Wind Ensemble debuts Assistant Professor Zachary Cairns’ modern take on a classic

UMSL Wind Ensemble

The UMSL Wind Ensemble will debut “Refracted Moonlight,” a new composition by Assistant Professor Zachary Cairns, at its concert Wednesday, March 5, at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A University of Missouri–St. Louis music professor will debut his latest composition not far from home.

UMSL’s Wind Ensemble will debut “Refracted Moonlight,” an original composition by Assistant Professor Zachary Cairns in a concert Wednesday at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The piece is inspired by Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” but is a more modern take on the classic piano composition, expanded with parts for the entire wind ensemble.

“It’s one of those pieces that is painfully beautiful,” Cairns said of “Clair de Lune.” “I wanted to see how I could manipulate what Debussy was doing and recast it in a different language, through a different lens.”

Cairns began working on the composition last summer after casually studying the Debussy piece. He loved the melodies and harmonies of the original, but was also interested in crafting a more modern version.

“As I started going through it, I started seeing a lot of motives and ideas and that kind of got my brain going in a different direction,” Cairns said. My version is a lot more aggressive and energetic and less subdued.”

The ensemble works with composers and new music as often as possible, but rarely does it get to premiere a work by its own faculty, said Gary Brandes, director of bands and associate teaching professor of music. Cairns’ work is innovative in that it blends the gentle tune with more modern musical ideas.

“It’s not just another version of the tune,” Brandes said. “This one grabs you by the throat and makes you listen. It’s a fresh take on it.”

The piece also challenges the students as musicians, Brandes said.

“For me, someone charged with exposing folks to really good music, this is what I’m looking for,” Brandes said.

“Refracted Moonlight” has created excitement among the Wind Ensemble’s 50 members, said percussionist Steven Kruszka. The new piece places more emphasis on percussion than most older classical music does, he said.

“Usually, we play the same snare drum lick five times,” Kruszka, a senior, said. “But we’re actually reading some notes this time. It’s got some stuff that actually intimidated me at parts.”

The UMSL Wind Ensemble will perform at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The concert is free.

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