Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 47
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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University Wind Ensemble Demonstrates Consistent Quality for Varied Music Styles

Nancy Plum

For audiences steeped in the symphonic sounds of lush strings, a wind and brass ensemble will sound different, if not jarring. Composers writing extensively for these ensembles are not familiar to most symphonic concert-goers and the overall sound is much denser and lower pitched than an ensemble with a wider range of instruments. The Princeton University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Robert Hankle, demonstrated what this type of ensemble is capable of on Saturday night at Richardson Auditorium with a short but concise program of music composed for band instruments. The surprisingly large ensemble of winds and brass put together a smooth wind and precise brass and percussion performance in a concert of eight diverse works of, as the title of the concert indicated, “Musical (E)motions.”

Jan van der Roost is an extremely popular Belgian composer and educator whose works for band have won numerous awards. Ponte Romano, the name given to van der Roost’s one movement work which opened the Wind Ensemble’s program, is a name which turns up in a number of resort towns and gated communities, but in this case refers to a small town in northern Italy. Van der Roost dedicated this work to a conductor colleague from this village, and incorporated the feeling of a Roman army into the piece. Connoting action around almost every turn, this work could easily be a film score.

The wind ensemble began this piece with very strong lower winds, making it hard to hear the flutes, but the flavor of the piece was intact. The trombones and trumpets in the second section of the piece were especially clean, as was bass clarinetist Michael Zhang. Percussion makes the effects of this piece work, and Robert Rutz, Philip Tan, and Carlene Tauro maintained the precision necessary. From the outset of the concert, all players were very steady and right with the conductor.

W. Francis McBeth is a long-time teacher and composer based in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and has also won a number of awards for his orchestral and band works, including an ASCAP Award every year since 1965. They Hung Their Harps Upon the Willows, commissioned in 1988 by a Texas high school, draws its inspiration from both Psalm 137 and a work based on the epic poem, “Beowulf.” This one-movement symphonic poem was very dramatic, with creepy crawly clarinets juxtaposed against very clean thirds in the flutes. Again, the percussionists shone with clean playing and pulsating drumbeats.

The mood of the concert lightened considerably with Glenn Osser’s Beguine for Band. The ensemble instantly gelled in this big band-type piece, with clean clarinet figures and flutes in a much higher (and more audible) register.

The one composer who might be recognizable to the audience was Philadelphian Vincent Persichetti, whose musical style paralleled that of Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland. His one-movement Pageant, commissioned from the American Bandmaster’s Association, is musically focused around a clarinet choir, which in Saturday’s case was mellow and smooth. Musical tension builds in a style characteristic of the early 20th century American compositional scene, and solos by clarinetist Brian Richardson and flutist Jill Feffer added new colors to the piece. More than the other works on the program, this piece demonstrated the level of the Princeton Wind Ensemble and the capabilities of its players.

Conductor Robert Hankle brings a background that includes work with Buddy Rich, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, jazz, and Broadway to his experience conducting the Princeton University Wind Ensemble, and his choice of repertoire indicates a commitment to exposing the students to a wide range of music. Frank Ticheli’s arrangement of Amazing Grace and Henry Fillmore’s arrangement of Franz von Suppe’s overture to Poet and Peasant both featured smooth playing by saxophonist Samuel Fletcher and represent works which college players might not come across, but would be thrilled to perform. The large size of the Princeton University Wind Ensemble indicates that this is a popular activity on campus and one which hopefully will continue to give wind and brass players a chance to explore some new and different music.

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