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Wind Ensemble Review Print

Weddings, Funerals, and Other Tragedies

May 24, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

This was the seemingly illogical and self-contradictory title and connecting theme for the NC Wind Orchestra's spring performance in Meymandi Hall on May 24. The Friday beginning Memorial Day weekend is perhaps not the best evening to schedule a concert; the 150-200 individuals scattered throughout the hall seemed like so many lost souls. However, the sparse numbers made it possible for the audience to mingle with the musicians at intermission, which seemed a nice compensation. The proportionately large number of youngsters in the audience was also encouraging.

Michael Votta put together and presented a most interesting program of music by living composers, except for the concluding number; all are younger than this reviewer. As Votta explained in one of his fine oral comments that complemented his excellent written program notes, the "wind orchestra" was only born in 1952, conceived as an "artistic concert band," and a whole new repertory has had to be developed for it. The extensive written notes included the instrumentation and approximate playing time of each piece in addition to biographical information on the composers and narrative about each work. Bravo!

The opener was the Bandanna Overture, composed for the concert hall using themes from the opera (1999) of that title by Damon Hagen (b.1961), scored for wind ensemble. It was full of brass, percussion and ff (double forte). The opera tells the story of Miguel Morales, Chief of Police in a Tex-Mex border town, who murders his wife Mona with the title garment (her own)-Attention airport security officials; Watch for this deadly weapon!-after his jealousy is aroused by her dancing with his Vietnam War buddy and fellow officer Cassidy, as set up by Jake, another Vietnam buddy and likewise current colleague. The suite of Wedding Dances, re-orchestrated by Hagen for concert performance, was the major work on the second half of the program. The separation, presumably for reasons of performance time, and to allow the concert to open with an overture, seemed artificial, and was perhaps not in the best interest of giving a feel for the whole. The scene for the set of six dances with transitional material is Jake's wedding reception during which the bride and groom dance, Mona dances in turn with each of the three main male characters, the bride dances with Miguel, and Kane, the union organizer who eggs Jake on, dances with a young girl. It ends with the determination to murder, hence the tragedy in a wedding. The rhythms of the various dances should have been widely varied from waltz to tango to rumba to rock and roll, but the performance did not seem to bring this out adequately for this listener. Nor did the music seem to have enough of a Mexican flavor to make it distinctive or authentic for the border-town setting to my way of thinking. It all seemed to lack variety in dynamics and texture. Whether through the fault of the composer or the performers (or both), it was the least satisfying music of the evening, although by no means devoid of interest.

The major work on the first half of the program was David Maslanka's (b.1943) A Child's Garden of Dreams (1981), some of which might, in Votta's words, more appropriately be called nightmares. The inspiration for the work was a section of Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols (1964) recounting the story of a man (also a psychiatrist) who brought him a booklet of handwritten descriptions of twelve dreams his ten-year-old daughter had experienced two years previously, recorded, and offered to him as a Christmas gift. The child died about a year later, making the dreams an odd premonition. Maslanka chose five of them as inspiration for the movements whose full titles are:

I. There is a desert on the moon where the dreamer sinks so deeply into the ground that she reaches hell.
II. A drunken woman falls into the water and comes out renewed and sober.
III. A horde of small animals frightens the dreamer. The animals increase to a tremendous size, and one of them devours the little girl.
IV. A drop of water is seen as it appears when looked at through a microscope. The girl sees that the drop is full of tree branches. This portrays the origin of the world.
V. An ascent into heaven, where pagan dances are being celebrated; and a descent into hell, where angels are doing good deeds.

The music fit the moods and scenarios of the descriptions-ethereal, primordial, topsy-turvy, with sci-fi-like sounds in the first, eerie sounds in the second, lots of percussion in the third, nature, jungle, and water sounds in the fourth, and trumpets and bell sounds in the fifth, for example. The melody for the second is the tune "Black is the color of my true love's hair"; other movements contain childlike melodies or nursery tunes. In all movements, the music is soft at the beginning, becomes more active and louder, and then dies away, much as does a dream, thus taking the listener into a dream world. The piece is imaginative, suggestive and evocative, and interesting and attractive as well. It was a very successful inward outing.

Opening the second half was Steven Stucky's (b. 1949) "Funeral Music for Queen Mary," after Henry Purcell. This was a successful and enjoyable reworking and setting for winds of the well-known dirge-like piece. Closing this half like a pair of parentheses around the Bandanna "Dances" was "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral" from Wagner's Lohengrin, essentially an interrupted wedding march. The music is triumphal and fanfare-like, and made for a fitting conclusion to this cyclical sort of program.

With the possible exception noted above, all performances were outstanding, making the evening a most enjoyable and worthwhile listening experience. Next year, NCWO will give two regular concerts (dates not yet set) and one chamber concert (on October 27 in Fletcher Opera Theater); more equally interesting fare will likely be served up. Check out its new website, http://www.ncwo.org/, and be sure to read the mission statement to see what this fine group is all about. It's inspired, and so is its music-making.