TCU’s School of Music takes on daring endeavor with John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus

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TCU Wind Symphony shocked the audience out of their seats when it played John Corigliano’s “Circus Maximus” at Bass Performance Hall on Monday to kick off the TCU Festival of American Song.

Five-time grammy winner John Corigliano collaborated with The School of Music as part of a TCU Green Chair residency.

The concert was the first of a string of events in this week’s third annual festival.

Dr. Martin Blessinger, TCU Associate Professor and a composer himself, said this was a rare opportunity for the students and staff.

“We had this festival, we had the Bass Hall concert, we had the funding,” Blessinger said. “And we said: Okay, let’s shoot big. And there’s– in our world, there’s almost no one bigger than John Corigliano.”

Big does not only describe the composer’s reputation, it describes his symphony: “Circus Maximus.”

“Circus Maximus” calls for musicians to perform on the stage, in the balconies, in the back of the auditorium, and up and down the isles.

“You start getting into issues of the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light,” Blessinger said of the logistical difficulties. “And so what the performer sees is going to be different than what the performer hears up there so they have to compensate for those things.”

Corigliano said he chose the complicated format because he is trying to get across the impact media and technology have in today’s world.

“The communication we have, the texting, the watching of the 500 channels of television the constant amusement that we have, and yet we know that this technology can bring a bomb in a suitcase into a city and destroy it,” Corigliano said. “So while we love it we’re scared of it. Every new technological advance makes it easier to build something of destruction.”

He related the Circus Maximus of ancient Rome to our forms of entertainment today.  

“People have to see a lot of things and are not satisfied with one,” Corigliano said. “It’s like the Circus Maximus; you have to constantly do something new, you flood the place and build naval battles on it. You put bears and lions and things in there and people and have them fight it out. Naturally you know who’s gonna win, but it’s enjoyable for the Roman audience because it’s exciting to see all that.”

Corigliano said taking risks and breaking tradition is part of his job.

“The role of the composer is the role of the future. We can speak about our times.”

For more information on the festival, click visit TCU’s School of Music website.

Listen to a Circus Maximus clip