Lawrence University Wind Ensemble concert 

The Lawrence University Wind Ensemble (LUWE), directed by Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music and Director of Bands Andrew Mast, performed their last concert of the year on Saturday, May 21 in the Memorial Chapel. The program presented a refreshing offering, consisting of three contemporary pieces all composed within the last 30 years.  

The program began with “Lux Aeterna,” a composition by Lawrence alumnus Evan Williams ‘11. Williams originally wrote this piece for brass quintet, and LUWE’s concert represented the premier of the piece’s wind ensemble arrangement.  

“Lux Aeterna” translates to “Eternal Light” and is the title of a Gregorian chant from the requiem mass. Williams incorporated this chant into his composition, presenting it in various forms, including, in his words, “a hopeful hymn, a joyous celebration, a sinister dance, [and] a malicious taunt.” 

The piece opened with senior Eviatar Shlosberg playing a trumpet solo of the chant’s melody, which was then passed between different instruments in the ensemble. The opening section created a mysterious and anticipatory, almost ominous atmosphere.  

Mast described the middle section as featuring “pointed energy,” which came through clearly in the ensemble’s performance; while the section did have a melody taking us through it, the focus was more on individual moments or impulses. 

The Lawrence Wind Ensemble performs “Lux Aeterna” (2021) by Evan Williams ’10. Screenshot from livestream.

After returning to its opening section, the piece made several grandiose outbursts before becoming sparser, with only one section playing at a time, as though fizzling out. The piece ended with a quiet cymbal crash, which to me seemed like a wisp of smoke. 

The second piece on the program was Lowell Liebermann’s Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra, arranged by Keiichi Kurokawa, for which the soloist was junior Cynthia Kaiser, winner of the 2022 Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition.  

The first movement, marked andante comodo, seemed to represent complete tranquility and untouched perfection. It made me think of a fantasy land, a feeling aided by the ethereal presence of the harp within the ensemble, as well as the bird-like trills of the piccolo. While the middle section of this movement was more agitated and unsettled, it had returned to its sense of unspoiled beauty by its ending. 

The second movement, adagio, started off mournfully. When the piccolo entered, Kaiser played gracefully so that I imagined a delicate butterfly above the darker landscape of the other instruments. After a trumpet solo, several sections, including the flutes, played in unison with the piccolo, continuing this theme as the piccolo began more intricate ascending runs.  

Later in the movement, the piccolo was accompanied only by a monotonous rhythm on the vibraphone. Other instruments joined gradually, including the double bass, which emphasized downbeats with accents. The piccolo then became increasingly fluttery and frantic, as though the butterfly felt encroached upon and was trying to escape.  

Towards the end of the movement, the slow music took on a reverential character — evidently my imagined butterfly had been captured despite its best efforts. 

The concerto’s final movement, presto, was full of tense energy and seemed halfway between a race and a funeral march. This movement featured distorted quotes from multiple familiar pieces, including Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550, which, instead of creating a ceremonial character, instead primarily added an uneasiness or eeriness, though the piece came to an intuitive resolution at its end. 

Junior Cynthia Kaiser, the 2022 Wind Ensemble concerto competition winner, performs “Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra” (1996) by Lowell Liebermann. Screenshot from livestream.

The program’s final piece was Symphony No. 2 “Voices” by James Stephenson, which LUWE performed with Stephenson as guest conductor. Stephenson was asked to write this piece for The President’s Own Marine Band in 2016. His mother passed away as he was preparing to write the piece, and the music expresses his process of grappling with and grieving her loss. 

Stephenson explained that his mother was an alto in their church choir who sang with an untrained, pure-tone voice, and that the piece rather uniquely features a voice among the wind ensemble instruments for this reason. 

The first movement of the symphony, titled “Prelude: Of Passion,” made a thunderous grand entrance and then became more subdued. Over this calmer section, mezzo-soprano, Administrative Assistant of Music Education Morgen Moraine sang a melancholy descant. The music then became more excited and adventurous — I thought of sled dogs traversing the Alaskan wilderness during the Iditarod — before returning to the vocal section and finishing quietly.  

The second movement, “Shouts and Murmurs,” effectively imitated just that. It opened with a whispering of percussion, including cymbal played with brush drumsticks. Other instruments entered, forming a light and laid-back texture that evoked the titular murmurs.  

Then came the shouts, in which the ensemble developed a fuller sound, including cymbal crashes and gong. The rest of the movement alternated between these two characters, with a later murmuring section including a vocal descant as well. The piece came to a fiery ending with drums, more cymbal crashes and an intense energy from the other instruments.

The third movement, “Voices of One,” began meditatively and with a sense of tenderness and warmth, which it resumed after an intervening, more grandiose section. With this return came the vocal entrance, melding effortlessly into the ensemble’s sound so that it seemed part of a cohesive whole rather than an isolated part.

As the wind instruments fell back, the impression was more of an accompanied solo voice, and I found Moraine’s sincerity especially touching in this moment. The ensemble’s sound grew to a much more substantial volume from there and ended majestically and hopefully, with all hands on deck, not least of which were chimes and triangles.

As his piece finished, Stephenson kept his hands in the air for just an extra moment so that we could grasp the almost magical silence before the audience began to clap and cheer. Stephenson directed the applause to each of the ensemble’s sections in turn and to Moraine individually, so that the contributions of each member were acknowledged with gratitude and enthusiasm.

I know that I especially appreciated the selection this concert presented of repertoire by living composers, and the opportunity it gave us to hear some ideas of what the exciting future of this field will sound like.