MUSIC REVIEW: IU WIND ENSEMBLE

Level of performance is rewardingly high

By Peter Jacobi

 

The compositions chosen, five in number, were fewer and, for the most part, longer than usual on Tuesday evening when the Indiana University Wind Ensemble gathered on stage of the Musical Arts Center for its initial program of the winter season.  But, as usual for all of the university’s concert bands, the emphasis was on repertory little known and challenging.

Also as usual, and definitely to the good, conductor Stephen Pratt was in charge for all but one of the pieces, meaning that the level of performance was rewardingly high. Let it be said that the other item, a lively salute to American musical comedies by Adam Gorb titled “Awayday,” was nicely served, too, thanks to the nimble and purposeful conducting of master’s candidate Trae Blanco.

Tuesday’s program opened with a stimulating celebration of the tango, “Vientos y Tangos” (“Winds and Tangos”) by Michael Gandolfi.  The work is marked by a succession of rhythms arrayed against counter rhythms, a not-easy task to make happen smoothly in performance.  But with Maestro Pratt wielding the baton, the reading moved ever so smoothly from quiet, reflective start to dynamic development and back to calm, as if the dancers, after the excitement of the dance, needed to catch their collective breath and enjoy their tango memories.

The most extensive work on the program, a full-scale concerto, followed, this being Kevin Walczyk’s “Talking Winds” — Concerto for Trombone and Wind Ensemble.  Walczyk teaches music at Western Oregon University and has been honored for both his teaching and composition.  “Talking Winds,” he says, was inspired by the Navajo code talkers of World War II and the war correspondence of Ernie Pyle. Written for Tuesday’s trombone soloist, the immensely gifted Jacobs School faculty member Peter Ellefson, the concerto, according to the composer, was designed to “transform the written word into music pitches that make up the work’s complete melodic and harmonic language.”

What one heard was music adroitly orchestrated and certainly well played by both Ellefson and the Wind Ensemble. The technically demanding solo line might, indeed, have paid homage to the code talkers, as the composer claims in discussing “prose transformation” that “utilizes both word-for-word and acrostic ciphering methods,” but this listener longed for music more in the spirit of the eloquent Ernie Pyle words Walczyk said moved him. Among them are words about the Midwest, about “the summer wind … one of the most melancholy things” that “comes from so far away and blows so gently and yet so relentlessly; it rustles the leaves and the branches of the maple trees in a symphony of sadness.”  There’s music in those words.

A sumptuous “Elegy for Albinoni,” written by Shelley Hanson as homage to the Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni, gave the ensemble a chance to sound lush and radiant.  The program ended with “Duende,” by the contemporary Spanish composer Luis Serrano Alarcon, an exciting foray into musical traditions of his native land, to which Pratt and the Wind Ensemble gave both nuance and vibrancy.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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