‘Faith and Love’ shine forth in Symphonic Winds concert

On Feb. 15, the Williams Symphonic Winds presented a program entitled From America II: Portraits of Faith and Love in Chapin Hall. Steven Dennis Bodner, who dubs himself a “champion of new music,” directed the ensemble of twenty-eight. The program included more familiar territory in the work Leonard Bernstein, but also included additional works by Michael Colgrass, David Maslanka and Howard Hanson. Also featured was the premier of John Frantzen’s 2002 work, “Pater Noster.”

“Profanation,” from Symphony No.1, was written by Bernstein to reflect his Jewish heritage. This particular movement is meant to mirror “the chaos and destruction brought about by the pagan corruption within the priesthood and the people.” The piece encompassed tonal and atonal moments, as well as varied time signatures, which effectively conveyed Bernstein’s message. During the movement, the central theme weaved in and out of the various sections.

As each instrument took the melody and passed it on to the next, the musicianship of each section was distinctively demonstrated. The oboe stuck out as particularly strong, crisp and melodic. The ensemble started the composition with high energy that continued throughout. The piece proved to be weakest in the middle sections, due to the lack of clarity in the brass. In contrast, the percussion section was impressively together and continued to be cohesive throughout.

Colgrass’ “Old Churches” is an incredibly haunting piece. Colgrass used Gregorian chant as the basis for his melody. In commenting on the work, he wrote that the “chant unfolds through call and response pattern; one monk intones a musical idea, then the rest of the monks respond by singing back.” The idea behind the piece is essentially a musical conversation. However, at the performance, the actual conversation seemed muffled and the instrumental colloquy lost its momentum. Because there were no voices that stood out as particularly strong or weak, it was the most uninteresting of the selections.

Maslanka’s “Tears” was the most tonal of the pieces played, its themes taken from the African novel, Monnew. It tells the story of a culture overrun by imperialistic ventures.

Maslanka said, “‘Tears’ is about the movement toward the heart of love.” Fittingly, the flavor and melody of the piece were beautifully lyrical. Nevertheless, as with Bernstein’s “Profanation,” the absence of clarity in the lower brass section sharply contrasted the cohesion of the percussion.

The ensemble premiered Frantzen’s “Pater Noster,” a commissioned work that derives its main theme and melodic idea from the religious music of Frantzen’s childhood.

Clearly a contemporary introspection, the work explores the inner tension created in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

The ensemble had an overwhelmingly strong and energetic start and the abrupt changes in the mood of the music made the pianos and fortes all the more effective. Much of Frantzen’s personal sensitivity was brought to light by the lyrical lines at their moments of greatest precision and beauty.

Frantzen’s emotional connection to this contemplative piece was evident throughout, a connection that seemed to be shared equally by the ensemble. Again, though certain moments stood out, the principal theme interlaced the sections. A particularly beautiful short flute solo played by Beth Landis ’05 complemented the ensemble’s sound.

Hanson’s “Suite” from the opera Merry Mount was perhaps the most pleasing piece of the night. Based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Maypole of Merry Mount, the opera explores the social structure of Puritan settlers in 17th-century New England and was one of the Metropolitan Opera’s most successful productions.

The three movements from the opera played were played consecutively: the overture, “Children’s Dance,” the prelude to Act II, and “Maypole Dances.” On the whole, it was the most confident and solid piece the ensemble played. It was also more “classical” than the other pieces.

Perhaps due to the more conventional form, the musicians were more comfortable with the score and were thus able to play the piece with a greater sense of interaction and liveliness.

Overall, though the ensemble seemed to internalize much of the nuance necessary to convey the messages of the pieces, the concert was well played. However, the contrast of the last piece with the first three brings an interesting notion to light. While the Hanson was written in 1933 and by no means in the era of classical music, it was, in fact, much more “conventional sounding” than the other pieces. It resembled the music many of us are used to hearing.

There is no questioning the musicianship required to write, play and direct modern music. But, in the end, modern classical music is the caviar of symphonic composition.

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