The opening selection, "You Are Cordially Invited" was a 2016 offering by Michael Markowski. The piece was commissioned by the Susan Wagner High School Wind Ensemble to celebrate the opening of a new performing arts building. Making full use of a stable of eleven trumpets, the Duke Wind Symphony performed with precision and enthusiasm. Opening with a dotted-pattern fanfare, the trumpets were joined by other brass instruments. As the piece developed, patterns and themes were heard in differing groups of instruments, closing tutti in a grand finale.
The mood of the piece was less heroic than most fanfares, but more celebratory in a congratulatory sense. It was conceived as a musical invitation to the students who will use the new facility to create and perform concerts, plays, and recitals for many years to come.
John Williams' "Hymn to the Fallen" from Saving Private Ryan is a warm and poignant tribute to those soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion in the line of duty. Judicious use of drums (timpani and snare) in periodic passages was a somber reminder of the cost of military commitment. All in all, the DUWS captured the moving, living relevance of Williams' music.
Travis Cross wrote "Let the Amen Sound" for the Northshore Concert Band in 2012. It is based on the 17th century chorale "Lobe den Herren." The piece begins with an expression of innocence out of which the theme of this great hymn of faith emerges, first in the solo flute and developing in sections from playful childhood to sentimental youth to the confident, sure faith of adulthood.The performance provided a reassuring experience through well-balanced and confident playing in all sections of the ensemble.
Williams' iconic "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" composed for the 1984 LA Olympics was performed with all the gusto the work demands. It is quite a challenge to keep eleven trumpets well in tune and playing crisply together. The tendency to over-do a piece like this can be hard to resist. Never mind that. The end result was a thrilling experience as it always is.
The "Fanfare" from La Peri was a last-minute addition to Paul Dukas' 1912 ballet. It is sparkling and elegant, and its popularity has far exceeded the ballet for which it was composed.
When discussing his composition, "October" (2000), Eric Whitacre writes "October is my favorite month. Something about the crisp autumn air and the subtle change in light always makes me a little sentimental, and as I started to sketch I felt that same quiet beauty in the writing. The simple, pastoral melodies and subsequent harmonies are inspired by the great English Romantics (Vaughan Williams, Elgar) as I felt that this style was also perfectly suited to capture the natural and pastoral soul of the season."
Those who know Whitacre's choral writing, for which he is highly regarded, will recognize his harmonic language in "October." It is lush and vibrant and was well interpreted by the DUWS.
The last piece on the program was Libertadores composed by Óscar Navarro in 2010 for the 39th Wind Ensemble International Competition. It is set in two parts: the first is a musical depiction of the Amazon River. We heard the sounds of birds and animals, natives of different tribes up and down the river, and music recalling the power and beauty of the river. The use of hand percussion and vocal chanting added to the color.
Part two displays separatist leaders in the form of a march-fanfare. A martial theme grows through gradual addition of instruments and changes in orchestration to a majestic climax. During this process, a team of four drummers left its usual place at the back of the orchestra and slowly marched to the front apron of the stage as the music built. It was a captivating musical experience, well handled by the ensemble.
One cannot help but notice the clarity and precision in Mösenbichler-Bryant's conducting style. It can also be assumed that her rehearsals reflect a thorough understanding and communication of the music chosen for performance. The Duke University Wind Symphony is a music ensemble well worth hearing and enjoying.