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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, April 2016

The playing is full-blooded and timbres are tinglesome. True, this isn’t the kind of music you’d want to hear too often, but it will certainly impress your friends and annoy the neighbours.

Stirring music, well played and recorded; great fun. © 2016 MusicWeb International Read complete review

James Manishen
Winnipeg Free Press, January 2011

American composer John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble (2004) calls itself Circus Maximus, reflecting on the massive stadium of ancient Rome and its hyper-inflated entertainments.

The music is presented by a main band at the centre and another scattered around the concert hall so as to give the effect of being inside the stadium. The spatial elements are key, perhaps better felt in the Blu-ray surround-sound audio disc, but effective here nonetheless. Tautly structured, the music recalls iconic U.S. composer Charles Ives, especially his multi-layered Central Park in the Dark in Corigliano’s second Night Music section, Ivesian hubbub in the climactic Circus Maximus, and the “amen” Plagal cadences of the Prayer.

Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances are entertaining pastiches based on band-shell concerts of bygone times. Authoritative performances.

Kirk McElhearn
MusicWeb International, January 2011

This disc contains two works for wind ensembles, one large-scale and one smaller. The first, Circus Maximus, is a named symphony for wind ensemble, though its performance is much more complex than it seems. It was written for three wind bands: a “stage band”, a “surround band” and a marching band. It’s conceived as a work that moves both through time and space—a diagram in the notes shows how the different groups are intended to be set up.

The music has clear Ivesian influences. It starts with a raucous attack, and when the music gets quieter, such as during the third movement, “Channel Surfing”, there are sections when a band leaps out at the listener. Other movements, such as the two Night Music parts, are more subtle and very soft, providing just wisps of music in an impressionistic style that brings to mind wild animals in the wind.

The writing is a combination of tonal and atonal, with melodic snippets that remind the listener of a wide range of musics. Corigliano planned this work as a sort of statement about modern society, and in a way it is an example of what music can do wrong. By satirizing the excesses of today, and paralleling them with the excesses of imperial Rome, he ends up with a piece that is neither here nor there. It sounds more like a catalogue of sound ideas than a coherent work.

The composer says this about the piece: “The parallels between the high decadence of Rome and our present time are obvious. Entertainment dominates our culture, and ever-more-extreme ‘reality’ shows dominate our entertainment. Many of us have become as bemused by the violence and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as those mobs of imperial Rome who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show.”

This is all fine, but a programmatic symphony about reality TV and the evils of modern society seems to be an odd proposal, and the music gives few hints as to this hidden program.

The work is ambitious, however, in ways that cannot come across in the recording. Again, most likely influenced by Charles Ives—who loved the sounds of different marching bands playing different music and crossing each other in the street—Corigliano conceived of this as a spatial piece. For example, in his notes, he says that, for the sixth movement, there is a “band marching down the aisles”. There is a Blu-Ray audio version of this work, which would give a much better idea of these spatial aspects, but I only have the CD to listen to, so many of those elements are lost.

Oh, and it ends with a gunshot; there seems to be something deep about that, but I need to listen to the gunshot many more times to grasp it.

The second work, Gazebo Dances, is an arrangement of a set of four-hand piano pieces originally written in 1972. The sound here is oddly much more like what one would expect from a wind band. Not having heard the piano versions, I can’t imagine how they would sound for that instrument. They are attractive pieces, with little pretension, and the arrangements are delightful. This music sounds fun, and these four brief episodes make a very nice suite. There’s a bit of the circus to them—not the ‘maximus’ kind, but the one with rings—and they are light and pleasant to listen to.

This disc will most likely appeal to those with a special affinity for wind ensembles and bands. While the two works are very different, they do show a composer who has written some interesting music.

James Manheim, November 2009

The Circus Maximus of ancient Rome was perhaps the spectacle with the biggest audience in human history; located in a natural amphitheater, it entertained up to 300,000 people with chariot races, fights with wild animals, and more. Composer John Corigliano, in his Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble, both evokes the atmosphere of the Roman circus and compares it to the texture of modern entertainment, specifically television. The work is in eight movements, and in both the circus movements and the third “Channel Surfing” movement, Corigliano revels in enormous contrasts, with sirens, percussion barrages, and a gunshot. These are set against two pieces of very quiet Night Music, symbolizing the efforts of contemporary people to escape their frenetic environment. Whether or not it strictly holds together, the work is very absorbing, and its gestures are large and precise in spite of all the garish effects. Corigliano has emerged as a composer who is neither strictly modernist nor neo-Romantic, and he has done well to choose that most purely American of ensembles, the university wind band, for this work; many such groups have attained a very high technical level, and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble delivers an ideal performance here. Circus Maximus, which relies in certain passages on spatial separation of instruments, would be an ideal candidate for a true audiophile recording, but the use of the space in Austin’s Bass Concert Hall here achieves strong differentiation among the soloists, and the student musicians play their hearts out. The Gazebo Dances for band, originally written for two pianists, is a work of Corigliano’s youth; it is less concentrated that his mature pieces, but his voice is recognizable; quite a feat in 1972, when self-serving avant-gardes ruled music. This is a fine entry all around in Naxos’ American Classics series, which is creating a group of just those.

Benn Martin
MusicWeb International, October 2009

In eight movements that are played without pause, Circus Maximus takes as its inspiration the similarities between the high decadence of the final days of the Roman empire and the present time. The piece “was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarity,” according to the composer, and it does so in part by surrounding the audience with not only the large concert band on stage but almost as many other musicians placed carefully around the hall. The liner-notes include the composer’s map which precisely places each of the musicians, including what tier of the seats they are to stand in! The sixth movement even features a small marching band marching through the aisles of the concert hall, and the piece ends with an actual gunshot…the piece is brutal, in a quasi-Shostakovich vein in its louder passages, but, as with Mahler, there are longer stretches of quieter motion which make the full ensemble passages feel that much more intense. This is, without question, one of the most important pieces written for band in some time…this recording sure does make me want to experience the piece in concert. Fans of band music need to hear it at least once, and the University of Texas makes it hard to believe that it’s a college group performing.

The CD is nicely rounded out by Corigliano’s transcription of his own Gazebo Dances—originally written for four-hand piano, but reminiscent of American outdoor band concerts and thereby ideally suited for the medium. It’s a delightful work, anchored by a long, gorgeous slow movement. There are several other recordings of this work, and this is the best I’ve heard.

It’s nice to see this recording on the Naxos American Classics Series instead of the Wind Band Classics series.

David Hurwitz, July 2009

John Corigliano’s Third Symphony, for large wind orchestra, represents a major contribution to the band repertoire, and its fascinating exploitation of timbre and texture should win it listeners beyond that particular niche. The concept, “Circus Maximus”, promises to be fun: Corigliano compares the decadent ancient Roman entertainment district to our modern glut of cable television channels and reality TV. Movements such as “channel surfing” offer a deft Ivesian collage of sounds, while the two central nocturnes are lovely, in very different ways…what matters is that this is good music whatever its inspiration, and the coupling, the Gazebo Dances, is breezy and fresh as the title suggests. Outstandingly exciting performances and terrific recorded sound round out this very attractive release of good contemporary American music. And if Corigliano is being a bit provocative, it’s never at the expense of your basic enjoyment. First rate.

Ira Novoselsky
BandWorld, July 2009

Some wind bands and orchestras are familiar with John Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances. This popular composition was originally written for piano four-hands and while other wind band recordings are available, the University of Texas Wind Ensemble interpretation has that special sparkle…especially following the symphony. The Circus Maximus Symphony No. 3 is scored for a large wind ensemble and makes the opening movement of Respighi’s Feste Romane sound like a tea social. Yes, it is that kind of Roman spectacle, complete with musical imagery of the most descriptive type. You’ll hear the crowds, the various activities rapidly coming one after another (the third section entitled Channel Surfing says it best), the sounds of celebration contrasting with stark moments of quietness and unsettling wails, etc. There is even a section where the listener hears a parade coming through the festivities; there are plenty of spatial effects throughout the symphony. The last note of the work calls for a rifle shot (no mere gun shot) with more “oomph” and “visual aftershock” than average!! This recording will test the finest recording devices plus your imagination & music senses will be well rewarded.

Peter Dickinson
Gramophone, July 2009

A bloodthirsty band work with sirens and whistles—as violent as Varèse

Just as Corigliano’s First Symphony embodied his anger about Aids, this spectacular based on the vast Roman arena the Circus Maximus finds “parallels between the high decadence of Rome and our present time”. Corigliano rightly slates our entertainment—dominated culture and compares today’s ubiquitous obsession with violence to the ancient Romans enjoying the sight of lions devouring human beings for amusement. This is heady stuff and nowhere more so than in the extravagant resources of Circus Maximus itself, reflected in the ingenious 3D cover design.

There’s a stage band of 37 players plus four to five percussionists; a “surround band” with 22 players including 11 trumpets and three percussionists; and a marching band that moves down the centre of the auditorium in track 6 and, like everything else, is stunningly caught by the sound engineers. As if that wasn’t enough, the work ends with a sustained high note followed by a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun—a licensed pyrotechnician may be required! Some sections are as laceratingly violent as Varèse, and there are sirens and whistles too. But there’s some repose in “Night Music I” with its uncanny tapestry of animal sounds even if “Night Music II” evolves into a nightmare through dotted rhythms. The following “Prayer” is sustained triadic relief.

The American wind band has a noble tradition and Corigliano has added a substantial work to the repertoire. The Gazebo Dances, originally for piano duet, are affable early pieces with a waltz that falls out of step and a hectic tarantella.

Ron Bierman
Music & Vision, June 2009

‘The performances could not be bettered…’

Bring on the gladiators! John Corigliano is ready, and so is the University of Texas Wind Ensemble. Corigliano here satirizes the human need for ‘glamorous barbarity’, whether it be lions devouring Christians at the Circus Maximus or minor celebrities covering themselves in tarantulas on a TV reality show.

The spectacle begins with trumpet passages suitable for the next remake of Ben Hur.

The chaotic third movement makes it clear that decadent Romans aren’t the only target. Sudden contrasts jar as the music surfs from one cable station to another.

The work isn’t all violence. II suggests the seductive allure of a film siren. IV, titled Night Music I, evokes the mysterious quiet of a forest filled with eerie natural sounds. But then the barbarous returns in Night Music II. Without a break, soft forest segues to the tumultuous and confusing chaos of a metropolis.

VI, Circus Maximus, is the centerpiece. The brass instruments become wailing sirens and screeching alarms. Thematic fragments recall the first movement. Quiet returns one more time with Prayer before the eighth and concluding movement again recalls the brassy opening.

That final exclamation point is provided by a shotgun. 12-gauge is specified, preferably with a black-powder full-load because ‘it is louder and throws a much larger flame from the barrel.’

It’s not saying much to point out that the other piece on the program is lighter fare. Gazebo Dances for Band begins with a slightly tipsy but high-spirited overture.

The following waltz movement claims further inebriation before a gentle adagio pauses for reflection, and then celebration returns as the work rushes home with a sparkling Scottish-flavored tarantella.

These pieces are over-the-top extroverts, and Naxos has the ideal interpreters. The University of Texas Wind Ensemble led by Jerry Junkin plays with entirely appropriate youthful exuberance in the wilder moments and with a perfectly idiomatic jazz-feel when needed for brash sliding trombones or slinky saxophones. The performances could not be bettered by a professional organization.

The CD jewel box comes in a sleeve with a bold three-dimensional image on the front cover which is a nod to the three-dimensional deployment Corigliano calls for in concert performances of the symphony. The composer includes stage directions in his score. Some players are on the stage, but others march in the aisle or are placed elsewhere in the audience. A performance must be quite an event, and my only complaint about the recording is that Naxos hasn’t produced a surround-sound version.

The churlish will point out that Corigliano’s Circus Maximus suffers from the same pandering excesses it satirizes. So be it. This inheritor of Roman crassness loved it. [And Corigliano himself makes the point that ‘The shape of my Circus Maximus was built both to embody and to comment on this massive and glamorous barbarity.’ (italics added)—Ed]

Walter Simmons
Fanfare, May 2009

CORIGLIANO, J.: Dylan Thomas Trilogy (A) (T. Allen, T. Jackson, J. Tessier, Nashville Symphony and Chorus, L. Slatkin) 8.559394
CORIGLIANO, J.: Mr. Tambourine Man / 3 Hallucinations (Plitmann, Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta) 8.559331
CORIGLIANO, J.: Symphony No. 3, "Circus Maximus" / Gazebo Dances (University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Junkin) 8.559601

One of the most widely praised and highly regarded American composers of his generation, John Corigliano, now in his early seventies, is currently enjoying significant attention from Naxos’s “American Classics” series. The three recent releases discussed here represent a broad survey of his work, drawn from all periods of his composing career. Corigliano’s early pieces reveal a strong affinity with the sensitive, nostalgic music of Samuel Barber. However, as he was approaching the age of 40, he transformed his creative identity, embracing the general approach known for a time as the “New Romanticism”—a style associated during the 1970s with the music of Jacob Druckman and others who were struggling to free themselves from the aesthetic straitjacket of serialism, but without regressing to traditional tonality. The proponents of this style attempted to impress listeners in more spontaneously visceral or emotional ways than serial music typically did, by creating richly orchestrated aural canvases, highlighted by strongly characterized gestures and striking juxtapositions, at times incorporating quotations of earlier music within the context of such soundscapes. However, Corigliano came to this approach from the opposite direction, producing compositions whose vivid flamboyance and unrestrained eclecticism greatly appealed to listeners who were favorably inclined toward the innovative, but nevertheless sought some measure of immediate sensual gratification. By the 1980s, he had settled into a broadly based and highly flexible approach of his own that rejected nothing on principle, while tailoring each composition according to its own specific requirements. Perhaps what is most characteristic of the mature Corigliano is his attraction to novel, provocative conceits that generate interest in and of themselves; this he shares in common with, for example, Dominick Argento. In fact, the program notes to one of these releases states, “For the past three decades I have started the compositional process by building a shape, or architecture, before coming up with any musical material.” Long series of numbered sonatas or string quartets are antithetical to his nature. The results of his approach have proven to be spectacularly successful: Corigliano has won the Pulitzer Prize and the esteemed Grawemeyer Award—perhaps the two most prestigious awards available to the serious composer; his opera The Ghosts of Versailles was commissioned and produced by the Metropolitan Opera, and subsequently elsewhere as well; of two film scores, the first (Altered States) was nominated for an Academy Award, while the second (The Red Violin) actually won the award. And he has drawn praise—even if begrudgingly at times—from listeners and commentators representing all points on the compositional spectrum.

The most important of the works discussed here may indeed prove to be Corigliano’s magnum opus: A Dylan Thomas Trilogy. This composition, completed in 1999, was nearly four decades—and several stages—in the making. If I have had a complaint about Corigliano’s work over the years, it is that he seems to focus more on elements that will make an impact on his audience than on searching for and expressing his own inner life (yes, how hopelessly sentimental and old-fashioned of me). But this work, occupying the composer as long as it did, comes close to being a personal autobiography in music. Corigliano had long been strongly drawn to Thomas’s poetry, and found much in the Welsh poet’s expression that he could relate to his own life; his selection of poems written at different times in the poet’s life, and the settings he composed at different times in his life created a natural parallel between the two. The trilogy began in 1961 with a setting for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra of Thomas’s Fern Hill, which attained considerable success as an independent work. This was followed in 1970 by Poem in October, also an independent work, for tenor and chamber ensemble. Almost as long as those two sections combined, Poem on his Birthday followed in 1976, this time for baritone soloist, with chorus and full symphony orchestra. This completed the trilogy, as presented at that time as a full evening in recognition of the American bicentennial. But Corigliano was not satisfied with the result. The first two sections owed much to Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and, to a lesser extent, Summer Music, although Poem in October ventured into a pan-diatonicism somewhat more prickly than Barber might have employed. Both evoked a peaceful, playful past, recalled wistfully. The third section reflected the poet’s state of emotional turbulence at the time of his 35th birthday (he was to live only four years more), with fiercely extravagant imagery to which Corigliano responded with the full range of his recently liberated musical imagination. But he was not convinced that the juxtaposition of incompatible musical styles really worked. Not until the late 1990s did he come upon the idea of creating a framework that would supply the necessary coherence. Turning to Author’s Prologue, one of Thomas’s final works, he found what he was looking for—a selection that captured the poet’s untamed earthiness, while providing the retrospective posture of an older, more seasoned protagonist. Drawing upon musical material used in Poem on his Birthday, Corigliano set this passage for baritone soloist against a backdrop of chorus and orchestra, using a largely atonal, and at times spoken, declamation. The first portion of this Prologue serves as an introduction to the entire work, while the second half is inserted between Fern Hill and Poem in October. This reshaping treated the two earlier pieces as “flashbacks,” reflections on the innocent past from the perspective of the turbulent present, the transitions occurring naturally and convincingly. With a few other adjustments, such as changing the mezzo-soprano to a boy soprano in Fern Hill, and expanding the scoring of Poem in October to match the rest of the work (though retaining the harpsichord, which creates a wonderful effect), he finally achieved the coherence and integration he had sought. The result, which spans the majority of his compositional career, is not only a convincing structure, but it is also a very moving work—more so than in any of its previous incarnations. It is not an “easy” work by any means—not something one can expect to enjoy in the background: it requires a good deal of concentration, as well as close attention to the texts, in order to derive its full meaning. But it may prove to be Corigliano’s greatest, most deeply personal, and most emotionally sincere work. The performance here is extremely fine: the vocal soloists are excellent, and Leonard Slatkin directs a fully sympathetic and convincing performance. My only complaint is that the choral rendering of the text is barely intelligible, even for one who is following it in print.

Of all the unusual compositional conceits that Corigliano has devised, perhaps none is more provocative and unlikely than Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan. Explaining that Bob Dylan’s career as an iconic folk poet during the 1960s totally passed him by, the composer was prompted by a colleague to look at Dylan’s song lyrics as a possible source of texts. (I must admit that the notion that Corigliano might have lived through the 1960s without ever having heard, say, “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Mr. Tambourine Man” strains my credulity to the breaking point; but for the moment I’m willing to take it at face value and let it go at that.) Convinced upon examining them that many of these texts had some merit, Corigliano decided to set a selection of seven to music—but without any knowledge of or reference to their original melodic settings, and without any attempt to evoke the style of folk or popular music. He explains with admirable clarity in the program notes: “Folk music tends to set choruses of ever-changing words to the same simple melody: reflecting the emotion or the sound of the words is simply not what folk music tries to do. Whereas concert composers…often change the melodic and accompanimental settings of the words to reflect the particular colors and sounds, as well as the feelings and meanings, of the text. Obviously I belong to this latter category of composer, and this is reflected in what you’ll hear.” Composed for soprano and piano in 2000 at the request of Sylvia McNair, the cycle was orchestrated in 2003, now calling for an “amplified soprano.” Corigliano writes, “I wanted a fully-trained virtuosic concert singer who could still perform in a more ‘natural’ voice. I didn’t want her to need to give an ‘operatic’ performance of texts so antithetical to that cultivated sound just to project over the orchestra.” The premiere of this version was given by the Israeli soprano Hila Plitmann, who performs it here.

“Listeners familiar with Dylan’s music for these songs will no doubt be surprised at these settings,” writes the composer. As someone who lived through the 1960s and was well aware of Dylan’s own versions of about half of the texts selected, I can tell you that that is a tremendous understatement! I cannot deny that my reaction upon hearing the first minute of Corigliano’s setting of Mr. Tambourine Man—which serves as a prelude to the cycle—was to laugh hysterically at the preposterous incongruity of the basic conceit. Checking upon the reactions of several friends and colleagues who are contemporaries of mine, I discovered that most responded roughly as I did. However, the difference was that some of my consultees could not get past the absurdity and simply bailed out, while others, such as myself, were able to calm down and try to experience these settings on their own terms. I am forced to conclude that the result is largely successful, and—whether or not Corigliano truly never heard Blowin’ in the Wind—he has managed to create musical settings that (a) bear no resemblance whatsoever to Dylan’s music; (b) capture the spirit and meaning of the texts, and do so with remarkable imagination; and (c) form a satisfying song cycle that meets the standards of a serious concert work. It is presumably for reasons such as these that this work won the most recent Grammy Award for Best New Classical Composition—the third such award Corigliano has received. My only reservation about the songs is that Corigliano’s music offers little melodic interest of its own; there is nothing “catchy” about these settings. As with the ambitious Dylan Thomas work, no one can expect to relegate this cycle to background music. Each song is a work of serious art that must be followed with close attention. Finally, what I would truly love to know is the reaction of Bob Dylan himself (who of course had to grant permission for this endeavor), assuming that he has heard Corigliano’s settings. And if he has not bothered to hear them, he loses a lot of stature in my mind.

Soprano Hila Plitmann seems to render the songs with just the qualities the composer was seeking, while the Buffalo Philharmonic realizes the extraordinarily varied orchestrations brilliantly. And for those baby-boomers who are interested, the other songs whose texts were selected are: Clothes Line, Masters of War, All along the Watchtower, Chimes of Freedom, and, as a postlude, Forever Young.

For a long time I felt that the music Corigliano supplied for Ken Russell’s 1980 film Altered States was his best work. And even as a fervent and unashamed Russell enthusiast (who saw the film the day it opened), I asserted that the music was the most impressive component of the film, which struck me as rather a potboiler. When the soundtrack album was released shortly thereafter, I raved about it in these pages. Several years later the soundtrack was reissued on CD, but I gather it is no longer available. With a script by Paddy Chayefsky, Altered States is a science fiction film in which a research psychologist attempts to discover the essence of life by reversing his own human evolution through immersion in a sensory deprivation tank, and later by indulging in Indian rituals involving hallucinogenic mushrooms. Corigliano’s score was one of his early ventures in the aforementioned “New Romanticism” style, and the result achieved a degree of flamboyant extravagance that left Druckman and his cohorts far behind, and might be likened to Le sacre on LSD. Corigliano subsequently extracted from the score a 15-minute concert suite entitled Three Hallucinations, which seems to have developed a pretty successful life of its own. These selections certainly provide a representative sample of the film music—eerily ominous and wildly psychedelic—although a dreamlike treatment of fragments of “Rock of Ages,” as refracted through elegiac and mysterious cluster-harmony, gives undue emphasis to one of the weaker ideas in the score. It is performed here with considerable zest. However, serious admirers of Corigliano’s music are urged to search out used copies of the complete soundtrack, which can be found on the Internet.

Ever since its world premiere in Austin, Texas, by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, conducted by Jerry Junkin, in February 2005, followed later that year by a performance by the same forces at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Corigliano’s Circus Maximus has become something of a sensation within the band sub-culture. Completed the previous year, on a commission from the Texans, the work is predicated on the notion of a spatial conception—i.e., a work in which the audience is surrounded by the players, whose physical placement is clearly and precisely specified. Those specifications, which call for a band on the stage, a smaller marching band, and another ensemble placed at various points throughout the hall, are clearly indicated on a diagram included in the accompanying booklet. However, the recording at hand, as fine as it is in conventional terms, is a standard two-channel recording. Therefore, the listener is left to his imagination in attempting to conjure this all-important aspect of the work’s structure and—more important—sonic impact. The title of the work and its point of reference, both of which came later, concerns the brutal entertainments enjoyed by the ancient Romans during their period of “high decadence,” and attempts to draw a parallel between that time and our own, what with our relish of vulgar “reality” shows and public scandals. As apt and intriguing as this concept may be, instrumental music is simply not a suitable medium for social commentary. Furthermore, nothing in the music actually creates a connection with the title concept; indeed, any number of other concepts would be equally plausible as correlates to the music itself. Therefore, the extra-musical “message” of the work is an enticement that doesn’t really deliver, while the fundamental premise of antiphonal spatiality is compromised by the limitations of the recording technology used, although it may be quite effective in a live performance.

So the somewhat deflated reality that confronts the listener to this recording is a 35-minute work subdivided into eight connected movements of contrasting tone, scored for large wind ensemble. But this is not to suggest that there is anything routine about the music itself. It has been said that Corigliano’s primary compositional concern is to make a tremendous splash on his audience, but to accomplish this at a high artistic level. I will avoid the temptation to raise the question as to whether there isn’t an inherent contradiction between the two portions of that objective, but will state unequivocally that this piece makes one helluva splash! The work opens in a state of intense alarm, and introduces the primary motif, an exceedingly frightening, siren-like idea that seems to herald an imminent crisis of immense proportion. This motif recurs at various points throughout the work. Corigliano seems to possess a limitless imagination for creating musical “special effects,” and Circus Maximus, not unlike Altered States, provides the opportunity for him to give full rein to this gift. After the sense of distress created by the opening “Introitus,” the second section, “Screen/Siren” provides some relief, as a saxophone quartet evokes a mood suggestive of a nocturnal urban street scene in a detective show from around 1960 (not that there’s anything wrong with this). The third section, “Channel Surfing” presents a series of brief, contrasting musical images, including some really striking effects that shift rapidly from one to the next. This is followed by “Night Music I,” which suggests another nocturnal scene, but this one taking place in some isolated area untouched by human beings, so that time seems infinite, the only motion resulting from natural phenomena. “Night Music II” is intended to evoke “the hyper night music of the cities,” and calls forth sounds and gestures associated with jazz. This culminates in the sixth movement, “Circus Maximus,” intended to be the high point of the work, “a carnival of sonoric activity,” the composer writes. It is wild, as all that has come before seems to be happening at once, leading to a climax that truly shakes the rafters. “Prayer” follows—a quiet, hymn like melody that unfolds against a simple, triadic accompaniment that is not, however, always in the same key as the melody. Perhaps the most simple and direct portion of the work, it was not as affecting emotionally as I had anticipated. This section leads directly into “Coda: Veritas,” which returns to the disturbing music of the opening section, mounting in intensity, and finally ending with “a 12-gauge shot gun” firing a “full load-black powder ‘popper’ made by Winchester.” I think it is apparent that music this strikingly vivid might be associated plausibly with any number of different scenarios. But what is also apparent upon reflection, as one listens repeatedly to the work, is that one’s first couple of auditions make the strongest impact; after that one’s interest begins to pall.

Filling out the CD is the composer’s arrangement for band of his Gazebo Dances from 1972, one of the last works of his “early” period. Although it was originally conceived as a work for piano four hands, its title points to “the pavilions often seen on village greens in towns throughout the American countryside, where public band concerts were given on summer evenings early last century.” The work also exists in a version for orchestra, but the band arrangement is clearly the most effective. Very slight in aesthetic weight, it might be said to fall somewhere on the spectrum between Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento and Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture.

The University of Texas Wind Ensemble, under its conductor Jerry Junkin, performs the Gazebo Dances suavely and with panache, while bringing to Circus Maximus an explosion of well-controlled power.

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, May 2009

John Corigliano’s Third Symphony (2004), subtitled Circus Maximus…is an eight-section tone poem lasting 35 minutes. It opens with blaring fanfares (these will recur) and moves through sultry saxophones, Zappa-ish clutter (‘Channel Surfing’), an Ivesian marching band walking down the aisle, and stale bits and pieces of jazz sure to keep students and bored band audiences winking (when they are not nodding off). Two adjacent ‘Night Music’ movements pass the time. Kancheli-esque blasts either awaken or murder snoring offenders. After the noisy climax, a homey but blurry Copland-ish chorale suggests some sort of ‘Prayer’…piece ends with a gunshot pointed toward a seat in the rafters (photo included)…The Gazebo Dances (1972) are arrangements of pieces originally written for piano four hands (and recorded in that form on CRI 659). Affable and appealing (especially the splendid ‘Overture’), they serve to remind us of this composer’s youthful genius…the University of Texas at Austin student players sound great.

Sam Pluta
NewMusicBox, March 2009

I remember the moment quite clearly: I was walking down the hallway around noon at the University of Texas at Austin, where I was doing my Masters work. Having just eaten, my body began to slip into post-lunch coma; a nap on the comfy couches in the upper corridor seemed imminent. Suddenly my body and mind were reawakened by an enormous burst of noise erupting from the concert hall. To this day, this is the loudest sound I have heard performed by acoustic instruments. It was the opening chord in John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus—Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble, a recording of which has just been released on Naxos, performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble under the very able baton of Jerry Junkin.

During the performance of Circus Maximus, instrumentalists are spread throughout the concert hall. This spatial arrangement allows Corigliano to create surround-sound effects, place a smaller ensemble offstage, and even at one point have a rather hokey marching band parade around the audience. Experienced live, this effect is striking, especially with many musicians involved (everything is truly bigger in Texas, and the wind ensemble is no exception). Yet, this, along with the sheer volume of the sound, creates a problem for recording, and it epitomizes that no matter how much one likes to listen to music in the home, car, or gym, the concert hall is still the best place to witness this sort of spectacle. Having been at the premiere performance, I can attest to the sheer beauty and warmth this music has in this concert hall…musically speaking, Corigliano’s classical chops, such as his formidable skills at orchestration, really shine through in this piece. The loud sound masses and noise clusters are incredible, especially when coming from all over the concert hall. Not all composers are able to come up with such huge and rich timbres, especially with an ensemble completely devoid of strings, and yet this piece contains many sonically striking and sometimes shocking moments. Also, the two central slow and soft movements, “Night Music I” and “Night Music II”, are gorgeously orchestrated and wonderfully performed. Set on top of slowly changing drones and percussive webs, the music beautifully floats through the clarinets, horns, and flutes, evoking an evening song somewhere between Bartók and Crumb. The final movement of the work displays Corigliano’s command of classical voice leading and harmony. Called “Prayer”, this five minute chorale succeeds at offsetting the noisy and hectic music found throughout much of the rest of the piece and brings the work to its sonic and emotional climax…this piece and recording are still quite simply required listening for anyone interested in the concert band. The work’s enormous sonic pallet and artistic ambitions are something that more band composers should strive for, and hopefully this not only leads to more ambitious composition but also more ambitious commissions by wind ensembles. Furthermore, the performance by the Jerry Junkin and The University of Texas Wind Ensemble is just stellar. It is amazing to think that this is a college group. The ensemble playing is sharp, rhythmically tight, brilliantly in tune…and loud. Loud enough to be worthy of the title Circus Maximus.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

They threw humans to the lions in the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome, now the American composer John Corigliano throws our ears to the mercy of the massed wind groups gathered for his Third Symphony, composed in 2004. You would have to experience it in surround sound to feel the full impact of brass instruments which the composer requires to encircle the listener in the arena. There you smell excitement, murder and anything else the decadent Romans desired. Be prepared for sound shock waves in this sonic spectacular where your speakers will be dancing around the room. Corigliano updates those decadent days to the present time when television brings scenes of ever increasing human depravity, violence and humiliation, his eight sections including Channel Surfing and Night Music. It also pursues Corigliano’s quest to take classics to a wide audience, ditching extremes of modernism. The Gazebo Dances was first composed in 1972 for four-hand piano and later arranged as a suite for orchestra or concert band. It is a fun piece in four movements—Overture, Waltz, Adagio and Tarantella. The University of Texas Wind Ensemble comes from a college with an impressive record of supplying symphony orchestras and military bands with their brass players. They have been captured in the most vivid sound imaginable, the hologram sleeve cover being equally stunning. Give your equipment a treat.

The Buffalo News, February 2009

Of “Circus Maximus” composer John Corigliano says “Many of us have become as bemused by the violation and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as the mobs of imperial Rome, who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show.” The Roman allusion came second to Corigliano he says, because his first intention was to write a work “conceived spatially” and wondered “what dramatic premise would justify the encirclement of the audience by musicians?” Putting the audience in the position of encircled gladiators and lions in the ancient Roman Circus Maximus is what he came up with (the piece ends with a decidedly un-Roman gunshot). There’s no question, then, that this hugely eclectic and often violent musical collage from 2004 (everything from reminiscences of Bartók and Varese to Bernstein theater music) would be an entirely different piece if heard in a hall surrounded by a huge wind ensemble than it is here coming from two speakers. You do get an idea of the piece’s hallucinatory strength from the disc—and then some. Corigliano’s 1972 “Gazebo Dances” is almost the exact opposite of the large scale “Circus Maximus,” neo-classic nostalgia as opposed to “Circus’” visionary anger., February 2009

John Corigliano is something of a superstar among modern American composers. Corigliano, who turns 71 on February 16, has found a way to produce music that is uncompromisingly contemporary but still appealing to a wide enough audience so that it gets played repeatedly, in a variety of venues. This is no small accomplishment: even when a modern classical work gets programmed by an adventurous orchestra, it frequently gets only that one performance, or perhaps two, before being returned to the composer’s shelf. The appeal of Corigliano’s music is quite clear in the new recording of his Symphony No. 3, written in 2004 (following by three years his previous symphony, which was for strings alone and which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music). Circus Maximus is Corigliano’s first work written specifically for concert band, and it is highly impressive on multiple levels. It is spatially conceived—the band surrounds the audience—and includes eight sections played without pause. Corigliano fully exploits the unique sounds of which a concert band is capable: the work starts with trumpet and percussion fanfares, includes a saxophone quartet (in the concert hall, placed in the second-tier boxes), and comes across as a mixture of solemnity, social commentary (comparing contemporary American society with that of ancient Rome) and grand noise. In the third section, “Channel Surfing,” music constantly interrupts other music; in the fourth and fifth, both called “Night Music,” we first hear rural nighttime sounds and then hear the hectic noises of an urban area after dark; in the sixth movement, whose title is the same as that of the whole work, a band marches down the aisles while other performers play on stage and around the concert hall. The final two sections are prayerful and then, at the end, noisy (the work’s final sound is a gunshot). Circus Maximus begs to be recorded as an SACD, but the wonderful performance by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble under Jerry Junkin (who commissioned the work and to whom it is dedicated) sounds just grand in CD form. Jazz, hunting calls, circus music, many fanfares—all the elements come together and play against each other as Junkin and his ensemble dissect the work elegantly and put it back together beautifully. It’s quite a sonic experience. And the CD is filled out by Corigliano’s band arrangement of Gazebo Dances, originally a suite for piano four hands (and a work also arranged by the composer for orchestra). This is much simpler and more vivacious music than Circus Maximus, and complements the longer work nicely. The first movement has a Rossinian flavor; the second is a somewhat awkward waltz; the third, marked Adagio, is as expressive as the tempo indication implies; and the finale, a tarantella, is bright and bouncy. This is a top-notch CD that clearly shows why Corigliano is one modern American composer who has gained widespread popularity.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group