With its first performance of the fall semester, the Duke University Wind Symphony offered an eclectic and picturesque program. The program, titled “Scenes and Views,” was refreshing in that it featured nearly all contemporary, living composers. Conducted by Dr. J. Ben Jones, the Duke Wind Symphony gave a very pleasing concert that was just shy of one hour.

Yasuhide Ito’s Festal Scenes is full of exciting contrasts. Throughout the piece, the musicians evoked Japanese folk song tonality with intervals of a fourth and pentatonic scales. After an opening section with boisterous, syncopated rhythm, the flutes provided contrast with a gentle but confident ostinato-like figure, threading above the sultry rubato melody. A slowly descending melodic line morphed into a low bass drone that led into the final processional, which was played with intensity and ended with a boom. Ito’s work was followed by Mare Tranquillitatis by Roger Zare, where the higher winds began the meandering, restless melody, and the other sections subtly joined in for a steady crescendo, leading to a sonorous and majestic conclusion.

The three movements of Satiric Dances by Norman Dello Joio showcased different sections of the ensemble – in the first, Allegro pesante, the tubas sang a wry, pompous melody. In the second movement, the bass line remained jaunty, but with a legato melody above that was reflected in Jones’ sweeping conducting gesture. The percussion section finally got to shine through the final movement, Allegro spumante, with overlapping sparkling patterns.

The only swung rhythms on this particular program hailed from William Grant Still’s From the Delta. As the programmatic name of the first movement (“Work Song”) suggests, the percussion’s rhythmic clangs emulated the sounds of manual labor, perhaps on the railroad. Meanwhile, the clarinet section’s lyrical unison phrases created the actual work song. The brass sections took up the soulful legato melody to open the “Spiritual” movement; but later in the movement, plaintive flutes above a rumbling bass sounded almost spooky in contrast. In the brief but exciting “Dance,” the treble instruments of the ensemble played active melodies with aplomb.

The tune “Amazing Grace” needs no introduction – William Himes‘ wind ensemble arrangement aims to honor the traditional melody while creating subtle innovations. It opens simply, with trumpets and horns on the melody over sustained chords. Then, the rest of the Duke Wind Symphony began to flow through the music, with undulating countermelodies and subtle dissonances that made this rendition unique. Oddly placed snare drumrolls sounded a little unsettling, but this feeling was short lived before the sonorous conclusion.

John Mackey’s Undertow was an effervescent conclusion to the concert, with the percussion section on full display. Uneven and mixed meter imitates the unpredictable image of a current implied by the title, and rising step-wise ostinatos throughout the musicians create tension. Through a more complex texture, Jones’ clear gesture drew out each section at different times to lift above the surface of the current. The result was an stirring and very well-executed performance.