energy spreading across the horizon.  Suddenly, it begins to fade...slowly....losing life....then the last spark ascends to the heavens and leaves the earth in darkness.

The ‘Ancient Folk Song’ originates from Ghana, situated in the tropical belt of West Africa.  It is a land of lush tropical beaches and rocky lagoons.  The peaceful tranquility of this beautiful country was first disturbed by European settlers in the 1500's as Ghana became the center for exporting slaves and gold.  As a result, the area became known as the gold coast.  A secondary melody based on the folk song ‘Marilli’ weaves throughout the final statement of the original theme.

With thunder and lightning as his weapon, Shango, the God of Thunder revisits the earth.  To herald his return, his devotees chant his invocationary praise.  The big and small drums made of hollow trees and the skins of rams resound throughout the night as circles of worshipers dance to a frenzied state.  The joyous opening statement returns amid the primal percussion drawing the work to an exhausting conclusion.” - Program note by Robert Smith

PEACE IS A FICTION OF OUR FAITH
(For Woodwind Quintet, Synthesizers, Percussion & Pre-recorded Tape)
Sanford Hinderlie (b.1952)
World Premiere Performance, March 20, 1992
Gaffney Auditorium
New Trier High School (Winnetka Campus)
Published by: Manuscript

“In this music, I explore the apparent contradiction of faith and its fictitious association with peace.  There is a constant ‘battle’ between true peace and all else that fights against it.  Darkness and silence begin the piece.  A gentle line breaks through the darkness, but is almost immediately challenged by percussion and light.  This never-ending confliction develops over a long period of time.  Peace is ultimately destroyed at the apex of the piece with a triumphant spiral effect, bringing chaos to all forms of peace.  Only in the darkness with the last fading sounds de we find peace - a destroyed peace.” - Program note by Sanford Hinderlie

TRIER FANFARE AND CELEBRATION   
(In Recognition of Trier’s 2000th Year Celebration)
James Warrick (b.1953)
World Premiere Performance, March, 1984
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Trier, Germany
American Premiere Performance, April 27, 1984
Symphonic Wind Ensemble
Gaffney Auditorium
New Trier High School (Winnetka Campus)
Published by: Manuscript

 

COMMISSIONED BY THE NEW TRIER SYMPHONIC WIND ENSEMBLE AS PART OF A COMMISSION CONSORTIUM:

ENUMERATION OF THE ACTUAL
(In Memory of Gil Evans)
Timothy Broege (b.1947)
World Premiere Performance, May 2, 2004
North Dakota State University Gold Star Band
Fargo, North Dakota
Published by: Manuscript

The participants in the consortium were as follows:
Bowling Green State University (Bruce Moss)
Florida State University (Richard Clary)
Maine Township South High School (Michael Pressler)
New Trier High School (John Thomson)
North Dakota State University (Warren Olfert)
Ohio University (John Climer)
Riverside Community College (Kevin Mayse)
Southern Methodist University (Jack Delaney)
Texas Christian University (Bobby Francis)
University of Kentucky (George Boulden)
University of Miami (Gary Green)
Western Kentucky University (John Carmichael)

The instrumentation is for winds, percussion, and a jazz quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums).

“The late Gil Evans (1912-1988) is widely regarded as one of the finest American jazz arrangers and composers. After working with the innovative Claude Thornhill band in the 1940’s, Evans was an important contributor to the legendary Miles Davis’ Nonet, whose Birth of the Cool recording for Capitol Records remains an essential jazz classic. The collaboration between Miles Davis, the great jazz trumpeter, and Evans reached its peak with the series of recordings for Columbia Records made in the late 1950's: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Gil Evans brought a distinctly new sound to the jazz orchestra, with voicings of flutes and other woodwinds, as well as unique deployment of muted trumpets, French horns, and tuba, not previously heard. After Duke Ellington, Gil Evans was the most creative arranger/composer of modern jazz. He continued to lead bands into the 1980's. His "Monday Night" band which performed at the New York jazz club Sweet Basil in the 1980's became a legend for its highly imaginative use of synthesizers and other electric instruments, as well as its group of powerful improvisers. Evan's music was constantly evolving and remains an influence on many musicians who have come after him. Enumeration of the Actual is a tribute to his work. Without any direct quotation of his compositions or arrangements, the piece nevertheless attempts to evoke something of the sound world in which Gil Evans lived and created. In honor of his long musical relationship with Miles Davis, two brief quotes from Davis' music are included in the work. The concluding movements make reference, without direct quotation, to Evans' Barracuda, one of his later jazz orchestra compositions. May his name and his music never be forgotten.” – Program note by Timothy Broege

 

DEDICATED TO THE NEW TRIER WIND ENSEMBLE:

RAVINIA OVERTURE                                   
John Tatgenhorst
Published by: Band Music Press

“This exciting new work is a musical tribute to one of America’s greatest summer music venues, Ravinia, which is home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Written in four short movements, the opening Pastorale conveys the beauty and serenity of the grounds.  Fanfare announces an exciting concert prelude.  Promenade is a short spirited march, which leads to the majestic Finale, which is thematically linked to the opening motives.” - Program note by John Tatgenhorst

PASTORALE 
(For Woodwind Choir)                                  
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) transcribed by Thomas Stone (b.1957)
Published by: Daehn Publications

“PASTORALE is the second movement of Boccherini’s SYMPHONY NO. 26 in C MINOR, Op. 41.  The work was completed in 1788, the same year Mozart composed his final three symphonies.  PASTORALE, in the key of Eb, is cast in sonata form.  The development section cadences on G major and is followed by an abrupt return to the original key of Eb at the recapitulation.  This mediant modulation, atypical in music of the common practice period, is not foreign to the style of Boccherini.  PASTORALE, scored originally for oboes, bassoons, horns, and strings, maintains its chaste beauty and genuine charm in the current edition for Harmoniemusik.” - Program note by Thomas Stone

 

COMMISSIONED BY AND DEDICATED TO THE EAST ALLEGHENY HIGH SCHOOL SYMPHONY BAND: 

SOUTH RAMPART STREET: REVISITED
(For Concert Band, Electronic Tape and Dixieland Band)
Lou Coyner (b.1931)
World Premiere Performance, May 7, 1976
Symphony Band
Auditorium
East Allegheny High School
Published by: Manucript