MOORHEAD — In its 33-year history, the Lake Agassiz Concert Band has played plenty of significant concerts, but perhaps none as important to the band and its members as this weekend's show at Horizon Middle School's Performing Arts Center.
On Sunday, Nov. 17, the band will perform the regional premiere of the "Ninth Symphony" under guest conductor and the work’s author, James Barnes.
“In my opinion, this is the biggest event our band has taken part in. I don’t ever remember bringing in a nationally known conductor. To be part of it start to finish is just a tremendous honor,” says Tyler Rebrovich, the band's president and a member for 20 years.
Sunday’s concert will be the culmination of about three years of work since the LACB committed to a joint commission for Barnes' final symphony. The band is among 25 organizations — mostly universities — that partnered for the commission.
Being part of the commission is one thing the group is excited about, but being able to work directly with the piece’s creator brings the excitement to a whole other level.
“The level of engagement of the performers and the connection with the composer conducting the piece, that experience will be unique. To see that pure connection from composers to players, that’s the exciting part,” says Monte Grisé, LACB’s musical director.
Grisé brought the idea of joining the commission to the band shortly after he joined the organization in 2016. He has been working with the band preparing for Barnes’ arrival and first rehearsal with the band on Friday, Nov. 15.
He’ll hand the baton over to Barnes then and is looking forward to watching the concert from the audience on Sunday.
“What I’m looking forward to is how much more he can bring out of them than I could,” he says. “I know it will be more than I could imagine.”
While Barnes may not be a household name, Grisé says he’s “an important figure” in band circles, pointing to “Yorkshire Ballad” as a popular piece with schools. Barnes has also composed pieces for various armed forces bands.
“To get invitations to write for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Bands, those are significant invitations,” Grisé says.
A big part of what makes Barnes appealing for bands is his ear for all instruments.
“He knows the characteristics of each instrument and gets them to work together,” Grisé says. “That’s the charm. That’s what I love about him.”
“He doesn’t just write for a certain instrument, he knows how to write for each individual instrument and how to make those sections sound good,” Rebrovich says.
Rebrovich, who plays euphonium, says he appreciates that Barnes himself plays lower brass, the tuba.
“He knows how to give them a line every once in a while. He knows how to give them melody. They’re not just backing up the rest of the band. It’s great to hear all of the voices,” he says.
He points out the LACB had to add instruments like harp, string bass and double bassoon to fill out for this work.
“There’s a lot of color instruments, things you don’t always hear in your average band piece,” he says.
LACB has played Barnes' music for years and last season performed a number of his in each concert to build buzz for Sunday’s show.
Grisé says that while there is no apparent larger theme to Barnes’ "Ninth Symphony" and each of the movements has distinctly different moods, each section reflects on another, creating a cohesive piece.
Barnes has said this will be his last symphony, though he will keep composing other works.
LACB doesn’t just get the experience of working with Barnes or playing a role in creating his final symphony. The band will be credited on future programs whenever the piece is performed, getting the organization’s name out there, showing people all over the world what the group is capable of.
Grisé says the process over the last few years and seeing how the musicians have been engaged has already made the experience a success. The organization plans for another commission, with Shelly Hanson, that will be ready in a couple of seasons.
He says the commission and Sunday’s concert are possible with help from groups like the FM Area Foundation and The Arts Partnership, and he wants the community to realize they have a stake in the event.
“I hope people experience this with us. We’re showing what we’re capable of at a high level,” Grisé says.
“It’s been a fun experience, start to finish, and the best is yet to come this week,” Rebrovich says.
If you go
What: Lake Agassiz Concert Band under guest conductor James Barnes
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17
Where: Performing Arts Center, Horizon Middle School, 3601 12th Ave. S., Moorhead
Info: Social to follow concert; all events are free and open to the public