Concert bands end year with modern music

Peter Boyle

The end of the term and the academic year is rapidly approaching, and as such the university’s ensembles are putting on their final performances. The conservatory’s concert bands, usually appearing together, instead offered two concerts to finish the year off, with the Symphonic Band performing last Friday evening May 13 and the Wind Ensemble playing Saturday May 14.

The Symphonic Band opened the weekend of concert bands with “Canzona,” a brief and unrelenting piece that sounded cinematic. It fittingly began two performances full of 20th century composers; its moments of discord ensured that the evening would be anything but staid.

Friday’s concert included an appearance by the Lawrence Brass, a quintet composed of members of the brass faculty. They joined the Symphonic Band for “Suite from Mass,” a Michael Sweeney arrangement of songs from Leonard Bernstein’s Catholic-inspired musical theatre work.

Pieces by Dr. Andrew Boysen, Jr., a composition and conducting professor at the University of New Hampshire, appeared on both programs. Boysen conducted the Symphonic Band’s performance of his “Song for Lindsay,” a composition dedicated to his wife. The dynamic piece was at turns delicate and triumphant, amplified by his presence at the podium.

The ensemble concluded with “Give Us This Day,” a piece recommended for the ensemble by its composer David Maslanka upon his visit to Lawrence. Though only two movements long, the contrast between “moderately slow” and “very fast” offered the band an opportunity to showcase their breadth, concluding their performance with the dramatic flourish of the second movement.

A similar predilection for modern fare guided the Wind Ensemble’s program, again compiled out of 20th century pieces. The concert’s opening work, “Serenade No. 1 for Ten Instruments,” included only a fraction of the ensemble’s members, limiting the timbres to emphasize the individual melodies in each voice.

The full ensemble appeared for “The Chairman Dances,” a roughly narrative piece related to composer John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China.” The piece, arranged by Cormac Cannon, evocatively utilized the fragmented foxtrot form and accidental percussion to depict the awkwardness of Chairman Mao dancing.

“Hammersmith,” the subsequent piece by Gustav Holst, similarly recalls the environs around his London residence, following sonic caricatures and interrupting melodic expressions. Though the group played only two movements, one centered around the low brass, they exhibited extreme precision in constructing virtually incidental sound environments.

The concert’s impressive finale, the world premiere of Boysen’s “Symphony No. 6,”came after an intermission, and the piece was long enough to warrant the break beforehand. An anxious and occasionally mournful one-movement work, the waves of constant crescendo in the piece’s final third invoked a constant wait for the piece’s resolution. The ensemble’s impressive cohesion smoothly followed the cresting dynamics, and their stamina in maintaining the piece’s intensity underscored the talents of Lawrence’s top wind band.

Of course, the conclusion of the academic year meant the musical triumphs were bittersweet. Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands Andrew Mast paid a fond farewell to the seniors in both ensembles, regaling the audience with their memories of the ensemble and mentioning their preferences in luxury vehicles.

Though some invariably offered humorous responses, particularly Symphonic Band’s Mike McCain, the sentiment was clear: the composition of the concert bands relied upon its seniors, and that their time at Lawrence profoundly impacted them.

These spring concerts were strong statements of LU’s high-caliber ensembles; they ended the year, and for some, their undergraduate experience, with professional renditions of impressive repertoire. Congratulations to the Class of 2011, and to all participants, on a job well done.