FINNishing touches Symphonic Wind Ensemble


october 19th, 7 p.m.


A Requiem in Our Time (1953)

Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)

Douglas Tiller, graduate assistant conductor

I. Hymnus

II. Credo et dubito

III. Dies irae

IV. Lacrimosa


In 1954, Finnish composer Einouhani Rautavaara won the Thor Johnson Contest with his A Requiem in Our Time, which propelled him to international fame and earned him scholarships to continue his musical studies at Juilliard and Tanglewood. His early style, in which A Requiem was composed, is largely neoclassical.

“I was still a student at the Sibelius Academy when I wrote this ‘breakthrough work’ that won an international composition competition in Cincinnati. The work is not a collective and apocalyptic 'Requiem for our time’, as the title has sometimes been rendered. It is in fact a very personal work dedicated to my mother, who died during the war; it explores the borderline between belief and doubt and concludes more in sorrow than in declamation. The ensemble prescribed for the competition -- four horns and trumpets, three trombones, baritone horn, tuba and percussion -- was so new and strange for me at that stage in my development that I still wonder at how confident the instrumental writing is."

- quote from the composer

“The Bride Arrives”

from South Ostrabothnian Suite No. 2, Op. 20 (1912)

Toivo Kuula (1883-1918)

Arr. by Robert J. Ambrose

Premiere performance


Toivo Kuula was a Finnish composer and conductor of the late-Romantic and early-modern periods, who emerged in the wake of Jean Sibelius. Kuula was born in the Vehkakoski village of the Alavus town. He showed talent early on but did not begin serious studies until 1900, when he enrolled at the Helsinki Music Institute. Kuula became Sibelius’s first composition student and was known as a colorful and passionate portrayer of Finnish nature and people.

Kuula composed two South Ostrabothnian suites. The second comprises five movements, the first of which, titled “The Bride Arrives” is a magnificent flourish. In 2019, Robert J. Ambrose transcribed this movement for wind band, dedicating it to Jari Eskola, the then head of Fennica Gehrman Music Publishers of Finland and a strong supporter of Ambrose.

The White Reindeer Suite (1952)

Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970)

arr. by Petri Juuna

I. Prelude

II. Tunturi

III. Reindeer Race

IV. Funeral March

V. Finale

this suite

Perhaps the most important symphonist since Sibelius, Einar Englund was a native Swedish speaker who often felt that his career was sidelines from the mainstream of Finnish music. He began studies at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki at the age of 17. Englund’s first work for large orchestra was his First Symphony (1946) which became known as the “War Symphony.” Englund’s use of dissonance and orchestration of singular clarity reveals a master at work. His Second Symphony soon followed.

In 1949, Englund was awarded a grant to study composition with Aaron Copland in the United States. It has been suggested that Englund’s study with Copland consisted primarily of discussions about music, Copland having realized that there was little he could teach the younger man. Throughout the 1950’s Englund produced a series of large-scale works including the ballet Sinuhe (1953), Odysseus (1959), a cello concerto (1954) and a piano concerto (1955). During his career he composed the music for over twenty films.

The White Reindeer is a 1952 Finnish drama film directed by Erik Blomberg. It was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of a newly wed woman who goes to a local shaman to help her marriage but instead gets turned into a white reindeer vampire. Englund’s score won a Jussi Award (the Finnish equivalent of an Oscar) for best film score.

Sheltering Sky (2012)

John Mackey (b. 1970)


The wind band medium has, in the twenty-first century, a host of disparate styles that dominate its texture. At the core of its contemporary development exist a group of composers who dazzle with scintillating and frightening virtuosity. As such, at first listening one might experience John Mackey’s Sheltering Sky as a striking departure. Its serene and simple presentation is a throwback of sorts – a nostalgic portrait of time suspended.

The work itself has a folksong-like quality – intended by the composer – and through this an immediate sense of familiarity emerges. Certainly the repertoire has a long and proud tradition of weaving folk songs into its identity, from the days of Holst and Vaughan Williams to modern treatments by such figures as Donald Grantham and Frank Ticheli. Whereas these composers incorporated extant melodies into their works, however, Mackey takes a play from Percy Grainger. Grainger’s Colonial Song seemingly sets a beautiful folksong melody in an enchanting way (so enchanting, in fact, that he reworked the tune into two other pieces: Australian Up-Country Tune and The Gum-Suckers March). In reality, however, Grainger’s melody was entirely original – his own concoction to express how he felt about his native Australia. Likewise, although the melodies of Sheltering Sky have a recognizable quality (hints of the contours and colors of Danny Boy and Shenandoah are perceptible), the tunes themselves are original to the work, imparting a sense of hazy distance as though they were from a half-remembered dream.

The work unfolds in a sweeping arch structure, with cascading phrases that elide effortlessly. The introduction presents softly articulated harmonies stacking through a surrounding placidity. From there emerge statements of each of the two folksong-like melodies – the call as a sighing descent in solo oboe, and its answer as a hopeful rising line in trumpet. Though the composer’s trademark virtuosity is absent, his harmonic language remains. Mackey avoids traditional triadic sonorities almost exclusively, instead choosing more indistinct chords with diatonic extensions (particularly seventh and ninth chords) that facilitate the hazy sonic world that the piece inhabits. Near cadences, chromatic dissonances fill the narrow spaces in these harmonies, creating an even greater pull toward wistful nostalgia. Each new phrase begins over the resolution of the previous one, creating a sense of motion that never completely stops. The melodies themselves unfold and eventually dissipate until at last the serene introductory material returns – the opening chords finally coming to rest.

- Program note by Jake Wallace

Finlandia, Op. 26 (1899)

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Arr. by Arvo Kuika


In the 1890s, Jean Sibelius was recognized by Finland as its greatest composer. After 1900, he became famous around the world. Finlandia marked the turning point. Its popularity surprised no one more than Sibelius, who had agreed to contribute some music to a public demonstration in Helsinki. But 1899 was a time of heightened political tensions, as the Russian hold on Finland was growing tighter, and so a simple and brief, but stirring composition called Finland Awakes, crowned by a big singable tune, struck home like a thunderbolt. The following year, Sibelius revised the score and gave it the title Finlandia. The Helsinki Philharmonic, then only eighteen months old, took the music on its first major tour, carrying Sibelius’s name throughout Europe (the tour ended at the Paris World Exposition). Despite the narrow political circumstances of its creation, Finlandia turned out to have universal appeal, and it soon made Sibelius the best-known living Finn.

Just a few minutes in length, this piece inspired national pride and brought Sibelius personal fame and sweeping popularity. Just as Boléro eventually hounded Ravel, the success of Finlandia came to irritate Sibelius, particularly when it overshadowed greater and more substantial works. Still, this is highly effective music, richly scored and imaginatively colored—those dark clouds at the top are particularly unforgettable. Best of all, it boasts one of music’s great melodies, although, as in Elgar’s most famous Pomp and Circumstance march, it sometimes catches audiences by surprise, coming at the very last minute.

—Phillip Huscher


Robert J. Ambrose

Conductor Robert J. Ambrose enjoys a highly successful and diverse career as a dynamic and engaging musician. His musical interests cross many genres and can be seen in the wide range of professional activities he pursues. Dr. Ambrose studied formally at Boston College, Boston University and Northwestern University, where he received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting.

Dr. Ambrose has conducted professionally across the United States as well as in Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. His interpretations have earned the enthusiastic praise of many leading composers including Pulitzer Prize winners Leslie Bassett, Michael Colgrass and John Harbison. Dr. Ambrose is considered an authority on Arnold Schoenberg’s landmark piece Pierrot Lunaire, having conducted it several times in three different countries. He has conducted over two dozen premiere performances including works by Michael Colgrass, Jonathan Newman, Joel Puckett, Christopher Theofanidis and Joseph Turrin. In addition, a recent performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms under his direction has been given repeated airings on Georgia Public Radio.

Dr. Ambrose is founder and music director of the Atlanta Chamber Winds a professional dectet specializing in the promotion of music by emerging composers as well as lesser-known works of established composers. Their premiere compact disc, Music from Paris, was released in 2009 on the Albany Records label and has received outstanding reviews in both Fanfare and Gramophone magazines.

As a guitarist, Robert Ambrose has performed in dozens of jazz ensembles, combos, rock bands and pit orchestras. His rock band “Hoochie Suit,” formed with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, received rave reviews throughout the Chicago area and performed for such distinguished guests as Yo-Yo Ma and Daniel Barenboim.

Dr. Ambrose currently serves as director of bands, associate professor of music and associate director of the School of Music at Georgia State University, a Research I institution of 32,000 students located in Atlanta, GA. As director of bands he conducts the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, maintains a highly selective studio of graduate students in the Master of Music in wind band conducting degree program, and oversees a large, comprehensive band program comprised of four concert ensembles and three athletic bands. He lives in Peachtree City, GA with his wife Sarah Kruser Ambrose, a professional flute player, and daughters Isabelle and Hannah.

Douglas Tiller

Graduate Assistant Conductor

Douglas Tiller is an avid conductor, educator, and instrumentalist active throughout Georgia. Most recently, he served as the Academy Band Director at Strong Rock Christian School where he oversaw a vibrant concert band program in grades fifth through eighth, in addition to serving as the Assistant Director for the award-winning Marching Patriots. Douglas also overhauled the jazz program to include a full jazz band and several combos.

Douglas received his Bachelor of Music from Georgia State University, experiencing success as a competitive chamber musician in the Augmented Triad Mixed Woodwind Trio and the Centennial Saxophone quartet, both groups placing in University and MTNA competitions in addition to presenting at conferences nationwide. Currently, Douglas has returned to Georgia State University to pursue his Master of Music in Wind Band Conducting under Dr. Robert Ambrose.