Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review: Concord Band Presents A Tribute to Bill Toland

William M. Toland, the soul behind the Concord Band from 1962 until 1995 and a continuing influence on the hearts and minds of the musicians in the band, passed from this world in January of 2012. The band, under the direction of current Music Director Jim O’Dell and William McManus (director of the band from 1995 – 2009, now Director Emeritus), offered up their musical tribute to Bill’s memory this weekend in a stellar performance at the Bedford High School Auditorium, the school where he helped to shape the minds and spirits of a multitude of young musicians from 1957 through 1984. The program was a mosaic of compositions by Toland himself, beloved works commissioned during his tenure (from a total of 76 over the years) and other pieces he particularly favored. The evening also featured the World Premier of Elegy by Dr. McManus, a composition dedicated to the memory of Bill Toland.

The program began with Fanfare for a Festive Day by Roger Cichy. This spirited work opened a concert that was filled with energy and tonal brilliance. The band truly showed the love they hold for Bill in their enthusiastic performance and attention to intonation.

Each subsequent piece was introduced by either a member of the band or someone who has had their life touched by Bill Toland as a student or as a performer. Whether it was the words of Dan Diamond, now in his 44th year as senior percussionist with the band – as he says himself, it’s just because he got there first – or John Ferillo, a former student and currently a professional musician (in truth he has been principal oboe with the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 2001), one common thread passes through each description of how Bill touched the lives of his students and colleagues: He was always a coach, a cheerleader, a promoter of the welfare of all those with whom he worked.

Pehhyghael, a piece composed in 1987 by Toland, features several themes based on Scottish folk songs. The lovely, voluptuous tones of solo work by oboist Louann Mackenzie and the clear brilliance of Dave Southard’s saxophone solo were augmented by the bright jewels of piccolo, produced by Laura Finkelstein. The band expressed great affection in the care and precision of their performance, and the overall effect was uplifting.

Satiric Dances, by Norman Dello Joio, is a composition commissioned by Toland in 1975 for a concert coinciding with the celebration of the April 19, 1775 Bicentennial. This piece is one of the most highly regarded commissions of all time, being played by more high school and concert bands across the country than any other. Bill conducted this great work for the last time at the Concord Band’s 50th anniversary concert in March, 2009. This weekend’s performance was tight and clean, from the opening trumpet call and playful rhythms in the woodwinds of the first movement, to the sweet, mysterious strains of the second movement. The driving theme of the third and final movement used the bass line against the high winds to produce a thrilling result, of which I am sure Bill would have been most proud.

Claude T. Smith was a favorite composer and contemporary of Bill’s, and his Eternal Father, Strong to Save is a masterful rendering of the official hymn of the U.S. Navy. This is a difficult piece, played with great care and mastery by the Concord Band. The French Horns, in particular, have a very exposed line throughout. Their masterful performance in the opening theme and throughout the chorale section earns them the shining star for this stirring work.

"Nimrod" is the name given to the fifth of fourteen variations contained in the Enigma Variations of Sir Edward Elgar. This piece was requested by Bill to be played at the band’s Winter 2012 concert, and was reprised here this weekend. This evocative piece stirs the emotions and touches the heart. The love with which the band played for Bill was evident in their controlled intonation and attention to dynamics. When played with such care, you will seldom find a dry eye in the audience.

The last piece before intermission was Frank Ticheli’s Postcard. Ticheli was always a favorite composer of Bill Toland’s, and he selected many of his works for performance throughout his tenure with the Concord Band. This piece is extremely complex, with compound rhythms and a fast pace that is breathtaking in its textural variety. The band was tight and alert, with everyone executing their parts with accuracy and brilliance. When everyone does their job in this manner, the result is fascinating, intricate entertainment. Congratulations on a job very well done!! The first piece after intermission was the concert march Proud Heritage by William Latham. This sterling work was executed with clean professionalism and set the scene for a delightful second half of the program.

William Schuman, in 1956, composed a work in three movements, New England Tryptich, of which the third movement is named Chester. This tune is based on a famous American Revolutionary Hymn by William Billings. This piece, which was much loved by Bill Toland, was performed with great care and mastery by the band. The piece began with a soft, controlled chorale, which gave way to a sharp, rapid fire section that resolves to a smooth strong final statement of the theme. The dynamic expression and control displayed by the band was inspirational.

Bill McManus’ composition, Elegy, was lovingly written in memory of Bill Toland, and was conducted by the composer himself in this World Premier. It contains two themes, first a melancholy remembrance and second, a life-affirming hymn. It begins with a trumpet solo played artfully by Arthur Magazu, accompanied by gentle tympani, played by Steve Polit. This plaintive theme builds to enfold the entire band, and grows into the uplifting hymn-like section. The chorale shines for a few brief moments before submitting once again to a quiet, contemplative and sweet reiteration of the initial theme. The audience response to this piece was spontaneous, rousing applause, which was truly well-deserved.

Next up on the program, the antepenultimate piece as Bill would have said, was Welsh Variants, a 1988 commission piece written by James Curnow. This piece is based on a Welsh folk song as showcased in the feature film Empire of the Sun. It began with a sweet and moving oboe solo by Louann Mackenzie, echoed by the silvery tones of Barbara Weiblen on flute. It shifts to a rousing theme, enthusiastically embraced by the entire band. The third theme begins with a gentle, legato oboe joined again by the flutes and builds to the heights, to subside into a wistful oboe, accompanied by the saxophone artistry of Dave Southard. Intonation is crucial in this exposed strain, and to use the vernacular, they nailed it. The fourth and final theme starts with a rousing and energetic example of outstanding ensemble performance which builds to a magnificent reiteration of the main theme in brass choir, with solo line again provided by Arthur Magazu. This piece has always been a favorite of the band and the audience, with good reason. This weekend’s performance was no exception.

El Capitan, by John Philip Sousa, is a great crowd pleaser and was one of Bill’s favorite marches. The band performed it with tight accuracy and wonderful dynamic control. Bill would have been proud of this performance, I am sure.

The final piece of the evening was Bill Toland’s own arrangement of Auld Lang Syne. This has been the signature closing piece of every Concord Band Holiday Pops concert since Bill penned this version. The band played it with grace and emotion as they paid their last respects to their beloved band director. So long, Bill. You graced our lives with music, love and laughter, and you will not soon be forgotten. Have a wonderful journey through forever.

Vanessa Rene is a marketing and technical specialist in the magnetic fluids division of Ferrotec (USA) Corporation, in Bedford NH. She has been an oboist for 43 years and was a member of the Concord Band from 1989 until 2008. She lives in Lowell Ma with her husband and has three grown children and one grandson, 2 ½ year old Dexter. She is a 34 year member of the Chelmsford Community Band and a new member of the Carlisle Community Chorus.