Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review: Winter Concert "New and Blue"

On March 5, 2011 I had the pleasure of attending the Concord Band Winter Concert, “New and Blue.” The Concord Band played a variety of lush and dramatic music, loosely tied together with a “blue” theme, under the direction of James O’Dell and Steven Barbas. The sound was polished and the audience seemed riveted with the selections, from the blue notes in “Three Jazz Moods” and Porgy and Bess to the Blue Seas in Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Songs.”

Fruitlands Overture premiered last summer for the 25th anniversary of the Band’s summer performances at Fruitlands Museums, and it opened this program. Composer Bill McManus was Music Director of the Concord Band for fifteen of those years. In his spirited overture, he pays homage to the diversity of music performed there. He includes a samba rhythm, a swing section, jazz harmonies and blue notes, as well as trumpet and saxophone solos, often featured with the band. The tempo at the end of the overture accelerates, and anyone who has been to a Fruitlands concert can tell you why: the mosquitoes! As the sun goes down, there is a mad dash to grab your instrument or picnic blanket, and retreat to your car’s safety!

The concert ended with a lovely set of pieces by Roger Cichy called Colours. The percussion section was indispensable in the shifting moods of this six-movement work. Including an obvious nod to Bernstein’s West Side Story, there is also a movement that evokes the pentatonic tones of a Jade Buddha temple in China. Another sounds like a Beatles song, and the final movement is a stunning combination of Klezmer, Big Band, and holiday charm that makes brilliant use of silence in music.

Music is the organization of sound and silence. Both are essential to the highlight of the evening: Andrew Boysen’s new work Twilight of the Gods. This programmatic piece was created to fit with graphic art, on display in the lobby, to tell the story of Ragnarok from Scandinavian mythology. Beginning with a sparse texture, pizzicato bass, piano, and a pedal point in the mallet percussion, various instruments layer in toward the first climax. Suddenly, we hear near silence, except for the percussion, persistently holding their vibraphone tremolo. A brilliant moment in the piece is when the melody is tossed from section to section in long, sustained notes. Accented staccato tones illustrate the destruction of civil wars across the earth, and the feet of marching soldiers can be imagined. Perfect fifths in the horns and then the oboes change key dramatically, and the harmony becomes more and more dissonant until a surprising brass chorale in major chords. This time, the silence is genuine, the effect powerful. The gong sounds, the vibration ringing as the band waits for the sound to dissipate, when the flute reminds this listener of the dove announcing that Noah’s ark has found land at last. The perfect fifth theme at the end feels like rebirth, resurrection, or redemption, and the major chord which ends the piece is quite welcome.
During intermission, audience and band alike were all smiles. These pieces are fun to play as well as to hear, and the musicians play because they love to make music. All members of the Concord Band are volunteers, and the audience is more than friends and family. There are many community members who know the reputation of the Concord Band and seek out their concerts when they want varied and interesting new music to hear. As conductor, James O’Dell handles transitions and mixed meters with clarity and precision, but without fanfare. He connects with his audience with information and humor between songs, and is articulate and interesting. What struck me about this concert was that both halves began with a strong, beautiful piece of music. All too many community groups begin their concerts with announcements, program notes, advertisements for future performances etc., but the audience came to hear music!

I heartily recommend that you find time in your schedule to attend one of the many summer concerts the band does in Concord or at Fruitlands. You will hear a variety of engaging band music, no doubt with the same brilliant tone quality.

Kathryn Denney is a music educator in the Newton Public Schools. She played French horn in the Concord Band for about 10 years, sings, and directs musical theatre productions.