While visiting Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), I got together with Megan Losch who recommended we go to the Wind Ensemble. She needed a concert review as well so we decided to kill two birds with one stone. The program was as follows:
Euphonium Concerto- Martin Ellerby
Godzilla Eats Las Vegas! – Eric Whitacre
Sinfonia V: Symphonia Sacra et Profana- Timothy Broege
III. Alla turca
VI. Ragtime alla turca
VII. Chant and Pavanne
La Fiesta Mexicana- H. Owen Reed
The first piece, Euphonium Concerto, featured sophomore Jack Duffel. The piece was very well done. It contained complex rhythms, time signatures, and technique. My one critique I would say was the soloist needed to play out more (or have a microphone) and/ or the band needed to be more of accompanying. At points it felt like the soloist was competing against the band rather than him being featured. Other than that, I found the piece to be very well done and technically clean. One part about the piece that I found really interesting was the mini bassoon/ tuba duets throughout the two movements. It was an interesting combination on sounds that is not typically exposed like it was in this piece. Yeah, the tuba and bassoon usually play the same part (bass line whole notes or metronome quarter notes) but it is never really exposed. This piece did exposed the bass line of bassoons and tubas which made the piece that much more interesting.
The second piece, Godzilla Eats Las Vegas, was super fun to listen to and watch. I have played and sang many Eric Whitacre pieces and I feel as if his songs are either out of the ball park awesome or a foul behind home plate ( baseball season has begun!). This piece was by far a grand slam! Audience members were encouraged to follow a script written by Whitacre to make the story come to life. Let’s just say the song went from being notes on a page to seeing Godzilla come to life (literally and metaphorically)! The preformed pulled out sunglasses, Godzilla hats, and even had a dinner party on stage. The end of the piece was complete organized chaos. Lev Ivanov, the award winning conductor, flourished his hands and the band went crazy! Everyone was into it and I know for sure the saxophones enjoyed it; they just pressed random keys with no thought at all, kind of like a kind just learning to play. However, in all this craziness, the tone was not lost. That for me was probably the most impressive part about the piece.
After a brief intermission, Sinfonia V as any other symphony- kind of boring, slow, and lyrical. But, the second section, Rag, was very upbeat and made the audience want to dance. If I played any other instrument, I would want to play sax just for this concert- not only in the last piece did they just press random keys, in this piece the saxophones just played their mouthpieces! I think the audience could tell that the musicians genuinely enjoyed this section. In the fourth movement, Chorale, there was a beautiful bassoon and oboe duet followed by a bassoon solo. This solo and duet inspired me- this is what I will be apart of next year, the bar is set so high! In the sixth movement, Chant and Pavanne, the flutist played her solo perfectly! It was light and didn’t push vibrato, the vibrato came naturally. Since I am a bassoonist, I may be a little bias but the bassoon harmonies blew me away. There were many sections where the bassoon I & II has intervals of half steps and whole steps with the same rhythms. This meant that the margin for error (being out of tune, coming in early, rhythms) were close to none. It felt as if the bassoon players were both in synch with each other and were connected by the bocal (not the hip).
Finally, La Fiesta Mexicana stood out because of the polyrhythm (I believe that is what it is called) played by the chimes- a triplet in the right hand and eighth note douplets in the left. I can barely play douplets when there are eighth note triplets going on but to play both still makes my head spin! This polyrythm was a repeated theme throughout the three movements. In the third movement, Carnival, there was another unusual duet combination- the oboe and the trumpet. It had a very distinguished tamber yet a beautiful hidden sound. I don’t think someone who was not a musician would get the uniqueness of the sound or appreciate it as much, but Megan Losch and I were blown away.
Overall this concert was top notch. However, it was almost too laid back-to-back and lack of a better word, unprofessional in attire. During the intermission, a percussionist came on stage to talk with her friends in the audience without shoes. When the concert resumed, the percussionist still lacked shoes! Another thing I noticed was the pants, skirts, and dress length were all across the board. There was a saxophonist who had a short dress with sparkly tights on while another girl wore what appeared to be yoga crop leggings. All of the guys wore tuxes but the girls wore whatever black they desired. I think the thing that really got me was there were girls who were wearing different shades of black and not every girl had socks. There are many little things I take for granted and this concert made me realize that one of them was uniformity within a band. Ever since eighth grade, I was taught to look the same as everyone else in the band and socks were not optional. As annoying as this seemed to be, now I understand it. The uniform among band members makes the band look more professional and in essence sound better because people listen with their eyes as well as their ears. I guess it is just the little things that I appreciate. I wish I realized this sooner though! It does not seem like a big deal when I am performing, but as an audience member, I understand it.
Yet, despite the attire, the IWU Wind Ensemble deserved to be the winner of the American Prize! They played very cleanly and as a whole played with the same tone and love of music. Playing for the love of music produces a very different sound and it showed in this performance.
The only questions I am left asking myself are-
1. Why did the director leave / re enter the stage after every song?
2. Why did they re-tune after every song? (I mean I know the answer, it just seemed is)
3. When can I join?!
This concert was amazing to watch and inspired me for my future!