The Peabody Wind Ensemble’s first conductor was Dr. Richard Higgins. At the beginning of his tenure the ensemble was called the Peabody Band. At the beginning of the academic year 1962 – 1963, the ensemble became the Peabody Wind Ensemble and was considered by many to be on the same level as the Eastman Wind Ensemble, but simply lacked their publicity. Following the retirement of Dr. Higgins in 1984, the ensemble was taken over by Gene Young, who led it through the remainder of that decade.
Dr. Harlan Parker was hired in 1990 as a Music Education faculty member and was given the charge to revitalize the Peabody Wind Ensemble (PWE). The first plan was to perform a chamber concert, but because of higher than anticipated enrollment a full band concert was planned. The ensemble gave three concerts the first year, and the Peabody Wind Ensemble began its climb back into the mainstream of fine wind bands throughout the country. The basic philosophy of the Peabody Wind Ensemble was to provide an ensemble that utilizes rotational seating, orchestral-style playing, one per part (doubling clarinets, euphoniums and tubas for balance and depending on the type of piece performed) and incorporating chamber music into the concerts. Even though there may be up to 80 members of the PWE, the actual number on stage depends on the composition’s requirements.
During the second year of the Peabody Wind Ensemble’s revitalization, they performed at the Maryland Music Educators Conference in several capacities. The PWE accompanied the All-State Chorus, gave a featured concert performance and served as the ensemble for a conducting clinic. Also during the second season, the Peabody Wind Ensemble began incorporating chamber winds into the concerts. Taking the traditional wind ensemble approach, some concerts were split between chamber winds and large ensemble band works.
The first world premiere for the Peabody Wind Ensemble came in December 1992 with D. Mark McCoy’s Symphony for Salem. This composition was well received and started the trend and notoriety for the ensemble as being a champion of quality new music for wind band. Since that time, the Peabody Wind Ensemble has given more than 15 world or American premieres and has been working to promote high quality wind band music.
As the Peabody Wind Ensemble developed its own identity and sound, it also became known for performing literature that is considered among the “standards” of the repertoire. It is this combination of new and old that has helped the PWE develop and maintain a strong audience base and reputation as one of the premiere ensembles of its kind in the nation.
The Peabody Wind Ensemble served as a clinic ensemble for the 1996 Conductors Guild conducting workshop that was hosted by the Peabody Conservatory, and performed for the opening General Session of the Eastern MENC conference in 1997. The ensemble was so well received with numerous requests for recordings that the Director of the Institute, Robert Sirota, arranged for the ensemble to receive a generous grant to record its first CD, From an Antique Land.
From an Antique Land was recorded during the 1997 – 1998 season, and featured Martin Butler’s composition of the same title, the Hindemith Symphony in B-flat and Johan de Meij‘s Symphony No. 2, The Big Apple. This CD was recorded, edited and mastered at the Peabody Conservatory in conjunction with the Peabody Recording Arts Department. At that time, the label Music from Peabody was created, and distribution was sought for the recording.
The following (1998 – 1999) season marked the beginning of the “Chamber Winds” portion of the PWE concert series. This added two more concerts to the season, bringing the total to six. The Chamber Winds are made up of the principal players of the PWE, and these concerts are routinely performed with four two-hour rehearsals. The addition of these two concerts also altered the rehearsal sequence for the larger ensemble, giving it nine to ten two-hour rehearsals. By utilizing separate concerts dedicated to chamber winds, more of the large ensemble literature was programmed on the other four concerts.
After two seasons of becoming accustomed to the more rigorous rehearsal schedule, the second CD was recorded and released. Orff, Bird and Reed, has maintained the standard set by the first CD, and in many ways surpassed that standard. La Fiesta Mexicana composer, H. Owen Reed writes, “I have just listened, twice, to your brilliant recording of my La Fiesta Mexicana, and I must tell you that it was a thrill to hear my music performed exactly as I always hoped for. Your total understanding of the work showed up on all parameters. Your tempos were ‘on the mark,’ and the overall conception of the work was superb.”
The 2001 – 2002 season marked the recording of the third PWE CD, which is in production, and also the release of Johan de Meij’s Venetian Collection on the Amstel Classics label. Johan was our guest for the recording of the first two movements, guest conducted the ensemble at the Friedberg Hall concert, presented a session on composing for wind band at the Maryland Music Educators Association with the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble as the clinic ensemble and guest conducted on the performance at the Maryland Music Educators Association.
During the 2003 – 2004 season, the ensemble premiered several new works, including a symphony by Peabody alumnus, David Gaines, inspired by the life of the legendary Afghan resistance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, and written in cooperation with the Embassy of Afghanistan. There were over 80 dignitaries in attendance, including the Vice-President of Afghanistan, diplomats and ambassadors, with the narrator, the Afghan Ambassador to Japan, Haron Amin, coming from Tokyo.
In August of 2006, the Orff, Bird, and Reed CD was re-released on the Naxos label, and is available on Amazon.com and iTunes.. During the 2006 – 2007 school year, the Peabody Wind Ensemble will be a part of Peabody’s 150th year anniversary and will be giving five world premiere performances and feature composers who have been or currently are affiliated with the Peabody Wind Ensemble.
In the years since its reorganization, the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble has given world premiere performances, accompanied a hip-hop artist, performed multimedia compositions, appeared at state, regional and national conferences, recorded CDs, accompanied world class soloists and has been complimented by composers such as David Amram, James Syler, Eric Ewazen, H. Owen Reed and Johan de Meij. The future is bright for the Peabody Wind Ensemble. Expect the same level of performance, excitement and innovation in the years to come.