American Wind Symphony Orchestra

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The American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO; also called the American Wind Symphony, abbreviated AWS) is an American musical ensemble comprising many of the wind instruments found in a symphony orchestra, which is dedicated to the performance of contemporary classical music, and which is known for having commissioned over 400 new works.[1] Based in Mars, Pennsylvania (just north of Pittsburgh), United States, the AWSO was founded and directed for 50 years by the American conductor (and former trumpeter) Robert Austin Boudreau (b. 1927).

The group, whose membership changes from year to year, typically comprises young professional musicians. Many of the works it performs feature an unusually large instrumentation usually comprising at least 4 flutes (doubling on piccolo, alto flute, and bass flute), 4 oboes (doubling on English horn and oboe d'amore), 4 bassoons (doubling on contrabassoon and heckelphone), 4 clarinets (doubling on E-flat clarinet, basset horn, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet), 4-6 trumpets, 4-7 horns, 4-6 trombones, a bass trombone, and 1-2 tubas. Percussion, harp, piano, and celeste are usually included as well, but, unlike most concert bands, saxophones and euphoniums are never used.

The group performs annually during the summer months on a floating arts center designed by the American architect Louis Kahn.[2] Point Counterpoint II, constructed in 1976, is the second boat used by the orchestra, the first having been being a converted coal barge named Point Counterpoint. Aboard Point Counterpoint II, which measures 195 feet (59 m) long and 38 feet (12 m) wide, there are also rooms for up to 13 crew members, staff, and the Boudreaus to live, an art gallery below deck, and a small theater where most of the patrons' concerts take place.[3]

Each summer, the group performs on the barge's stage, with the barge anchored in one of Pittsburgh's rivers. The group also travels on the barge, around various waterways of the United States (including the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, as well as their tributaries), giving concerts along the way.

The orchestra spent three years overseas where they were present for the Bicentennial celebration of France, the 800th Anniversary in England and were the first U.S. vessel in Leningrad.

Boudreau took a hiatus of several years after the 2004 residency but after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was compelled to travel to Louisiana in 2006. The name of that tour was the "Spirit of Louisiana" and the reception in the southernmost cities of Louisiana was so great the orchestra returned for a few weeks in 2007. Boudreau once again announced a retirement as music director following the final concert of the 2007 season at Yale University. A 2008 New England tour is being developed for June and July. The tour will begin at Highcroft, Boudreau's farm in Pine Township, Pennsylvania. The orchestra will have three residencies there, performing on the Caroline Steinman Nunan Amphitheater. The orchestra will then meet up with Point Counterpoint II in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and performances in Maine will follow for several weeks. The orchestra will then proceed up the Hudson River to the Erie Barge Canal and have closing concerts at the end of July back at Highcroft.

Boudreau's operation of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra has courted controversy over the years. In 1985, he was arrested by Federal marshals for sailing his vessel contrary to U.S. Coast Guard regulations.[1] His actions have at times antagonized the larger professional music community of Pittsburgh[2] and caused him to be charged with unfair labor practices with regard to the treatment of his musicians.[3] In March 2013, the Sheriff's Office of Okaloosa County, Florida issued a warrant for Boudreau's arrest, alleging grand theft of $25,000 in appearance fees for a June 2012 concert which the AWSO never performed. Boudreau has cited a lack of housing for the members as reason for the failure to appear and refused to return the funds, claiming that he thought they were "a donation to the orchestra."[4] Musicians from that summer's tour have also alleged having never been paid for part of the season. Robert Boudreau was in fact never arrested. He went to Florida as required by Florida law; the authorities took his picture and his fingerprints, he signed a note that he would appear, if required, before a judge, and returned to Pennsylvania. His lawyer represented him at a later hearing. The judge dismissed all charges without prejudice. In response to the allegations by musicians in relation to partial payment for the season, according to the AWSO letter of agreement with musicians, “In the event that Orchestra determines at any time that it is unable to complete a substantial portion of its remaining concert schedule, it may forthwith terminate this agreement by notice, oral or written, to Instrumentalist, without any responsibility thereafter to Instrumentalist, except to pay his/her stipend or scholarship grant pro-rated up to one (1) week following the date of such notice.

Boudreau's wife, Kathleen, assists with the organization of the AWSO. She is currently writing a book on the history of the AWSO from her perspective throughout the years. Together they have planned all the group's tours, reared a large family, and farmed over 120 acres (0.49 km2) in Pennsylvania.

Composers commissioned by the AWSO[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Renshaw, Jeffrey H. (1991). The American Wind Symphony Commissioning Project: A Descriptive Catalog of Published Editions 1957-1991. Music Reference Collection. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28146-7. ISBN 978-0-313-28146-4.

1New York Times, June 14, 1985; http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F01E2DD1339F937A25755C0A963948260

2Warren Olfert dissertation, Florida State University, 1992

3Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, Pittsburgh, September 1993

4http://www.sheriff-okaloosa.org/wp-content/pdfs/newsreleases/2013/Mar.%204%20-%20Ongoing%20TDC%20Investigation%20Leads%20to%20Grand%20Theft%20Charges.pdf

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