Concert Review: Southern Illinois University Carbondale Wind Ensemble Essay

Concert Review: Southern Illinois University Carbondale Wind Ensemble

            The wind ensemble of Southern University Carbondale began its May 3 performance with Dmitri Kabalevsky’s overture to Colas Breugnon (1938).  The concert was held in the school of music with Christopher Morehouse conducting.  Kabalevsky’s overture is brassy and up-tempo with easily discernable melodies.  There is little variation in pitch or tempo, as the piece mainly focuses on phrasing simple melodies.  The listener immediately gets a sense of drama from crashing percussion and blaring horns.  The concert program claims that Kabalevsky shares Tchaikovsky’s “idiom,” while adding his own “modern trimmings.”  If this means Kabalevsky likes melody, then the parallel is accurate, though there is little of the “modern trimmings” that might be heard in the work of a composer like Arnold Schoenberg.

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            The performance continued with David Gillingham’s Concertino for Four Percussion and Wind Ensemble (1997).  This piece begins with an intricate melody played on the xylophone.  The percussionist’s technique was impressive.  The first half of the piece is a slow introduction, a change in tempo from Kabalevsky’s overture.  The second half of the piece is an allegro, and there is little in the way of melody.  The piece is an exploration of texture and timbre, variations that demonstrate the mixture of sounds  that are possible as the vibraphone, xylophone, and marimba interweave with brass.

            Written in 2001, the next piece had something of a comic effect on the audience.  A composer named Scott McAllister wrote an interpretation for solo clarinet and wind ensemble based on Led Zeppelin’s song “Black Dog,” with a little “Stairway to Heaven” thrown in.  The virtuosity of the clarinetist impressed everyone - Concert Review: Southern Illinois University Carbondale Wind Ensemble Essay introduction.  But it is hard to imagine this interpretation being accepted on its own terms, by listeners who do not already enjoy Led Zeppelin.  The clarinet solo seemed unfocused and, at times, gratuitous.  The piece never seemed to settle on a tempo that suited it.

            An instrumental version of Bernstein’s Mass (1971) followed, and while it was intended to be the centerpiece of the performance, it lacked coherence.  There was little or no transition between movements of varying tempo, and the effect was jarring.  But with its stirring melody, the piece’s climax in Agnus Dei seemed to affect everyone.  The timbre of the horns was especially affecting in this interpretation, seeming very bright and warm.  Perhaps others in the audience enjoyed this piece more than I did.  Bernstein’s Mass is apparently very popular, and I might have gotten more out of the interpretation if I had heard it before.

            The night ended with “Wedding Dance” (1955) by composer Jacques Press.  It is a jaunty, happy piece.  The horns bounce along and the tempo never lags.  There is a middle-eastern quality in the melody, something like Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheharazade.   This mysterious eastern sound  is very appealing, never getting bogged down as the interpretation of Bernstein’s Mass did.  The are some percussive flourishes that add some drama to the piece, but overall, “Wedding Dance” flows quickly along and never seems too serious.  The piece showcased the individual talents of the ensemble, but also demonstrated just how together they were.  Their syncopation was excellent, and most of the audience must have shared my impression that this was a better performance than could be expected from the wind ensemble of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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