Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Advertise in our classifieds section
Your classified listing could be here!
October 4, 2022

UT Wind Ensemble celebrates the 10th anniversary of John Mackey’s ‘Wine-Dark Sea’

Allie Castaneda
Conductor Jerry Junkin leads the Wind Ensemble in “Wine-Dark Sea: Symphony for Band” at the 10th anniversary performance at the Bates Recital Hall on Feb. 4, 2024.

On Sunday, a sold-out Bates Recital Hall honored the 10-year anniversary of UT’s commission of composer John Mackey’s “Wine-Dark Sea.” The presence of notable guests such as Susan and Ernest Butler, benefactors of the Butler School of Music, and Mackey himself excited the crowd before the concert even began.

In 2014, the Butler School of Music commissioned a piece from Mackey to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the music school. Ten years later, the piece has toured the world and gained a reputation as one of the greatest contributions to the college music repertoire. Sunday marked the first time that the UT Wind Ensemble played this piece at UT since its original premiere.

Jerry Junkin, director of the UT Wind Ensemble, said when UT originally commissioned the work, he told Mackey to create an epic piece with a big ending.

“Commissioning a piece of music is like trying to find a cure for cancer,” Junkin said. “99.99% of all clinical trials fail. But then there’s that .01% that are a major success and push closer to finding the cure. … This is one of the few that have been an absolute grand slam.”

Mackey said his wife, who titles all his pieces, suggested he base the piece on the “Odyssey.” He said the piece tells the story in three movements, chronologically. 

“I don’t write for film, but this is a similar idea,” Mackey said. “(The piece is) what the story sounds like in my head.”

Mackey said he uses percussion in “Wine-Dark Sea” to symbolize crashing waves and lightning storms present in the “Odyssey”.

“If you’re trying to tell the story of (Odysseus), … you can only do so much with band instruments,” said Davin Cai, a music studies junior and Wind Ensemble percussionist. “Percussion has a large part in filling in some of those gaps … (and making) us feel what the story’s about.”

Mackey worked with the Wind Ensemble on the piece while in Austin last week and spoke at the concert.

“I hadn’t heard (the) story before,” said Reilly Curren, a music senior and Wind Ensemble double bassist. “While we were playing it, (hearing the story) just made it so much better because I could hear the story going on. And I think all of his pieces are like that.”

Curren said the piece requires a lot of stamina. At 30 minutes long, the work still managed to captivate the audience on Sunday, receiving a standing ovation at the end of the concert. 

“‘Wine-Dark Sea’ is a piece in the band world that everybody knows,” Cai said. “We’ve all heard it so many times. … Getting the opportunity to play it at UT in the highest-level wind ensemble is something very exciting.”

Mackey said seeing “Wine-Dark Sea” played at UT again after it became a worldwide hit proved rewarding.

“A 10-year anniversary of a piece that still gets played a lot after 10 years feels like a big deal,” Mackey said. “I’m honored to be here for this.”

More to Discover