Sweeping melodies, dramatic contrasts and lush imagery were on tap at the Calgary Wind Symphony's June 2, 2013 performance at the Rozsa Centre. Billed as "Apollo Sings! Music that Soars", this live concert featured a diverse mix of program and absolute music to work the listener's imagination.
Picking up the conductor's baton for this wind symphony concert were Artistic Director Dr. Jeremy Brown and Associate Conductor Wendy Freeman. CWS members Mary Hamm and Noel Jones were featured in Mendelssohn's Concertpiece No. 2 for Two Clarinets with Band.
Programme and Aleatoric Music Performed by the Calgary Wind Symphony
The concert opened with Alfred Reed's The Hounds of Spring. The work is based on Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem Atlanta in Calydon. The sweeping melodic lines, depicted romance in the springtime. This was a number that showcased just how wonderful the acoustics are in the Rozsa Centre. It also demonstrated how tight the ensemble is. The balance was superb, while the tone was rich and warm..
Yasuhide Ito's Gloriosa was one of the many hidden gems on the programme. This work for symphonic band featured Christian hymns that were "Japanified" by Crypto-Christians who continued to practice their religion in secret after it was banned in Japan (1643 - 1848).
Gloriosa contains three movements. "Oratio" was dripping with melancholy. The chimes in the opening, followed by the CWS singing a Gregorian chant, filled the hall with sorrow. In contrast, the middle section featured the flutes and clarinets playing a sweeping Japanese melody, punctuated by accents and harmonies in the brass, depicting the persecution of the Crypto-Christians. The movement ends as it began, with distant chimes. It was an utter delight to listen to the Calgary Wind Symphony sing the Gregorian chants.
"Cantus" showcased the flute and piccolo playing a melody sounding very much like a traditional Japanese song on the shakuhachi. Another Gregorian chant was buried deep within the score, nearly hidden by the flute melody, the taiko-like percussion and the blues-like harmonies..
From the shrill opening to the taiko-like rhythms, "Dies Festus" sounded more like a battle than a festival. This movement contained a Nagasaki folk song that was popular where many Crypto-Christians lived.
Christiaan Ventner's Dancing Lights of the North earned positive comments in the lobby during intermission from various concert patrons. To introduce it, Dr. Brown spoke of how the process is just as important as the melody. The piece is comprised of unfolding segments that contain a high element of improvisation.
It opened with a solo water glass passage (yes, you read that correctly), The twinkling percussion undoubtedly represented stars, while the woodwinds represented the shimmering aurora borealis. To me, the rumbling brass depicted night descending upon the listener. Later, the woodwinds sounded like birds and crickets in the night:
Associate Conductor Wendy Freeman conducted Illyrian Dances by Guy Woolfenden. This three-part work would fit perfectly in a fantasy tale such as the Chronicles of Narnia series. "Rondeau" was a lively modal dance peppered with syncopation and hemiolas. In contrast, "Aubade" was a slow and dreamier movement. "Gigue" is extremely playful, as depicted by the dancing flute melody and light percussion. The horns interjected with a hunting-like theme.
The CWS Presented Dramatic Contrasts and Meltdown by Marco Pütz
Calgary Wind Symphony members Mary Hamm and Noel Jones took to centrestage for Mendelssohn's Concertpiece No. 2 for Two Solo Clarinets with Band. The Romantic composer penned the work for the sons of clarinetist Heinrich Barmann.
This three-movement work is highly technical. It opened with a dramatic swell from the ensemble before Hamm and Jones' lines weaved and danced around like birds exploring the landscape from above.The second movement unfoled slowly. The running sixteenths were reminiscent of Schubert's Ave Maria. The third movement was rather operatic, like the love duet between the main characters in an opera. It finishes off with a highly virtuosic cadenza between the soloists.
Hamm and Jones were superb throughout. Their tone was well-matched and their technique complemented each other beautifully. They negotiated through those rapid-fire runs gracefully.
The highlight of the second half was Meltdown by Marco Pütz. This symphonic poem could easily fit into a dramatic film score. Even without knowing the programme - the meltdown of a nuclear reactor - one can easily hear it working for movies involving dinosaurs, gigantic monsters or space battles.
Meldown began ominously with the bass clarinet, followed by the other woodwinds, one layer at a time. The dance of the nuclear particles was extremely tense and frenetic, achieved by instruments playing in the extreme high register, an uneven waltz pattern and dissonant harmonies.
The brass and percussion drove the listeners towards the actual meltdown, with an increase of aural explosions. Rhythm and harmony continued to play a role in weaving a tale of instability, drama and fear. The lone beeping and hum from the synthesizer was akin to a lone machine beeping in the aftermath before fading into nothingness. The closing theme presented by a solo trumpet before being joined by the rest of the wind ensemble, seemed to describe the survivors surveying the landscape after the explosion.
To clear the air, Meltdown was followed up with two lighter works, Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide Karl King's The Purple Pageant March. These two are well known and oft-performed.
Smart Programming, Balance and Variety by the Calgary Wind Symphony
One thing that continues to impress me with the Calgary Wind Symphony is the programme choices. The group isn't afraid to step out of the box of standard concert band repertoire. Each concert has included lesser-known works, as well as pieces that may challenge some listeners.
That's just fine. The edgier works are introduced clearly in the concert programmes as well as by the conductors on stage. What's even smarter is how these works are programmed. There is always a balance between these newer works with a good dose of familiar composers or styles.
About the Calgary Wind Symphony
The CWS (formerly the Calgary Concert Band) is a 60-member wind ensemble that has been around since 1947. It is directed by directed by Dr. Jeremy Brown of the University of Calgary and Associate Conductors Wendy Freeman and Gareth Jones.
Subscriptions for the 2013/14 season are already available. The lobby was abuzz with the news of Carmina Burana on the December programme. For more information, visit the Calgary Wind Symphony's website.
The Calgary Wind Symphony presented an engaging and varied programme for the ensemble's final concert of the 2012/13 season. Like the Greek god, Apollo, the June 2, 2013 concert brought sunlight into the concert hall and lit up the stage with soaring melodies and rich harmonies.