Is Band Really Better? Karel Husa

Is Band Really Better? Karel Husa

Karel Husa
Photo Courtesy G. Schirmer/ Associated Music Publishers

I have worked as a conductor with bands and orchestras—I have conducted the Cornell University Orchestra for over 25 years—but I would say there’s not much difference really between these two worlds. I guess that the status of an orchestra is still somehow more important than a band, but I don’t think it’s true. Orchestras have become professional and the wind ensemble groups are not. Also, people have to pay to get into the concert of an orchestra, while bands play for free. But, while there are great virtuosi in orchestras and we have magnificent orchestra concerts, that doesn’t mean that the bands don’t play as well or that band performances could not be as good as an orchestra’s.

I was surprised when I came here to the United States and listened to bands. The bands were looking for new music at that time. I think it started after the Second World War that the conductors of bands tried to get more repertory. Today so much new music is written for bands; this didn’t exist 30 years ago. I taught composition and I was saying to composers, “Write for band and they will play it.” The orchestras are still more interested in conserving Beethoven and Brahms, but the bands don’t have these composers. The orchestra has had an incredible repertory for 300 years. Because the winds don’t have as much repertory, the players in the wind ensemble are a little more grateful for new music than the orchestra.

When I wrote Music for Prague 1968 for band, I didn’t think of it as a band. I was commissioned by a band, but I thought I would write exactly the same as I would for an orchestra but for a community of wind players. And, in the beginning, my music was a little bit more difficult for bands because I didn’t know how to write for band. I didn’t know much music written for bands although Frank Battisti had shown me some scores. (I was a string player myself—I played violin.) For me, writing for band is as challenging as writing for orchestra.

The reason I later re-orchestrated Music for Prague 1968 for symphony orchestra was that in Europe this piece wouldn’t have been performed with band. I don’t have the exact numbers, but according my publisher AMP/G. Schirmer, for every ten performances of Music for Prague in America, nine are with bands, and only one with orchestra.

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