The Eastman Wind Ensemble is America’s leading wind ensemble. Its core of about 50 performers includes undergraduate and graduate students of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.
Frederick Fennell first formulated the general concept of the wind ensemble at Eastman more than 50 years ago. Under his leadership the group became known as the pioneering force in the symphonic wind band movement in the United States and abroad. A. Clyde Roller served as conductor between 1962 and 1964, continuing the tradition established by Fennell. Donald Hunsberger became conductor in 1965 and led the ensemble for 37 years to international prominence. The ensemble’s current director, Mark Davis Scatterday, was introduced as the fourth conductor of this prestigious group during the EWE’s 50th anniversary celebration on February 8, 2002.
Ever since its founding, the EWE has been in the forefront elevating the wind repertory through recordings. Fennell’s Mercury Recording albums of the 1950s and early ’60s are notable for their pioneering use of binaural, stereo, and 35mm recording techniques. These “Living Presence” recordings focused on standard band literature by the most respected classical composers — heard for the first time in the newly balanced instrumentation. They also centered on major repertory not found on traditional band programs, such as Hindemith’s Symphony in B-flat, Schoenberg’s Theme and Variations, op. 43a, and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments.
Under Hunsberger, the EWE continued its progressive stance in recording techniques with participation in quadraphonic and digital recording on the Deutsche Grammophon, Phillips, CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical), Toshiba EMI, Tioch (now KEF), Vox, Centaur, and Desto labels. The album Carnaval, a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis, was nominated for a Grammy award in 1987 and reintroduced the public to an entire tradition of cornet showpieces for band. Other Sony Classical releases have featured new transcriptions of Bach organ works by Hunsberger, as well as contemporary works. One of the featured pieces on the Live from Osaka album was Joseph Schwantner’s … and the mountains rising nowhere, a work that has become representative of the ensemble’s approach to new music, adventurous tone colors, and innovative compositional techniques. Since its founding, the ensemble has premiered more than 150 new works.
In 1968 the group traveled cross-country, giving a series of concerts that culminated in a performance for the General Session of the MENC (National Association for Music Education) conference in Seattle. The ensemble made subsequent MENC appearances in 1987 and 1996. In 1976, the EWE performed at the College Band Directors National Association National Convention, and in 1978 embarked on a tour of Japan and Southeast Asia. In addition, the release of the 1987 Carnaval disc was followed by a tour with Marsalis to Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and New York.
The Eastman Wind Ensemble celebrated its 50th anniversary in February 2002 with a conference of international scope on the wind ensemble and its music. The conference included the premiere of a new work from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Bernard Rands. The anniversary also coincided with the release of a multi-CD set of recordings compiled by Warner Brothers from sessions in Japan and Rochester over the last several years
Between 1990 and 2004, the EWE has embarked on seven summer tours of Japan. These trips have been sponsored by Eastman Kodak and Sony Music Foundation, and have focused on demonstrating Eastman performance techniques and showcasing original works of the repertory. Several of Hunsberger’s Wind Library publications originated as pieces specifically transcribed for these tours, as each tour also featured special arrangements by Hunsberger and Scatterday to display the capabilities of the Ensemble.
The most recent Japan tour in 2004 began a new era for the EWE under the direction of Mark Scatterday and included several performances in Taiwan and China. This Asian tour featured trumpet soloist, James Thompson, as the ensemble recorded concertos by Dana Wilson, Eric Ewazen and Jacques Hetu (Danzante, released on Summit Records in 2006). Also in 2005, Scatterday and the ensemble performed at Carnegie Hall as part of CBDNA’s National Conference on February 26th, featuring music by Karel Husa, Roberto Sierra, David Maslanka and Jeff Tyzik. The ensemble’s latest recording entitled Manhattan Music with the Canadian Brass was released in 2008 on Opening Day Records with ArchivMusic.