Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Fall Concert "Centennials"

Last Saturday night (Oct. 22) the Concord Band performed the first concert of its 2011/2012 season. The band has now developed a strong following, especially for their winter pops concerts and their very popular summer concerts at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard. For those who haven’t heard the band in concert at the 51 Walden Street Performing Arts Center, I would strongly encourage you to check out their calendar and pick up some tickets. Concert band performances are very enjoyable by listeners of all ages and musical interests. Even the more serious pieces of contemporary band music tend to be accessible to the casual listener. Band works tend to be shorter than orchestral music, and generally very rhythmic and exciting. Saturday night’s performance was no exception.

The concert opened with “American Overture for Band” by Joseph Jenkins under the baton of James O’Dell. This stirring piece opened with a solid and dramatic fanfare very well played by the French horns. The piece continued with a pleasing melodic interchange punctuated with staccato elements cleanly articulated, especially in the brass sections. Louanne MacKenzie’s oboe “folk tune” solo was especially nice.

Next on the program was Alan Hovhaness’s “Hymm to Yerevan.” After a solemn opening intended as a reminder of the many Armenians who found refuge from massacres near the town of Yerevan, the middle section changed the mood to one of celebration with an unmetered section featuring bells and chimes representing church bells.

The Holst “Second Suite for Military Band” is a staple of the band literature and very familiar to classical music listeners. The work is composed of four movements, each of which is based on English folk music roots. The work’s familiarity and instant listener appeal places a special demand on performance accuracy. This was a very satisfying performance with good dynamics, phrasing and articulation. Ed Kilborn’s euphonium solo was especially nice on an instrument that you don’t hear in a solo setting all that often. Paul Silver’s sensitive clarinet playing was also enjoyable. In fact the entire clarinet section deserves kudos for intonation, articulation, and just generally being a solid section.

Robert Buckley’s “Continuum” is a new work centered around a two-measure repeated figure supporting a variety of bluesy, rhythmic, and percussive passages. The bass clarinet passage at the beginning was very effective. Despite the complexity of this piece the band gave a convincing performance with clearly defined lines and it was very well received by the audience.

After the intermission the band continued under the baton of guest conductor Keith Brion with “Dwellers of the Western World” by John Philip Sousa. Brion has a special interest in Sousa and has his own ensemble, the “New Sousa Band” which has toured worldwide. Brion’s introductions to the music were interesting and informative. The work itself is in three movements, “Red Man,” “White Man,” and “Black Man.” In each of these Sousa has presented his musical impression of these peoples in America at the turn of the 20th century. Viewed from the present perspective the music seems dated and somewhat misleading - as if they were intended as a sound track for a naively directed silent movie. Nevertheless they were interesting, enjoyable, certainly original, and bearing Sousa’s unmistakable imprint. The “Black Man” movement in particular seemed very much like a blending of the music of Sousa with that of Joplin.

Brion continued on the podium with Sousa’s “Boy Scouts of America” march. This is a seldom heard but very nice march intended for the somewhat lighter marching step of a Boy Scout troop. On hand for the performance were the members of Concord Boy Scouts Troop 132. James O’Dell returned to the podium to conduct “The Guide” by Noah Taylor. Taylor was the winner of a student composer competition in 2005 held by the Metropolitan Wind Symphony and the group subsequently commissioned him to write this composition. This is a very original and impressive work filled with unique elements, dramatic dynamics and appealing melodic lines. The saxophone fluttering over a clarinet bass was especially effective.

The final piece on the program brought Keith Brion back to the podium to conduct “The National Game” by Sousa. James “Slugger” O’Dell joined the percussion section to play 1st bat. Together with Ken “Masher” Troup on 2nd bat they and the rest of the band turned in a “grand slam” performance of this seldom heard but thoroughly enjoyable Sousa composition. The bats, by-the-way, provided just the right sound as well as visual entertainment.

During the intermission of this concert June Grace, a member of the flute section, was awarded the “Lifetime Service Award” for her 40 years of service to the Concord Band in various capacities. June was quoted as saying that she was honored to be involved with musicians “who obtain amazing results given the limitation of time available for rehearsals and outside practice.” Many of the band members travel from more than forty area communities one or more nights a week and many concert weekends. They perform in fourteen or more concerts a year, entertain families at Fruitlands Museum in the summer, as well as the annual 4th of July concert in Concord. Many also play in other events in their communities or at 51 Walden events such as the Waltz Night, Messiah Sings, musicals, and First Night events. They have day jobs, families, and busy lives like the rest of us. Yet they find time to contribute not only as performing members, but as administrative personnel to keep the myriad of supporting tasks necessary to keep any performing group operating successfully. The result of their efforts is a highly respected and well recognized all volunteer wind ensemble which has entertained this area year round for more than half a century and commissioned musical works which are now part of the standard literature and performed around the world.

The success of the Concord Band is directly attributable to the dedication and wisdom as well as the talent of its members. Over the years they have been very successful in the selection of music directors who are well qualified to teach and support the organization, as well as provide the musical guidance and direction. The musical programming has been consistent in remaining accessible to a wide audience while presenting a satisfying mix of familiar and new works and quality guest performers. In short, they are always entertaining. The ticket prices are low, the parking is free and the venue is near. The options for quality live family entertainment at a reasonable price are limited these days. A Concord Band concert remains one of the best.

Reviewed by Richard Chick

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