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Bienen concert premieres commissioned wind arrangement of ‘Losing Earth’

Percussionist Jacob Nissly performs with Symphonic Wind Ensemble Nov. 11
symphonic wind ensemble
Bienen School alumnus Jacob Nissly holds a bachelor of music degree in percussion performance and jazz studies from Northwestern University and has been principal percussionist of the San Francisco Symphony since 2013. Photo by Cody Pickens

The Symphonic Wind Ensemble of the Bienen School of Music, joined by special guest and alumnus Jacob Nissly (’05), principal percussionist at the San Francisco Symphony, will present the world premiere of “Losing Earth” in a new wind arrangement by composer Adam Schoenberg.

The performance takes place on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

The program, which centers around themes of humanity’s relationship to nature and technology, will also include compositions by Shuying Li, William Bolcom and Warren Benson.

The centerpiece of the program is Schoenberg’s percussion concerto “Losing Earth,” which explored the grim effects of climate change. Inspired by a 2018 New York Times Magazine article, the concerto was originally written for the San Francisco Symphony.

World premiere of new arrangement for winds

The Nov. 11 performance will be the world premiere of a new arrangement for winds, commissioned by conductor Mallory Thompson (’79, ’80 MMus) and Northwestern’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE). Nissly serves as the percussion soloist and is also the work’s dedicatee.

Percussion is at the heart of the concerto because, as Schoenberg explains in his original program notes, it is an element that traces its history back to the beginning of time. “With the ability to make rhythm, keep time and create melody, drums were a way for our ancestors to communicate love and joy, danger and survival,” Schoenberg wrote. “Second only to the human voice, this instrument has watched the earth endure all of its phases, including the devastation that is now beginning to emerge because of global warming.”

The arrangement and programming were developed through discussion between Thompson, Schoenberg and Nissly, Thompson said. “I’ve had the pleasure of performing Adam’s music with SWE before, and the idea of creating a wind version of the orchestra original was very exciting,” she said of the “Losing Earth” premiere. “One of the most wonderful aspects of having a career as a musician is getting to do special projects with your friends. This collaboration is a great example of how lives can ‘intersect’ and lead to worthwhile and meaningful projects.”

Also on the program

Also included on the program is Li’s “The Last Hive Mind,” inspired by an episode of the television show “Black Mirror” and ongoing debates surrounding artificial intelligence. 2021 Nemmers Prize winner Bolcom’s “Machine,” from his Fifth Symphony, explores similar themes, and Benson’s introspective “The Leaves Are Falling” expresses the grief the composer felt after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It is titled after the first line of Rilke’s poem “Autumn,” which includes the words “And in the nights the heavy earth is falling from all the stars down into loneliness.”

This performance will also be presented as a live stream. Get more details at the Bienen School website.

Bienen alumnus Jacob Nissly holds a bachelor of music degree in percussion performance and jazz studies from Northwestern University and has been principal percussionist of the San Francisco Symphony since 2013.

Adam Schoenberg is an Emmy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated composer whose works have received performances and premieres at the Library of Congress, New York Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl, among others.

Mallory Thompson is the director of bands, professor of music and coordinator of the conducting program at the Bienen School of Music. She holds the John W. Beattie Chair of Music and received her bachelor of music education and master of music degrees from Northwestern University, completing her doctor of musical arts degree from the Eastman School of Music.

Tickets are $8 for the general public and $5 for students with valid ID. For tickets and more information visit or purchase from the Bienen School ticket office at 50 Arts Circle Drive, or by phone at 847-467-4000.

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