You may not know his name in casual conversation, but renowned wind ensemble composer David Maslanka, who died this past week, left an enduring mark on Bloomington-Normal's musical landscape

Maslanka, 73, passed away Aug. 6 at his home in Montana, less than a month after the death of his wife, Alison Matthews, according to his son Matthew.

Considered one of the country's premier composers for wind ensembles, he enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Illinois State University's Music Department.

Specifically, its Wind Ensemble, which has been presenting/premiering Maslanka's work locally for the past quarter-century, several times with the composer present, including his first visit in 1992 to witness conductor Stephen K. Steele and the Wind Symphony perform the Midwest premiere of his Symphony No. 3, then spend a week on campus working with students.

Steele has been a longtime champion of the composer's work, with Maslanka's works a permanent part of the Wind Symphony's repertoire.

The composer was back on campus just two years later, in 1994, working with the Wind Ensemble on the premiere of his Symphony No. 4.

What might be considered his most significant local appearance came four years later, in 1998, when Maslanka spent two weeks on campus working toward a performance of his watershed work, "Mass," also in its Midwest premiere.

Steele had heard the world-premiere performance of the piece at the University of Arizona several years prior and, according to a Pantagraph story, was so impressed decided to bring it to Central Illinois.

The concert featured a combination of ISU choirs and Wind Symphony, and was presented at Bloomington's Wesley United Methodist Church.

The text of Maslanka's "Mass" is a combination of the Catholic Latin Ordinary "Mass" and poems by poet Richard Beale.

Maslanka told The Pantagraph at the time that he was very enthusiastic about the work that the students and faculty had put into his composition, and that he expected the concert to be "wonderful."

It was, according to those who were there for the monumental performance.

Maslanka's music and occasional in-person appearances continued over the years, with another highlight being the performance of another somberly majestic piece, "In Memoriam," performed as part of the ISU Music Department's Sept. 11, 2011, concert observing the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In 2009, Maslanka's Concerto for Trombone and Wind Ensemble was the subject of a full-length album recording by the ISU Wind Symphony on the Albany Records label (it's still available via several sources, including Amazon at www.amazon.com/David-Maslanka-Symphony-No-8/dp/B002KI0AVO).

As recently as two years ago, he was guest composer for joint concert between the Wind Symphony and the Air National Guard Band of the Midwest.

"His music had that Americana feel, even though it might have been using new techniques," University of Montana School of Music director Maxine Ramey told The Associated Press upon Maslanka's passing.

"It still sounded American. You could still hear familiar tunes, and familiar harmonies. And he just had that as part of his composition."

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 

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