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Concert Band tripumphs after disappointing opening


Directed by John Corley,

with Charles Marge

and Gregory Fritze.

Works by Cornell, Fritze,

Kazdin, and other composers.

Kresge Auditorium, February 25.


NO MUSICIAN WANTS to perform a work that he feels will make him look ridiculous or incompetent. No sane concert band would even consider opening a performance with such a work and risk the lemming-like flight of the audience to the exits. Yet by opening with the thoroughly miserable Veni Emmanuel, the MIT Concert Band did just that. Without a doubt, Veni Emmanuel is the worst piece of music I have ever been forced to listen to in the name of journalism.

Veni Emmanuel, composed by John Guppy '79, received its premiere at the concert, but it should have been left unperformed. Admittedly, the flutes and trumpets sounded out of tune, a fact which did not help matters, but not even the most accomplished musician could have rescued this disjointed, wholly unpleasant muddle. Guppy has clearly succumbed to the mistaken idea that tossing a few "awful"-tones into his music will give it the feel of a complex 20th-century composition; instead he has managed to prove that he has absolutely no sense of harmony.

Those audience members who survived the Guppy composition were treated to Richard Cornell's majestic Solar Prominences, conducted by Charles Marge '84. Unlike the appalling Veni Emmanuel, which seemingly encouraged poor musicianship, the Cornell allowed the band to soar as the trumpets and trombones evoked images of the roiling surface of the sun and its accompanying solar flares. The dynamics were superb, but the ending was spoiled by the still out-of-tune flutes.

The Concerto for Tuba and Band, Op.101 by John Bavicchi '44 finished the first half of the program. Admittedly, the tuba is not an instrument for which concerti are generally composed, but the commanding abilities of Gregory Fritze inspired Bavicchi to pen this work. Fritze is indeed amazing -- the tuba is not generally considered an extraordinarily expressive instrument, but in Fritze's hands, it rivals the flute or violin in emotional quality. This was a piece of truly fascinating tonality and harmonies, well-executed by both band and soloist. Originally, the piece consisted of five separate movements adapted from the Concertino for Tuba and Brass Quartet, Op.88, but the composer later added short pauses between the movements to produce a unified work of five flowing, cohesive sections. This novel approach succeeded admirably, particularly when one considers that this was only the second public performance of a work premiered while on tour in January.

The second half of the program demonstrated that the concert band had fully recovered from the Guppy fiasco. Stripped down to a wind ensemble with soprano and alto saxophone soloists, the band performed William Latham's Concerto Grosso with verve and a genuine sense of how the piece was put together. Soloists Edward Ajhar G (soprano saxophone) and Peter Gordon '90 (alto saxophone) complemented one another on the difficult, convoluted runs of the Allegro giusto, while flute soloist Arlene Lanciani sparkled. Ajhar's extremely exposed solo in the Siciliano showed off his near-perfect intonation and wonderful sense of phrasing. Best of the five movements was the Allegro, which consisted of repeated, layered phrases. It was rigidly structured but still flowed.

Of the final three pieces, Ellen Spokane's Masada, Fritze's Jupiter Effect, and Prelude and Happy Dance by Andrew Kazdin '63, the Kazdin was by far the most interesting and well-played. Where Masada was gloomy and portentious (but effective in conveying its wrenching tale of the fall of Masada), and Jupiter Effect loud and violent bordering on the bombastic, Prelude and Happy Dance was a remarkably majestic, balanced work of great complexity. The woodwind part here is fiendish -- the passages are known as "Kazdin's Little Monsters" -- but the band triumphed, and the flutes were superlative. Muted trumpets were an excellent, richly toned accompaniment.

It is unfortunate that the concert band waited until the final selection to deliver its very best; those who only heard the first one and left were denied the pleasure.