Wind Ensemble: Overcoming technical difficulties
Last semester, the Wind Ensemble put on a pretty psychedelic show. I use the term 'show' not to trivialize their performance, but to highlight the spectacular, as in the staging of a spectacle, which was brilliant and refreshing.
This semester, the Wind Ensemble concert took on the conventionally restrained tone, but as always, Director Eric Thomas broke down the wall between the group and the audience, joking and explaining the autobiographical reasons for his selections, and the interesting musical devices composers employ. I have always appreciated Thomas' affability; it makes art music less daunting.
The concert as a whole was generally very well-executed. My only major complaint is that Lorimer Chapel is a horrific acoustical space, especially for a wind band. In point of fact: I could not for the life of me hear Nick Bohlen '11 as he performed Gareth Wood's Euphonium Concerto. I moved to different sections of the chapel and really paid attention for Bohlen's solo line but only caught bits and pieces of it; he was completely covered by the rest of the group. However, what I did hear was excellent. I can only imagine the amount of dexterity involved in articulating such fast moving notes cleanly on an unwieldy instrument.
My inablility to hear Bohlen as he played was probably compounded by my complete inexperience with the euphonium's sound (so I didn't know what to pick out from the texture), the nature of the instrument and the way in which it produces sound, and the style of the piece. In any case I was disappointed. This is not to slight the group, which is made up of attentive musicians, or to slight Thomas who is an excellent director, because the balance in their other pieces was usually good. Apparently, the Chapel is not kind to euphonium players. As a cellist in solidarity with euphonium players, who also gets screwed in the ensemble and would want to make the most of the few instances to shine, I implore someone to give the music department a real performance space. But I digress.
Some highlights from the program included Song of the Gandy Dancers by Richard Saucedo, which is based on songs that rail workers used to sing. The harmonies in this piece were really quite beautiful, and some of the effects, the clarinets making the sound of a train whistle, the chimes in the percussion section and the piano's part, which evoked bells and the chink of hammers on the railroad's metal, resulted in a beautiful and evocative piece.
Persuasion by Sammy Nestico featured Kim Stoddard '10 on alto sax solo. I have always thought the saxophone is an unbelievably sexy instrument and Stoddard's attentive playing confirmed this notion. This piece reminded me of the kind of sensuous elegance Cary Grant embodied in classic Hollywood films, its jazz-inspired harmonic language and orchestration creating the classy vibe.
Following Persuasion was the contrasting Eine Kleine Yiddish Ragmusik by Adam Gorb, a take on Jewish folk music. I would say the performance was almost too cautious and not quite as rollicking or folky as the title suggests, but it was nonetheless very entertaining.
After intermission, the ensemble performed Franck Tichelli's Simple Gifts (Four Shaker Songs)''Simple Gifts' being the iconic American-folk song made famous when Aaron Copland set it in his ballet, Appalachian Spring. Obviously Tichelli, like many American composers, is indebted to Copland who, according to legend, created the American sound in western art music. My favorite of these four songs was 'Here Take This Lovely Flower,' which really highlighted the group's ability to create a warm, rich tone as the notes blossomed into the slow moving harmonies. Like the first piece, it was very beautiful.
The group ended on a rambunctious note with Khachaturian's Gayaneh Dance Suite. It allowed the group to let loose, to be (tastefully) loud and to show the audience that everyone was having a good time.