Classical concert goes to the winds
'Gone With the Winds" is a catchy title for a concert, yet the Sunday program presented by the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings has nothing to do with the 1939 film "Gone With the Wind," or the book that spawned it.
Instead, the "winds" merely refers to the concert's emphasis on woodwind instruments — with the French horn playing an important role, as well, in the hands of Gail Williams, a former Chicago Symphony Orchestra hornist who has since carved out a career as a soloist and teacher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
The Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, whose members are culled mostly from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan Opera Theatre Orchestra, will also import another Northwestern pedagogue, Mallory Thompson, to conduct the performance. Thompson is a music professor and coordinator of conducting at the university. In addition, she conducts the school's Symphonic Wind Ensemble and, outside the university, she's artistic director of the Chicago-area Northshore Concert Band.
Thompson is no stranger to this state, though. "My first teaching job was in Michigan, at Alma College," she says.
She was trained as a trumpeter — "I loved playing trumpet in orchestra, in jazz band and in concert band," she notes — but the discovery of her enthusiasm for conducting put a mute on a trumpet career.
A Minneapolis native, Thompson says her upcoming concert here has a strong German/Austrian bent with music by Beethoven, Stamitz, Hindemith and Schubert, along with selections from "Miniatures," a world-premiere piece for wind quintet by the young American composer and clarinetist Theo Chandler.
"It's from a set of 24 miniatures in all the major and minor keys, and I'm happy to showcase a young, emerging composer," Thompson says.
The centerpiece of the program, though, is Stamitz's "Concerto for Horn and Winds," with Williams taking the solo spotlight.
"It's an arrangement of a Stamitz cello concerto by Verne Reynolds, the former horn teacher at the Eastman School of Music," explains Thompson, who earned her doctorate at Eastman.
"It's a very lyrical piece that translates beautifully to the horn," she adds.
Another Reynolds arrangement is Schubert's "Little Symphony for Winds."
"Originally these were piano pieces that he made into a delightful chamber work for winds," the conductor says.
Rounding out the program are two works by Beethoven: his "Rondino," scored for wind octet, and "Fidelio Overture," as well as Hindemith's "Canonic Sonatina for Two Flutes," written in 1923.
Thompson calls it "a privilege" to have been invited to conduct so many U.S. military ensembles, including those of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
"It's a thrill to play with my peers, but I also get to make music with so many of my former students who are now in those organizations," she says.
But Thompson laughs at the suggestion that the military should place an honorary "Major" title before her name.
"No, they haven't bestowed a rank on me," she says. "Not yet, anyway."
George Bulanda is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.
'Gone With the Winds'
3 p.m. Sunday (concert preview at 2:15 p.m.)
in the refectory at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church
1340 W. Long Lake
Tickets $25 general, $22 seniors, $10 students