Wind Ensemble’s final concert a great success

The Lawrence University Wind Ensemble gave their final concert of the school year on the evening of Saturday, May 24 in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.  The concert was titled “A Century of Masterworks,” reflecting that the composition dates of the words span most of the twentieth century. It was an emotional but lively evening of music for the members of Wind Ensemble and for their friends and family in the audience.

In a pure coincidence, the ensemble played two works by Russian composer Reinhold Glière. The winner of the concerto competition—Elizabeth Schmidt—happened to have chosen a work by Glière after conductor Andrew Mast had already put another piece by Glière on the program. One of the highlights of the concert included Dr. Mast’s musing that he should have titled the concert “I Can See Glièrely Now the Rain is Gone,” befitting the newly beautiful spring weather.

The concert opened with Glière’s “Overture Solonelle, op. 72,”a 1937 work also known in English as the “Solemn Overture” or the “Festive Overture.” It commemorates the twentieth anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution. As such, it’s a bright and triumphant work that the ensemble brought brilliantly to life.

Immediately following the overture, concerto competition winner Elizabeth Schmidt played Glière’s horn concerto (op. 91). She played excellently, with great lyricism and a warm tone that fit the slower and more romantic sections of the piece, especially the andante second movement.  I was also highly impressed by the playing of the other horns in the ensemble. Their solos were of such a high quality that they were often not immediately distinguishable from Schmidt’s playing.

In the second half of the concert, the ensemble premiered a tradition that will hopefully become an annual event. They played a “side-by-side” concert with high school student musicians from throughout Wisconsin who were nominated by their band directors. They played a well-known but not too challenging work called “Chester Overture for Band,” by William Schuman.  The high school students performed admirably well considering their relative lack of experience rehearsal time, holding their own with the members of Wind Ensemble. This event seems like a marvelous way for the Lawrence conservatory to connect with and give back to aspiring young musicians .

The concert concluded with a very entertaining piece by the highly regarded contemporary composer William Bolcom. His “First Symphony for Band” is a refreshingly original and fun work that doesn’t take itself too seriously, unlike the work of some other contemporary composers who work in the tradition of classical music. In this symphony, Bolcom combines serious classical music with aspects of cabaret music—he spends half of his time playing piano as part of a cabaret duo with his wife, who sings.

The first movement is highly discordant and reminiscent of jazz, more serious, while the second movement and the rest of the piece turn more and more sardonic. The last movement alternates between a solemn funeral procession and parade music, in a rather topsy-turvy, Mardi Gras spirit. The meter becomes more and more off-kilter towards the end and the music is abrasive, loud, and discordant throughout, even during the sections of funeral procession music.

This was a highly enjoyable and bittersweet evening of music. Wind Ensemble will surely miss its dedicated and talented seniors, but has many exciting possibilities to look forward to in the future.