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MIT Brass performs with much expression

MIT Brass Ensemble

Directed by Lawrence Isaacson.

Kresge Auditorium.

March 16.

By Dave Fox
Staff Reporter

Abrass ensemble is perhaps one of the most flexible of small classical music groups. Depending on the ability of the players, such a brass ensemble can play very softly and with great emotion or triumphantly with fanfares. On Wednesday evening, the MIT Brass Ensemble presented a concert in which they achieved both extremes effortlessly, moving the listener to powerful emotions.

The MIT Brass Ensemble, directed by trombonist Larry Isaacson, is a standard ensemble with four trumpets, four horns, three trombones, one euphonium, one tuba, and three percussionists. There is a fairly wide repertoire for such a setting, and Isaacson drew selections from several eras to put together a balanced program, allowing all of the musicians to share in the spotlight.

The evening began with Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." This piece features dramatic, stark tympani and gong, alternating with a gorgeous fanfare line that is first offered by the trumpets, then by the horns and the lower brass. The Ensemble was certainly up to the task, playing the piece with great emotion, excellent dynamics, and smooth phrasing. The horns sounded particularly nice, playing the difficult line almost flawlessly. (This is not easy on French horn.) The overall effect was much like Copland must have intended it: a very uncommon, uplifting tribute to the common man.

After a nice performance of Grieg's "Funeral March," the group played Beethoven's "Allegretto" from his Seventh Symphony. This movement must surely rank as one of Beethoven's most beautiful melodies; indeed, Wagner termed Beethoven's Seventh as "the apothesis of the dance." The ensemble performed this piece flawlessly, and with such expression that I was literally moved to tears. As previously stated, a good brass ensemble can weave many moods, and this piece was a perfect vehicle for the ensemble to demonstrate moods from somber to reflective, from uplifting to sorrowful.

The next piece was rather unusual in that it featured a tuba solo. This was Wilder's "Elegy" for solo tuba and brass ensemble, with the tuba solo rendered beautifully by Robert Orr, a recent New England Conservatory graduate. As the title suggests, this was a mournful composition, and the rather round, bland tone of the tuba expressed this mood very nicely. Orr played the solo with great expression, especially when playing in the upper range of his instrument.

Later in the concert, Isaacson graciously allowed two of his students to conduct the ensemble. Making his first-ever appearance on the podium was euphonium player Wayne Baumgartner, who did a credible job conducting "Fanfare for a Coming Age," by Arthur Bliss. Trumpeter Brian Blatnik later wielded the baton for "Tripartita" by Klaus Roy. Each of these pieces went very well, with each guest conductor getting a good performance from the ensemble. Isaacson is to be commended for allowing his students to conduct at a concert.

The dramatic highlight of the night was the closing piece, "Fanfares Liturgiques" by Henri Fre'dien Tomasi. This musically describes, in four different sections, significant events surrounding the life of Jesus Christ. With a unifying musical theme throughout, the four sections depict the Annunciation, the Good News of salvation, the Apocalypse, and Christ's crucifixion and ascent into Heaven. The various moods of the four events were rendered with good contrast by the ensemble. Particular high spots included the opening fanfare played by the horns and low brass, an excellent trombone solo by Tom Yates and the wonderful dynamic variation in the final movement, which covered the gamut from pianissimo to fortissimo. The Ensemble presented the whole piece with the emotion suggested by the subject matter, making this a powerful and moving closing statement.

The MIT Brass Ensemble seems much improved since their Family Weekend concert last fall. On Wednesday night, they had a very good tone quality, and used articulation, dynamics, and emotion to shape the music such that the sound was never boring to the ear. The sound in the auditorium was superb. (I think Kresge is the perfect size for this sort of concert.) I recommend this ensemble highly to anyone who enjoys classical music; they presented their music in fine fashion. Check them out next time they perform on campus.