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From Great Lakes to Great Wall

By Rachel Francisco

The University of Michigan Symphony Band, under the direction of Michael Haithcock, will tour China May 8-27. The tour unofficially kicks off with a bon voyage concert 8 p.m. Thursday, May 5 at Hill Auditorium.

The concert is free and open to the public.

Music performed on the tour will feature familiar classics, American standards, and new works composed for the tour by four of U-M’s award-winning composition faculty — William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Kristin Kuster and Bright Sheng.  Solo performances by U-M alum violinist Xiang Gao and by the current students who make up the Donald Sinta Saxophone Quartet highlight the outstanding quality of the students of U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The U-M Symphony Band, comprised of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, is considered one of the leaders of the modern wind band movement in America. Professional levels of performance combined with the highest standards in repertoire are its hallmarks. Hailed for its “breathtaking precision and detailed, polished, and expressive phrasing,” (American Record Guide) the Symphony Band will bring its artistry to Hangzhou, Shanghai, Xi’an, Shenyang, Beijing and Tianjin.

The tour concludes with a “welcome home” performance presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Sunday, May 29th with an event presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.  The 2011 tour marks the 50th anniversary of the historic 1961 U-M Symphony Band tour of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Additional information about the U-M Symphony Band can be viewed at

About Conductor Michael Haithcock

Michael Haithcock assumed his duties as Director of Bands and Professor of Music (conducting) at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2001, after twenty-three years on the faculty of Baylor University in Texas. Following in the footsteps of William D. Revelli and H. Robert Reynolds, Professor Haithcock conducts the U-M Symphony Band; guides the acclaimed graduate band and wind ensemble conducting program; and provides administrative leadership for all aspects of the University of Michigan’s diverse and historic bands program. Beyond the University of Michigan, Haithcock is in demand as a guest conductor and expert for symposiums and workshops in a variety of instructional settings, including festivals and all-state assemblies around the country.

Additional information about Maestro Michael Haithcock can be viewed at

About violin soloist Xiang Gao

The tour features violinist Xiang Gao who is considered to be one of the world’s most successful violinists from China. A U-M alum, he teaches at the University of Delaware, and is the Zhijiang Professor at the East China Normal University in Shanghai.   Xiang Gao is cited by the New York Times as ” a rare and soulful virtuoso”. He has soloed with the top professional orchestras and for many world leaders.  His musical integrity, virtuoso technique, and exciting performances have gained accolades from audiences and reviewers around the world.

Additional information about Xiang Gao can be viewed at

About the repertoire written by University of Michigan faculty

Repertoire for the concert tour features works written or arranged for the tour by four University of Michigan award winning faculty, William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, Kristin Kuster and Bright Sheng.  The four works, Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet and Band, Lost Vegas, Two Jades and Shanghai Overture, will enjoy their Chinese and West Coast premieres as part of the tour.

William Bolcom, Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet and Band

Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, and honored with multiple Grammy Awards for his ground-breaking setting of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Bolcom, Professor Emeritus of Composition, is a composer of cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas, symphonies, and much more.  He has also been awarded a Pulizter Prize and the National Medal of Arts.

Concerto Grosso was written for the PRISM Saxophone Quartet purely as a piece to be enjoyed by performers and listeners.  The work evokes the blues, bebop and rhythm-and-blues.

Michael Daugherty, Lost Vegas

One of the most performed American composers of his generation, and hailed by The Times (London) as “a master icon maker” with a “maverick imagination, fearless structural sense and meticulous ear”, Michael Daugherty, Professor of Composition, first came to international attention in the 1990s with a series of witty, dark-humored, brilliantly-scored pieces inspired by 20th-century pop-culture phenomena. Recent works have shown a broadening of expressive range and lyricism, with increasing musical subtlety and elegance of orchestration.  His idiom bears the stamp of classic modernism, with colliding tonalities and blocks of sound; at the same time, his melodies can be eloquent and stirring.  His Metropolis Symphony garnered three 2011 Grammy Awards, including Classical Composition of the Year.

Lost Vegas is a musical homage to bygone days in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, recalling the enormous neon signs punctuating the “Strip,” promoting casinos and hotels ruled by the underworld, and the massive marquees trumpeting performances by pop music legends such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis.

Kristin Kuster, Two Jades

Composer  Kristin Kuster, Assistant Professor of Composition, “writes commandingly for the orchestra,” and her music “has an invitingly tart edge” (New York Times).  Kuster’s music takes inspiration from architectural space, the weather, and mythology. Her music has received support from such organizations as the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Sons of Norway, American Composers Orchestra, the League of American Orchestras, Meet The Composer, the Jerome Foundation, the American Composers Forum, American Opera Projects, the National Flute Association, and the Argosy Foundation.

The inspiration for Two Jades came from a visit to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. At the base of one case are two jade objects: a bi (circle) disc and a cong (square) tube, which date back to the Stone Age in China; yet their original meaning, names, and functions are unknown. The cong is described as a symbol of earth, and the bi as a symbol of sky, or afterworld. The two jade bi and cong objects evoked a compelling sense of two-ness: two objects, symbols of earth and sky; mother and father; the lives and deaths of the composers’ parents; U-M students experiencing a foreign culture, and the gift from that culture of listening to our students perform; and esteemed U-M alumnus, violinist Xiang Gao, coupled with the  Symphony Band.

Bright Sheng, Shanghai Overture

Bright Sheng, the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished Professor of Composition, is widely regarded as one of the foremost composers of our time, with stage, orchestra, chamber, and vocal works performed regularly throughout the world.  A MacArthur Genius Grant winner, he has been called “a fresh voice in cross-over cultural music”.  His works draw from late 20th century contemporary classical movements as well as the folk music of his native China and the surrounding Silk Road region.

Shanghai Overture was written in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the composer’s alma mater.  The work takes the techniques of the neo-Classical style and applies them to traditional Chinese folk music.

Tour performance schedule:

May 5               Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

May 11            Zhejiang University, Hangzhou

May 13            Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai

May 15            Shanghai Grand Theatre, Shanghai

May 17            Xi’an Concert Hall, Xi’an

May 19            Liaoning University, Shenyang

May 20            Shenyang Normal University, Shenyang

May 22            National Center for the Performing Arts, Beijing

May 23            Tianjin Concert Hall, Tianjin

May 24            Renmin University, Beijing

May 29            Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California, USA

Additional information about the tour can be viewed at

PHOTOS: Top — National Center for the Performing arts; middle — Xian Concert Hall; and, bottom — Shanghai Grand Theatre.