Brass Ensemble embraces myriad of melodies

Last Friday evening, the Williams Brass Ensemble filled Chapin Hall with a mixture of soothing, thrashing, mournful and triumphal harmonies. Pieces composed by students this fall were interspersed with traditional pieces – which Ensemble Director Tom Bergeron called “palate cleansers” – from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The performance began when the five students – Jacob Walls ’11 and Noah Wentzel ’13 on trumpet, Elizabeth Irvin ’10 and Christina Knapp ’13 on French horn, and Andrea Currie ’10 on trombone – as well as Bergeron on trumpet, entered the front of the stage and formed a standing semicircle to perform the first three sets of Henry Purcell’s “Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day.” The music rang out like a triumphal march, proud and short, then paused and switched into two softer, more dramatic sets.

The second piece, “Metallic Sonatas,” composed by Dan Kohane ’12, grew ominously from the beginning. Bergeron’s trumpet was muted while the other trumpets called out short, desperate warnings, creating the mood of an old thriller or slasher movie. The trumpets’ urgency then turned to melody, eliciting a darker, lower warning response from the trombone and French horns.

The Ensemble also played “Fanfare for the King” by Laone Thekiso ’12. Currie described this piece as “challenging but also interesting to play.” It was a remix of the third piece, ‘Pavane’ by late Renaissance composer Melchior Franck. The piece was lively; its score of crescendos played with volume.

After a long intermission, the music began again with beautiful, full, drawn-out trumpet notes, and I was thrown off as I searched for the source of it: No one on the stage was playing! The audience muttered and turned their heads to the back. I looked behind me and there was Bergeron, playing in the back corner on the upper deck of Chapin with one light to guide him. The solo, gorgeous in its simplicity, used Chapin’s space perfectly: One small instrument reverberated through this pocket of space, filling the bodies and souls of the audience members. The director then pointed attention back to the students, who took it away into a loud crescendo.

The next piece was titled “Prototorp,” a palindrome. The piece was written by Walls, who played trumpet for his own composition, which he introduced humorously: “This song features, um, me.” Walls’ trumpet began with a high melody, backed up by lower and quicker notes by his fellows. This song was also had an ominous tone, reminiscent of a detective movie theme. Walls performed his masterpiece with exuberance and confidence, clearly enjoying its intricacies.

“Relapse,” composed by Rob Silversmith ’11, came off awkwardly, as it was composed of many disparate elements that did not seem to match up. The harmonies were strange, and at one point the trumpets sounded similar to car horns in traffic. There ensued a lot of climbing up and down the scale, as well as a lot of trembling between two notes.

The last piece, as Bergeron reminded the audience, was actually the fourth, fifth and sixth sets of “Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day.” Bergeron joked about the audiences’ hesitation about clapping after the first three sets had been played as the opening piece. He attributed their silence to either the knowledge or intuition that the piece was unfinished, and thanked them for waiting for these remaining three sets. The fourth and sixth sets were triumphal and cheery, with many exuberant groupings of five notes, while the middle piece elapsed slowly and mournfully.

Having had few chances to listen to brass music, this performance was a gratifying experience. Though many of the starts were tentative and performers’ entrances during their cues a bit erratic, the Ensemble put together a very impressive and wide-reaching show. As spotlights glimmered off the shiny brass, the Ensemble shared with its audience a great variety of music that echoed beautifully through Chapin’s walls.

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