A new era for Sacramento Symphonic Winds

The 60-strong ensemble debuts its 18th season at a brand new venue

Photo courtesy of Marjorie Lehr

Check out the Sacramento Symphonic Winds’ opening concert, “American Tapestries,” 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13. Tickets are $10-$15. Children through eighth grade get in free. For show info, visit sacwinds.org or call (916) 489-2576.
Gregg Wager is a local composer, music critic and author.

You probably know John Philip Sousa. In 1987, Congress designated the late American composer’s tune, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” as the country’s official national march anthem. Sousa’s compositions are among some the most well-known of the early 20th century and a fixture on July Fourth.

While march music is often accompanied by a parade and fireworks, hearing it performed indoors can still provide the hoopla and razzle-dazzle.

On Sunday, the Sacramento Symphonic Winds opens its 18th season with a program that includes a familiar Sousa march, but also seven other highly introspective works. The semi-professional ensemble also play a brand new venue this year: the El Camino High School Center for the Arts, a 500-seat community center that opened last December.

“We’re thrilled to finally be performing in a real concert hall and not a hotel ballroom,” says Timothy Smith, who begins his fourth season as the group’s music and artistic director after a 22-year career as a music professor at California State University, East Bay. The baton was passed to him by founding conductor Lester Lehr, who retired in 2016 and performs in the band as a trombonist.

Among the eight pieces in the opening program, titled “American Tapestries,” the most curious is the second movement of an elaborate symphony by veteran film orchestrator Ira Hearshen (Rush Hour, A Bug’s Life, Romeo Must Die). The piece plays upon the slowly creeping “trio” melody in Sousa’s famous “The Thunderer” march.

Hearing the movement is an opportunity to appreciate a deceptively complex genre.

“Hearshen really ruminates on one melodic fragment from where the change of key occurs in ’The Thunderer,’ and brings out its similarity to the slow movement in Mahler’s 3rd Symphony,” Smith explains. “He’s doing this on purpose to make a comparison he’s hearing in his head. It takes someone with a good ear to hear it and appreciate it.”

The evening also features music by other American classical composers, including Frank Techeli, Norman Dello Joio and Robert Litton.

Originally, the players who form the core of the Sacramento Symphonic Winds morphed out of other ensembles, some of which eventually disbanded and fused back together.

The 18th season promises several collaborations with other organizations, including Rio Americano and Placer high schools, but most notable are the four concerts at the new venue. The new space should give the Sacramento Symphonic Winds plenty of room to experiment with programming and commissioning new works.

The winter concert in December is titled “From Words, Music” with instrumental arrangements of familiar songs, and the spring concert in March is called “A Universe of Sounds.” The final concert in May features music by mostly female composers, called “Her-story.”

“Because we’re not a pops group,” Smith says, “our mission keeps us programming new works along with appreciation of older, lesser known works.”