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Wind Ensemble explores new ground with “Mavericks”

Anna Bucholz

The “Lawrence Difference,” a phrase frequently used to describe various aspects of our campus, might also perfectly express the mood surrounding Saturday night’s Wind Ensemble concert on April 14. Associate Professor of Music and Director of Bands Andrew Mast led the Wind Ensemble through four unique pieces in what he called an “exploration of groundbreaking music.”

The concert was titled “Mavericks,” a clear description of the composers presented: Igor Stravinsky, Joseph Schwantner, Frank Zappa and Terry Riley. For those who studied Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in Freshman Studies, you are already familiar with the dense, crunchy harmonies and odd meters trademarked by this composer. Stravinsky’s “Octet” was no different, with mounting climaxes of dissonant tension and a constant underlying feeling of chaos beneath the strict and clean articulations and masterful playing by our students.

Next came Joseph Schwantner’s “From a Dark Millennium,” which instantly set a haunting, eerie mood as instrumentalists sang and whistled over the ominous rumblings of the brass and percussion.

The first sounds of rock were heard in a series of “vamps” which began in the persistent, thumping percussion, then to the droning, low brass and into the higher sounding woodwinds. In describing one deafening climax of the piece, senior Will Obst said the wall of sound “maximized the volume of the chapel” and “filled everything in you with sound.”

What could be more groundbreaking than rock star Frank Zappa writing for a wind ensemble? When the audience first saw the Wind Ensemble accompanied by two string basses, an electric bass, electric guitar and drum set, it became clear we were in for a wild ride.

Fifth-year Jake Fisher introduced the work and explained Zappa’s “fusion of musical styles.” In this piece, titled “Dog Breath Variations,” we heard elements of rock, Motown, doo-wop, and 20th century classical music. Performers and audience members alike grooved and even had the occasional head bob as Mast led the ensemble through convoluted melodies, rock beats and swells of intense energy. As the chapel filled with the sounds of the LU Wind Ensemble playing Zappa, Jake also reminded us that Zappa himself performed on May 23, 1969 on our very own chapel stage.

The second half of the concert consisted of one final piece, Terry Riley’s “In C.” Riley, a minimalist composer from California, created this piece by composing fifty-three “cells” that are to be played by each individual in succession, but in a way where each player chooses when to play a cell and how long they want it to last.

It was an experience like no other for all involved. The lights were dimmed and Mast encouraged audience members to close their eyes or dance. He reminded audience members that “It’s 1964 in San Francisco. You can do whatever you want.”

For approximately 30 minutes, the Wind Ensemble went on a journey through unpredictable textures, creating conversations between instruments and growing climaxes of sound as performers and audience members alike lost themselves within the repetitions and transformations. Together they constructed something that could never be reproduced.

Through the works of Stravinsky, Schwantner, Zappa and Riley, the Wind Ensemble spotlighted composers and styles that were groundbreaking to the musical world — the movers and shakers of the status quo. Where else but Lawrence could you go to a wind ensemble concert and hear a piece by Frank Zappa, alongside Stravinsky? Or take a trip to San Francisco in the ’60s and immerse yourself in the sounds of a large-scale, collective improvisation?

 

Saturday’s concert truly embodied Lawrence’s commitment to being just a little bit different.