Godzilla Comes to Colby and other Happenings
Normally, concerts of western art music are very stuffy events. You sit quietly, you don't clap between movements (if you do, you will be stared down), you don't make known how this music is affecting you (if it is affecting you). This was not the case with Colby Wind Ensemble concert this past Saturday. It was pure irreverence. It was high camp and madly theatrical. I did not know it was possible to laugh this much outside of a BMR show or real life.
The first half was very traditional wind ensemble fare, but the second half was like Pee Wee Herman's Playhouse (for those of you who understand). It featured as the showpiece of the night "Godzilla Eats Las Vegas" by contemporary American composer Eric Whitacre. The piece tells a story and the composer suggests that the performers be creative in its telling. Everything was fantastic (musically, theatrically), people were whooping during the performance and snapping photos as events unfolded.
Because there is a word limit, I will focus on a few pieces in a generally very well-executed concert. The evening began with an arrangement for Wind Ensemble of W.A. Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" Overture. If you have never heard the "Marriage of Figaro" Overture, you have missed out on life, but know that it is very fast and notes just fly. The Ensemble did a great job playing cleanly and staying together through the difficult passages, especially the clarinets, who had the bulk of the running notes. For the most part, the melody and counter melody and harmonic lines meshed well together. My only complaint is the range of dynamics varied from loud to louder. Perhaps having so many brass and wind instruments makes it difficult to create a soft dynamic.
Also noteworthy were "Deep River" and "Old Grumbly Bear" (no joke, that is the title) because they featured unusual instruments as soloists, tuba in "Deep River" and bass clarinet in "Grumbly Bear."
You know every kid who lugged around those massive instruments has lived for this moment. Stephanie Stoddard '10 was the tuba player in the limelight and did a beautiful job with her instrument; the notes were clean and well-articulated. Although the ensemble and soloist started out a little sloppily, they became tighter as the piece progressed. On the latter piece, Nicole Ziemlak '11 on bass clarinet solo did an excellent job, playing very crisply and...grumpily. The ensemble and the soloist traded melodic lines well with each other and gave a tight performance. This piece was very kitschy and, as the Wind Ensemble's director Eric Thomas has an excellent sense of this, he camped up the kitsch.
The piece by Aram Khachaturian "To the Heroes of the Patriotic War," was very standard Wind Ensemble fare and showcased the band's percussion section. The piece is overtly Russian, very military propaganda and was played as such. Another piece, "Metamorphosis" by Paul Hindemith, (a relatively modern German composer) showcased the brass sections prominently who lived up to expectations: they were very loud and played with bravado.
A major, non-musical highlight included Spongebob's cameo appearance as the ensemble played the theme song from the show. Spongebob even led the band, as Mr. Thomas threw on a Spongebob costume over his concert dress, floppy shoes and all. I don't even care what happened musically, it was just fun.
Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for: "Godzilla Eats Las Vegas." This featured Elvis impersonators, most prominently President Bro Adams, Las Vegas Show girls and Godzilla. Think of every clichéd soundtrack from action/sci-fi/monster films and every clichéd musical convention associated with the exotic seductress (read fake Arabic). Add these to truly original and clever writing and effects (the horns and trombones made some raunchy sounds) injected with much needed humor in the musical world.
Whitacre is brilliant, and the Ensemble and extra-musical performers effectively captured the humor and exaggeration in the piece and played very well. This was not your run-of-the-mill, stuffed shirt wind ensemble concert, it was irreverent fun that still managed to retain its musicality.