University of Minnesota Bands to honor longtime director Frank Bencriscutto with celebratory concerts

Frank Bencriscutto directed the University of Minnesota bands for 32 years.UMN School of Music/Band Alumni

April 23, 2019

For two consecutive evenings this week, the University of Minnesota Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble will present free concerts that celebrate the career and legacy of its longtime director, Frank Bencriscutto, highlighting his work with international ensemble tours.

Bencriscutto, who died in 1997, was an American conductor and composer of concert band music. Nicknamed Dr. Ben, he was director of bands and professor of music at the University of Minnesota for 32 years.

Among many honors and recognitions, Bencriscutto was elected to the American Bandmasters Association in 1966 and his composition Sing a New Song (1973) won the Neil A. Kjos Memorial Award for the most significant contribution to band literature. He received the Edwin Franko Goldman Award from the American School Band Directors Association in 1993, and, in 1997, he was posthumously awarded the Midwest Clinic Medal of Honor.

The University of Minnesota Symphonic Band opens the celebratory concerts on Thursday, April 25, with a festive concert program, including pieces performed on the Concert Band's 1980 China tour with Bencriscutto: Andreas Makris' Aegean Festival Overture, John Zdechlik's Chorale and Shaker Dance and John Phillip Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever.

UMN Dr. Ben Concerts-08
Dr. Ben and Stan Freese, tuba soloist, acknowledging applause on the Russia tour.
UMN School of Music/Band Alumni

In 1979, the All-China Youth Federation invited the University of Minnesota Concert Band to tour China, making the Concert Band the first U.S. concert band to tour the country. The two-week tour combined a unique musical experience with a cultural exchange, resulting in a historic opportunity for all people involved to use the power of music to speak when language and words failed.

The University of Minnesota Wind Ensemble closes the celebration on Friday, April 26, with music that was programmed on the band's tour of the Soviet Union in 1969. The band was selected during a two-year screening process by the College Band Directors National Association to tour 10 cities there to reopen an International Cultural Exchange. The band ended its seven week, 28-concert tour with a performance at the White House. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that tour.

The Wind Ensemble opens the Friday performance with Ron Nelson's Rocky Point Holiday, commissioned by Bencriscutto and the University of Minnesota Concert Band for the 1969 Russia tour. Bencriscutto wanted something virtuosic to be performed in one of the programs on the tour, employing the help of Nelson; when Nelson asked about technical or musical limitations of the band, Bencriscutto claimed the band had none. Nelson undertook the endeavor to compose as difficult of a piece as possible.

According to correspondence during the compositional process, Nelson said, "Writing this piece was a pivotal moment in my notion of wind ensemble scoring, in which I focused on orchestrating in an extremely transparent way."

The piece was composed between 1968 and 1969, while Nelson was vacationing near Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick Neck, R.I.

The Friday concert program also will feature other works that honor Bencriscutto and that tour, including Silvestre Revueltas' Sensemayá (arr. Bencriscutto), Sousa's Minnesota March (edit. by Fennell), and Modest Mussorgsky's "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel/trans. Lavender).

Bruce Paulson, a trombonist who was on the 1969 tour, writes, "As we join together to celebrate the 50 years since we toured the Soviet Union, we remember the influence that Dr. Ben had on all of us. Of course, his musicianship and demands for perfection were important, but there was another quality that makes him so special: Dr. Ben's concentration on the spiritual and soulful aspects of a performance brought special meaning to his music."

Find out more about the Dr. Frank Bencriscutto Celebration Concerts on April 25 and 26.