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Concert Band celebrates 45 years with fanfare

45th Anniversary Concert

Directed by John Corley.

At Kresge Auditorium.

April 30, 1994.

By Ann Ames
Arts Editor

The MIT Concert Band was founded by students in 1948 and was joined soon after by Lecturer John Corley, who has been with the group ever since. All along, Corley has remained dedicated to performing works written specifically for wind band, and over the years has commissioned many pieces for the ensemble. Playing its 45th anniversary concert in Kresge Auditorium last Saturday evening, the band premiered its latest commission, Fantasy on the Elements by Berklee composer Silvia San Miguel, as well as a new work by MIT student Adrian Childs '94, Concertino for Piano, Winds, and Percussion.

San Miguel describes her commission as "a programmatic piece based on the spirit of the four Elements: Air, Earth, Water, and Fire." The four movements are played without pause, which might suggest philosophical links between each of the natural elements, except that the lack of boundaries also leaves too many details trailing. The heart of each movement is distinct and accurately reflects the mood expected from each individual element, but those cores are buried within aimless developmental and transitional material.

This is not to say the piece is all bad - far from it. San Miguel skillfully combines lush textures with energetic Spanish rhythms, and the shifting balance of these components keeps the piece alive. And some of the small details are gorgeous, such as a euphonium solo beautifully delivered by Wayne Baumgartner '94 and the subtle accompaniments from the percussion section. Interspersed with less inspired writing, however, these ideas remain beautiful but without context, as the piece in its entirety fails to cohere. Some of the responsibility for this rests on the band's shoulders, as well. Poor intonation within the flute section sullied some otherwise sweet passages, for example.

Childs' new piece was written for a much smaller ensemble than the MIT Concert Band, and many of the musicians took seats in the audience during the performance of his piece. The composer himself played piano, and his talent as both a pianist and a composer of piano music made itself evident throughout the work. The opening solo is dark and rich, followed by a contrasting fanfare first in the horns, then in the trumpets. Unfortunately, the fanfare was poorly executed and did little to support or develop the opening line.

The highlights of the piece were undoubtedly the frequent phrases involving only a few band members. This "concertino" group of Sara Gaucher '96, flute; Joseph Davis '96, bassoon; Scott Berkenblit G, trumpet; Alan Pierson '96, celesta; and Childs on piano performed beautifully as a mini-entity. The piece might have been more effective for this small group alone; Childs' strength seems to lie in small-ensemble composition, and much of the full-orchestra work got in the way of his characteristically clean lines.

The novelty piece on the program was a work by William J. Maloof entitled Festive Music for Double Wind Orchestra and Percussion. It was written for two symphonic bands playing simultaneously. To achieve the full effect, the Concert Band split into two groups and streamed up each of the outside aisles in Kresge, facing each other in two lines to play the piece. Corley conducted from between two rows in the center section, and only the percussion remained on stage, lining the front edge and serving as a bridge between the two halves of the band.

Much of this piece revolves around harmonic or rhythmic conflict between the two bands, creating complex integrated patterns. Saturday's performance of this piece was remarkable: much improved from the band's previous attempt in 1992. Nice solo work by Arley Kim '95 on clarinet and Gaucher on flute added the perfect touches to make this the highlight of the evening.

Several band alumni returned to MIT for this anniversary performance. Many of them played with the group in the other two pieces on the program: Prelude and Happy Dance by Andrew Kazdin SM '63, and Symphony No. 3 by Vittorio Giannini, respectively the opening and closing works of the concert.

Prelude and Happy Dance was written for the Concert Band in 1955. The band made a good presentation of it Saturday night, though as at other times in the evening, solo work was often much stronger than passages involving the whole ensemble. The opening line is a fine contradictory example, however, as the low brass offered a brilliant introduction to the piece, and then the flutes deftly took over the melody.

The Giannini Symphony unfortunately exemplifies the cliche that band music too often falls into: the best intentions frequently degenerate into trite show-tune-like melodies. Still, this piece incorporated tough passages for many of the sections, and the musicians handled them well. Elizabeth Smith G gave a stunning flute solo in the second movement, her rich tone accentuated by intelligent phrasing. Kim accompanied this particular solo on clarinet, strong but reserved, as her role indicated she should be. The third movement was by far the most exciting of the piece, with frenetic rhythms and a lovely alto saxophone solo by Jill Depto '97.

In honor of the anniversary, the band presented Corley with a high-quality walkman tape recorder. Graduating members of the ensemble were also acknowledged, and each of the alumni present gave a short (or in some cases not short enough) introduction of themselves.