David Maslanka is probably one of the biggest names in band music today, with Ticheli, Mackey, and Whitacre (who is by far, the most handsome, maybe the most attractive serious musician ever, but I digress). But I think he is the closest thing the band world has to a Beethoven, or a Mahler. Most other band composers these days seem to write remarkably similar, banal music. Music that could only exist in the concert band world. But Maslanka’s music is so much more deep and more like real music. His 9 symphonies (7 for band), in my opinion, stand up to any other composer’s.
So what is this guy’s deal? Well, first off, and maybe most importantly, he is seriously into meditation and Zen Buddhism. Why is that a big deal? It greatly influences his composing. Most of his music discards traditional forms, instead opting for a free stream of music, which is highly improvisational in nature. Ideas just flow out, naturally. That’s another big thing with Maslanka: Not forcing the music.
Another big thing with Maslanka are the 371 Bach Chorales. Many of his works are inspired by, or contain one of the chorales, or chorale melodies. He doesn’t just re-harmonize them, or just restate them. He uses them as starting points for his compositions. For example, his the last movement of his 9th Symphony is entitled “Fantasia on O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” The recording I have of it lasts 39:52. That is the longest single movement that I know of. It is large, but most of it is quite and meditative. There are often long stretches in his music where nothing is really happening, but there is just this kind of sonic thing going on. This goes back to the previous thing. The music happens organically, there is no force in it. The music is free to do what it wants, and it often wants to meditate.
He is also a master of the band, as far as orchestration goes. I would put him up there with Mahler, and Strauss as far as orchestration goes. He is not afraid to push every instrument to it’s absolute limit, and to use less than common instruments. He makes great use of the saxophone family, which is a cause of great joy to me. Maslanka also writes the dopest percussion parts. At one point in his 8th Symphony, the winds are playing a big chorale type thing, while the marimba and xylophone are going positively insane. It’s awesome. There’s a lot of color.
Suggested listening: My personal fav. symphony is No. 2. No.4 may be the most popular, judging by number of performances on youtube/itunes. Both are great and you can’t go wrong. There are a couple of versions of No. 8 as well. If ever in doubt, and if possible, go with the Illinois State recordings. They have commissioned/premiered a bunch of his works. A Child’s Garden of Dreams is also really good. My first experience with Maslanka was his lighter “Rollo Takes A Walk.” I will say though, everything he has written is great.
Now I’ll let him explain himself. BTW, I love his sweater.