On Saturday, Jan. 30 in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble held a memorable concert called At the Movies, featuring selections from the soundtracks of “On The Waterfront ,” “Catch Me If You Can ” and the ubiquitous “Star Wars.”
Students from Lawrence and people from all over Appleton came to experience music from the famous movies. While the musicians warmed up onstage, ushers were busy directing the endless stream of people entering the hall. The prospect of hearing favorites from “Star Wars” left everyone chattering excitedly until the lights dimmed.
Once everyone was situated, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands Andy Mast gave a brief introduction to the night’s program and the special guest of the evening, José Encarnación, assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies, who would be performing as a soloist on saxophone during “Catch Me If You Can.”
Encarnación leads many jazz ensembles and classes at Lawrence and is a favorite professor of many Conservatory students. Since he prefers to work in small group settings, it is rare for him to perform onstage at a large ensemble concert.
During John Williams’ score to “Catch Me If You Can,” Encarnación stood in front of the ensemble like a concerto soloist, joining the winds on the melodic lines. At times, Mast directed the musicians to lower their instruments while Encarnación played long improvisatory cadenzas. These were a display of his technical ability on the saxophone and his ability to derive new material from the famous soundtrack.
Also on the program was “Symphonic Suite from ‘On the Waterfront’” by Leonard Bernstein. It began with a gentle horn solo played by sophomore Bryn Rourke before exploding into rhythmic motion. The piece was powered by musical images of chaos and suspense; one could imagine the action on-screen. After many climactic false endings, the piece concluded with a bookending horn solo.
After a long set change during which new players and instruments arrived on stage, it was finally time for “Star Wars” to begin. Instead of starting with the obvious choice, the main theme, they began with “The Imperial March.” Since many people had come solely to hear “Star Wars,” the ensemble spent extra energy to make this piece sound special.
Some in the audience exchanged knowing smiles and some focused silently as five different pieces from the soundtrack were played. Although these selections were taken from the score to the original trilogy, Williams reused some of them decades later in the series’ most recent release, “The Force Awakens.” The “Star Wars” segment of the concert concluded with the anticipated main theme, which can be heard at the beginning and end of every movie in the series.
It was interesting to hear all three movie scores arranged for band instruments. Originally, they had been composed for orchestra. While the absence of strings on some well-known pieces was noticeable at times, the wind instruments’ timbres gave the music a welcome new flavor.
The wind ensemble players wore expressions of joy and excitement which positively impacted their playing. Every woodwind run was crisp and clear; every low brass note was powerful and well-sustained. It was great for conductor Mast to present such a tight performance to such a large audience.
If you enjoyed the show, consider attending the next Lawrence University Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band concert on March 11, 2016.