Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wind Symphony Satisfies

I just got back from an enjoyable evening of orchestral music--without a single stringed instrument on the stage. Instead, it was a wind symphony, known also as a concert band, filled with a skilled contingent of horns and woodwinds--backed by a powerful percussion section.Over the course of the show we would hear a brass quartet, brass ensemble, woodwind ensemble, and in the second half, the whole group together.

I need to thank Amy, my fellow bassist, who not only played with me last Sunday on Beethoven and Balalaika music, but performed as a tuba player tonight with the group. That's a tuba pictured.

I heard the CSU East Bay Wind Symphony, along with separate ensembles from it, in the theater at the Hayward, California campus. The group was expertly led by John Eros, who kept the beat perfectly with his baton.

The show began when four young men in tuxedos walked onto the stage with their trumpets and trombones. They played Paul Hindemith's Morgenmusik from Ploner Musiktag, from 1932. It was kind of a wake up for the audience to focus their attention. Nicely done, with sharply defined harmonies and everything tidy.

Then, the rest of the brass joined the four to play Vaclav Nelhybel's Numismata (1965). Pretty impressive with the two tubas, French horns, and euphonium. Then, they all exited, stage left and turned the show over to their woodwind colleagues. Not only were there clarinets in abundance, but a saxophone or two, a row of flutes, and even a contralto clarinet--so large it sat with its bell on the ground while the curving tube delivered the mouthpiece to the proper height. You could hear it holding down the bottom, especially before the tubas joined it in the second half.

The woodwinds got some heavy support for the following selection, In Another Time, a newly composed work by Nicholas Vasallo, who teaches at the university and created this lively piece especially for this concert. It's great to hear music by living composers, and I got to meet him afterwards. The bass drum player jumped into the air as he struck powerfully on his instrument during this piece. Nobody would sleep through this exuberant composition.

The intermission gave me time to stretch and to talk with Lea, my orchestra colleague, who had joined the group on French horn for the concert.

The combined forces of the woodwinds, brass and percussion opened the second half with a rousing John Philip Sousa march, The Black Horse Troop. Then, a change of pace, with two pretty Irish melodies by David Gillingham--one traditional and one newly written in 2000. The grand finale was the martial-sounding Symphony No. 3 by Boris Kozhevnikov. It had me wondering what was going on in the Soviet Union back then. Had party secretary Khrushchev pounded his shoe at the United Nations yet?

Then, applause, and it was over. The nicely dressed, pleasingly skilled musicians left the stage. It was surely worth much more than the $5 ticket I had bought. I walked into the cool evening air in a happy frame of mind.

As a string player, I tend to think along the lines of the "full" orchestra, but these guys really did a great job.

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