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Family Weekend concert proves to be mixed bag

Family Weekend Concert
MIT Brass Ensemble
MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble
MIT Concert Band.

By Craig K. Chang
Staff Reporter

Saturday's Family Weekend concert in Kresge Auditorium was an exercise in the alternation between structure and freedom. The Brass Ensemble offered the strict idioms of brass ensemble. The Festival Jazz Ensemble gave the audience a taste of freedom and improvisation. And the Concert Band returned to the more formal language, but expanded on the Brass Ensemble's structure into a more evocative language of sounds and images.

The Brass Ensemble appropriately opened the evening with Gordon Jacob's Salute to America, setting the tone of celebration and march closely associated with the genre of brass music. The Brass Ensemble's performance failed to convince, however, mainly due to poor programming. Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite seemed too awkward for a brass ensemble of this size. The piece, originally written for piano, stumbled too much in Neil Balm's contemporary arrangement for brass. The large brass ensemble simply could not provide the color and articulation the piece demands. Add to that Lawrence Isaacson's thoroughly tepid directing, and the music seemed too loose to decipher the composer's original intentions. Even the Brass Ensemble's move into more familiar territory in Purcell's Trumpet Voluntary suffered from unenthusiastic directing, which left the players struggling to bind together rather than staring the music down with confidence on a more majestic plane of thought.

Next, the Festival Jazz Ensemble broke in with the swinging of Ray Charles. In Charles's Rockhouse, the group edged into the vibrancy of individual expression. Above the groups incredibly terse rhythmic sense were the voices of jazz featured in various licks. Each improvisation took the spotlight on and off, and forced us to witness the sometimes quirky and sometimes smooth style of each player. Even though the band stayed close to traditional jazz idioms, the element of individual expression lent the playing brilliant life.

As the energy of the Festival Jazz Ensemble died down, the Concert Band communicated something more akin to the individualistic expressiveness of jazz than to the typical fare of a "concert band." Beginning with Gustav Holt's monumental First Suite for Military Band, the group demonstrated Holt's skill in using the concert band as a much richer instrument. Gone were thin themes, whose replacements appeared to be voices with individual character. The performance benefited from the confidant conducting of John Corley, who urged on the many shades of lyricism that distinguished themselves from typically trite patterns of military marches. Elliot Del Borgo's "Canticle" also offered us special voicing. The use of the entire flute section for the solo group created an ethereal, other worldly effect.

But the most significant synthesis of voice, expression, and music came at the end of the concert, during Edward J. Madden's "Touchstone," a work set to the poetic words of John F. Kennedy. As President Vest recited excerpts from John F. Kennedy's writing, and as the band played music evocative of idealistic majesty and respect, a stately ambiance entered the hall. As Vest spoke Kennedy's ideas on art, on the state of the nation, on politics, and on poetry, the music became more than entertainment: a romantic proclamation of mankind. The brass projected majesty, the winds brought us to another world, and the voice of reason at last melded with human poetry.