Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: Fall Concert, 26 October 2013

Dr. Chi-Sun Chan
tuba soloist
The Concord Band’s Fall Concert performed last Saturday night was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. The program consisted in an eclectic mix of pieces selected from a list of those requested by Band members.  Among the pieces were several composed in the 21st century. These included October composed by Eric Whitacre in 2000, Capriccio for Tuba and Wind Band in 2005 by Rodney Newton, and Quartets by Roger Cichy in 2006. Every one of these is a piece of contemporary music that, after hearing for the first time, you will surely want to hear again. The rest of the program was composed of selections that have justifiably earned their place as part of the standard band repertoire.

These musicians are an ambitious lot because their choices, especially in the contemporary works, presented substantial ensemble difficulties. Nevertheless, the performances were very satisfying, allowing the listener to concentrate on enjoying the music. I found myself jotting down comments like, “sparkling", "not muddy", "crisp",  "good dynamics”, etc. After awhile I just stopped making the notations. They applied throughout. Also it was difficult to single out individual performers for praise as there were so many well played solo passages although I did find Arthur Magazu’s solo trumpet work especially noteworthy.

It was especially interesting to hear the tuba as a solo instrument. Dr. Chi-Sun Chan’s performance of Newton’s lyrical Capriccio for Tuba and Wind Band was exemplary. He played on an F tuba which is a smaller instrument often used for solo work and a number of passages in the Capriccio extended into a higher register than I am accustomed to hearing on a tuba. I wondered during his performance how many local school band tuba players were missing an opportunity to hear a virtuoso on the instrument and perhaps get a few tips after the concert. The band often features soloists on less often heard wind instruments. Hearing an impressive solo performance on an instrument you are learning to play can be very inspirational.

During the intermission percussionist Neil Tischler stopped to chat enthusiastically about the variety of percussion equipment and the choreography of the seven players necessary to cover them in the second half of the program. We had already been treated to some pretty exciting percussion work. Gandalf ’s wild horse ride in the Lord of the Rings included some spot-on precision snapping of a “whip” consisting of two wooden panels held together with a hinge (which I would imagine is not as easy as it looks.) Tischler told me that every single piece of percussion equipment available to the Band was being used in the second half. So many musical implements were involved that another player, Yvonne Wilson, had to be imported from the clarinet section to cover the whip, finger cymbals, suspended cymbal, and Vibra-slap. Seven players in the section along with all the equipment presented a significant risk of confusion or even collision. Tripping in the percussion section could be even more disastrous than a cell phone eruption in the audience.

During Tischler’s comments I was reminded of a question by John Ferrillo, principal oboe of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to students in a master class, “What is the first deficiency a listener is able to detect in a musical performance? . . . It is the pulse.” In making that statement, Ferrillo did not intend to imply a constant pulse slavishly tied to a metronome marking. He meant a pulse that satisfies in the mind of the listener the mood of the music at that time. A well controlled rubato, a spot-on cymbal crash, a free flowing swing, an exciting “on top of the beat” phrase - whatever the music calls for, but it must always be perceived as intentional and never a split second reaction. The implication of Ferrillo’s statement is that this precision control of timing in music is even more important than intonation accuracy. Perhaps it explains why some popular recording artists can become so successful despite occasionally being off pitch.

In any case the Band’s percussion section was put to the test after the intermission with a huge variety of effects. It would be impossible for me to tell whether they missed any entrances or even remember the names of the long list of required equipment Tischler reeled off. What they did do was to provide a solid foundation and all the necessary special effects for some exciting and very musical performances - and nobody tripped. Of course a lot of credit for the musicality of the timing must be given to James O’Dell. It is after all the only musical element that the conductor has over his direct control during the performance. Everything else, having been dealt with during rehearsals, must be guided with less conclusive gestures. O’Dell must be rehearsing the Band very effectively because the performances are above all, very musical.

The Concord Band is a treasure in the community. It rewards audiences of any musical persuasion with outstanding musical entertainment. If you haven’t attended a Band concert recently, you’re missing out on a bargain in live entertainment.

Richard Chick is a retired MIT radar and communications engineer, who has devoted his time to promoting music and arts in Concord. 

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