Concert Tonight, November 22!

I know, I know, I’m as swamped as everyone else. I didn’t even make it to the last concert, though I wasn’t feeling well that night. But I’m carving out time to go to this one, and I hope you will too. It’s the final symphonic wind concert of the semester (and therefore of the 2010 calendar year), and it’s got something for everyone who likes symphonic winds.

First, the Symphony Band with Brian Britt and Debra Traficante conducting, alternating at the podium in that order. The program begins with the fourth and final movement, “Allegro con brio,” from Giannini’s Symphony No. 3 for Symphonic Band. I remember playing this under then-Mr. Wakefield on the stage of Holmberg Hall back in the second half of the 80s (the 1980s, thankyewverymuch); you may recall it starting with some brass hits and a massive wind scale downward with enough accidentals in it to make me angry. Perhaps a 30-second iTunes preview (track #15) would jog your memory, but if not, take my word that it’s fast and a good opener.

That’s followed by Aaron Copland’s Down a Country Lane (arranged by Merlin Patterson), Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances for Band, Set I, Op. 27 (arranged by Maurice Johnstone—these would be the ones not as popular in the 20-plus years that Set II has been available, so I’m looking forward to hearing them), and concludes with Samuel Hazo’s Ride, a piece in honor of Jack Stamp inspired by “trying to follow Jack at the top speed a country road can be driven.” (I’m still listening to Asphalt Cocktail from a spring concert regularly, so this should be fun as well!)

After an intermission, the Wind Symphony take the stage. DMA candidate Wilson Wise conducts Samuel Barber’s Commando March (another favorite), and DMA candidate Brian Wolfe follows directing La Procession du Rocio, Op. 9 by Joaquin Turina, arranged by the late Alfred Reed in 1962. Bill Wakefield then directs the first movement of Steven Bryant’s Alchemy in Silent Spaces, “I. the logic of all my dreams.” I have this on CD from BCM International (a disc that includes Godzilla Eats Las Vegas, FYI), and it is a departure from most of Bryant’s other work. As he puts it in the program notes:

The opening is sparse, utilizing mallet percussion, harp, and piano to create a floating sense of timelessness. This gradually builds over several minutes, ultimately launching itself into a grandiose, warm, harmonically consonant blanket of sound, after which it concludes with a single chord repeated four times at pianissimo. The music is for the most part delicate and quiet, relying on silence and space to create drama, rather than the relentless rhythmic energy common to many of my other works.

And then the program concludes, because it’s Dr. Wakefield and there’s only so long he can go without performing this, Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral from the opera Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner. Now, you might think from my bemused tone that I dislike this piece, and that’s not true at all—it’s beautiful, sonorous, powerful and delicate in different sections. You can easily imagine the “long train of ladies, magnificently attired, proceed[ing] slowly, finally ascending the steps of the church,” followed by Elsa herself. It’s gorgeous, and it’s taught more wind players how to listen to each other, how to play as a tuned ensemble, than just about anything I can think of.

Yet I was a bass clarinetist (as some of you know), and my part to Elsa’s Procession pretty much consisted of holding a concert E♭2 (Es in German notation) for about three weeks. Measures and measures and measures of whole notes of one pitch, tied together, at slower than 60 beats per minute. On the instruments of my day, this was only one whole step above the lowest note a bass clarinet could play, but it was a nice resonant note and easy to play in tune. That helped, because I think Elsa’s Procession contributed to more bass wind players developing asthma and breathing problems than an explosion at a ragweed processing plant. It took a lot of air, especially to keep it focused and in-tune while playing softly. I think my niece has the better idea. She plays double bass and can hold a low sustained tone for hours and still breathe normally.

But that was the standard transcription by Donald Hunsberger from 1970. This is a new transcription that’s even more faithful to the original, starting out in A♭ and eventually ending not in the wind-friendly key of E♭ concert, but in the original string-friendly key of E major concert. Since it’s Wagner, I guess we’re just lucky he didn’t spell it as “C♯-triple-sharp,” but I’ll bet he thought of it. With increased fidelity to the original score and the help of string players to save future low woodwinds from a life of breathing difficulties, I’m really looking forward to this in the resonance of Sharp Hall. No, seriously, I’ve been humming it in my mind all day, at least while sitting down so I don’t run out of breath. “:-)”

The concert starts at 8:00 PM in the aforementioned Sharp Hall. As a Sutton Series concert, tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for FSSS (faculty, students, staff, and senior citizens), available at the Fine Arts Box Office in Catlett Music Center right outside Sharp Hall. I hope you can start your Bedlam Week by listening to some good pre-Thanksgiving music. If you’re too far away, it’s scheduled for live streaming from the OU School of Music, so crank up your browser and hum along. Do turn out!