Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble concert centers around powerful pieces

Epic. That was the theme of the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble concert on Saturday, Jan. 25, and the audience was not let down. Under the direction of Associate Professor of Music Andrew Mast, the concert featured both ensembles, Professor Emeritus Robert Levy, Associate Professor of Music Mark Urness, and composers Theresa Martin and Andrew Seager Cole.

The Symphonic Band opened the concert with a piece entitled “Radiance,” written by local composer Theresa Martin, who described it as being influenced by light, natural vibrations, energy and human auras, all of which the audience heard in the variety of textures between the winds and percussion and the vacillation between moments of glimmering delicacy and powerful passages of strength.

The next composer featured defines the word epic: Richard Wagner. The ensemble performed “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” from Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin.” Reminiscent of Wagner’s famous “Prelude to Tristan and Isolde,” this piece began at a quiet, understated level and gradually grew and grew with harmonic intensity, landing on dense, juicy chords as it moved to its climax.

Symphonic Band’s final work was French composer Darius Milhaud’s “Suite Francaise,” a five-movement work in which they performed movements “Normandie,” “Bretagne” and “Provence.” Each movement represents five French provinces and Milhaud used folk songs from these areas in their respective portions of the piece.

The Wind Ensemble then performed four works, the first one entitled “Ra!” by David Dzubay. This piece was filled with driving rhythmic intensity, crunchy dissonances and dynamic effects such as blooming from no sound to overwhelming sound or surprising loud moments amid delicate and quiet sections of the piece. The piece barreled forward, not breaking in intensity until the final notes, which consisted of the ensemble yelling a violent “ra!” and coming to a halting finish.

The next work welcomed conductor Robert Levy, who served as the Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Lawrence from 1979-2004, performing Warren Benson’s “The Passing Bell.” This work sounded similar to Wagner’s composition as the piece gradually developed to a volume that trembled with power while also achieving moments of etherealness.

Following the Benson was Andrew Seager Cole’s “Naya Jeevan,” translated as “New Life,” a piece written for solo double bass and wind band. This piece required a smaller, more chamber-like ensemble accompanying the solo bass played by Mark Urness. Throughout the piece, the ensemble threatened to overwhelm the soloist, creating contrary forces that sometimes shared similar material. It wasn’t until the end that there was a sense of equality and balance.

The concert concluded with French composer Florent Schmitt’s “Dionysiaques,” named after the Greek god of “good times,” as quoted by Dr. Mast. This intricate work was filled with hints of other composers, such as Wagner and Stravinsky, and was constantly shifting meters between moments that sounded circus-like next to slow, suggestive chromatic melodies. We heard solos from all over the ensemble, interspersed with moments of massive sound with the entire ensemble.

Overall, each piece had its “epic” moment, filling the chapel with walls of sound, constant energy, major moments of trembling tension and brilliant resolution. Hear some of these works, as well as new ones, at the next set of concerts, with Symphonic Band performing on Sunday, Feb. 23 and the Wind Ensemble on Friday, March 14.

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