New Recording with U.S. Coast Guard Band Returns Fuchs to Musical Roots

Two great forces in Connecticut music meet on a new recording of compositions by UConn's Kenneth Fuchs performed by the U.S. Coast Guard Band.

Ken Fuchs, professor of music, teaches a class on music arranging for music educators at the Music Building on March 12, 2019

Ken Fuchs, professor of music, teaches a class on music arranging for music educators at the Music Building on March 12, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The newest recording of works by Kenneth Fuchs, professor of music composition, is a collaboration with the United States Coast Guard Band that returns the Grammy-winning composer to the roots of his musical composition.

Point of Tranquility: Band Music of Kenneth Fuchs” features seven works for symphonic winds performed by the 55-member U.S. Coast Guard Band, which is based at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, under the baton of Commander Adam Williamson. The recording is a major release by Naxos, the largest classical music label.

Writing in Gramophone, the London-based classical music magazine, critic Gary Richards said, “This disc is as engaging, well performed and brightly recorded a programme of wind band music as I have encountered… I have not encountered the U.S. Coast Guard Band before but on the evidence of this disc they are a formidably virtuoso ensemble.”

Kenneth Fuchs, professor of music composition, and U.S. Coast Guard Band conductor Commander Adam Williamson (contributed photo).

The U.S. Coast Guard Band has performed at some of the most prestigious venues in the nation, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, as well as internationally.

“My first exposure to musical composition was through band music, starting when my high school band director, Bentley Shellahamer, encouraged me to compose original music for band,” says Fuchs, whose fifth Naxos recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, “Piano Concerto: Spiritualist,” won the 2018 Grammy for Best Classical Compendium. “My graduate studies in composition at The Juilliard School were with Vincent Persichetti, one of America’s leading symphonists, who composed an enduring body of works for band. Throughout my career I have composed band works in various forms; this recording features a selection of these works.”

Williamson says a recording collaboration between Fuchs and the U.S. Coast Guard Band was a natural partnership because several members of the ensemble are adjunct faculty in UConn’s Department of Music, including Brooke Allen (bassoon), Greg Case (saxophone), Sean Nelson (trombone), James Jackson (euphonium), Robert McEwan (percussion) and Megan Sesma (harp).

Before becoming director, Williamson was a saxophonist when the ensemble performed Fuchs’s “Rush” with Case as soloist in 2012. Upon taking the baton to lead the band, Williamson established the “American Composers Series,” which showcases music from the United States.

“ ‘Music by Ken Fuchs’ was the first CD we put together,” says Williamson, who earned a degree in music at the State University of New York at Potsdam and studied conducting at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. “I just remember being fascinated by his music. It was such a unique voice, something that I hadn’t heard before for band. It was just compelling music. When I was later named director and thinking where’s my passion going to take me?, recording American music was right at the forefront of that. Ken immediately came to mind. It just all just made sense.”

Fuchs often finds inspiration for his compositions in the world of art, beginning from his days as a graduate student at Juilliard, when he established a decades-long friendship with abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler that continued until her death in 2011. Her paintings often appear on the covers of Fuchs’ recordings. Writing a new work for the U.S. Coast Guard Band, the composer thought of the painting “Point of Tranquility,” by Morris Louis, an abstract expressionist inspired by Frankenthaler who was a founding member of the Washington Color School movement in the mid-20th century.

“I was thinking about the gorgeous location of the Coast Guard Academy, right on the Thames River in New London,” Fuchs says. “The thought of looking out to the horizon, that kind of point of tranquility; it all came together in my mind. It was a visual image and inspired by what I knew Adam could do with this kind of music.”

Performing a composition written for the U.S. Coast Guard Band was a unique experience for the ensemble, Williamson says.

“I haven’t been on the front end of having works written, so I am so grateful that Ken wrote that for us,” he says. “It’s just that musical language that he is able to present and capture on paper that is then captured by our amazing Coast Guard Band musicians. It was such a thrill. I’m not really sure how else to comment on that experience; to get an original work from Ken Fuchs that encapsulates just that glorious sound that nobody else has and to be the first to look at those pages.”

The compositions on “Point of Tranquility: Band Music of Kenneth Fuchs” include:

· “Discover the Wild,” a three-part overture dedicated to Shellahamer.
· “Point of Tranquility,” inspired by the Louis painting of the same name, which begins with a series of muted brass chord progressions that emerge from a hushed texture to set the sonic tone of the work.
· “From the Field to the Sky,” a work in three sections that is a celebratory work for brass and percussion.
· “Rush (Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Band” a two movement work with an extended cadenza for the saxophone soloist performed by Case.
· “United Artists” celebrates the vibrant sounds inherent in the wind medium.
· “Christina’s World,” inspired by the Andrew Wyeth painting of the same title. It includes a theme sung by flute, oboe and muted trumpet and a chorale presented by the cor anglais, French horn, baritones and tubas.
· “Forever Free” was composed for the sesquicentennial of the State of West Virginia.

More information about “Point of Tranquility: Band Music of Kenneth Fuchs” can be found here.