Classical Music

Sailing The Wine-Dark Sea With Composer John Mackey

John Mackey talks about his symphony for band inspired by The Odyssey, as well as his compositional process, what music he listens to, and his cat.

Composer John Mackey
Composer John Mackey

“My wife and I collaborate on all of the pieces that I write, and in this case she suggested that because this was a large thirty-minute piece, I should base it on the original epic story, which was The Odyssey by Homer that’s thousands of years old,” says composer John Mackey about his symphony for band: Wine-Dark Sea.

Mackey is widely known in the concert band world, and he has a large repertory of works for that ensemble with pieces like the sultry Redline Tango to the hopeful and bright Aurora Awakes. One of the things that appeals to him about concert band literature is that “most ensembles are university-based, [and] they have so much rehearsal time!”

And all of that rehearsal time over a number of weeks, multiple times per week, culminates in a performance of Wine-Dark Sea by the Moores School Wind Ensemble this Friday. As mentioned above, this symphony for band (commissioned and premiered by Jerry Junkin and the University of Texas Wind Ensemble in 2014) is a programmatic representation of The Odyssey, with three movements (I. Hubris; II. Immortal thread, so weak; and III. The attentions of souls) that represent portions of Odysseus’ journey back home after the Trojan War.

That concert takes place this Friday at 7:30 PM at the University of Houston’s Moores Opera House. Hear my full conversation with John Mackey above, in which we talk about how he approaches his music, what other music he enjoys (from country music to Bernstein), and even a little bit about his cat Loki!

Excerpts featured in this segment are Wine-Dark Sea (Mackey) performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble with conductor Jerry Junkin (Reference Recordings 137), Symphony No. 3 (Mahler) performed by the Vienna Philharmonic with conductor Pierre Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon 474038), Chichester Psalms (Bernstein) performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with the Vienna Boys’ Choir and conductor Leonard Bernstein (Deutsche Grammophon 463462), and Harmonielehre (Adams) performed by the San Francisco Symphony with conductor Edo de Waart (Nonesuch 79115).

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