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Concert band plays with feeling, informality

MIT Concert Band

John Corley, director.

With the Dartmouth Wind Symphony; Max Culpepper, director.

Friday, February 17, 8:00 p.m.

Kresge Auditorium.

By J. Michael Andresen
Staff Reporter

The MIT Concert Band concluded its tour (which took the band to Lake Placid, New York this year) with a concert last Friday on Kresge Auditorium's main stage. Friday's concert also featured the Dartmouth Wind Symphony, playing here in the first half of a musical exchange; MIT will complete the exchange by playing at Dartmouth this Friday evening.

The first of the concerts provided a study in contrasts between the two wind ensembles: The Dartmouth Wind Symphony's playing was perfect in nearly all technical aspects, though the group was often rather unmusical. The MIT Concert Band, on the other hand, was much more relaxed and imprecise, yet they played with quite a bit more feeling than their Ivy League counterparts.

An air of informality permeates the MIT Concert Band's stage presence. They seem to be impervious to the audience: One of the percussionists stored a spare snare drum stick in her hair when she wasn't using it, and two trombone mutes were allowed to fall to the stage during MIT's half of the concert. This carelessness was also reflected in the band's playing, as the band struggled with the technically challenging sections of the pieces they played. It turned the extended eighth note runs of Bavicchi's Concerto for Tuba and Band into gelatinous mush, choosing its own tempo throughout. The band was often very slow to pick up on director John Corley's tempo changes. This was a notable problem in San Miguel's Fantasy of the Elements, when the band only grudgingly changed tempo several bars after Corley's baton.

In sharp contrast, the Dartmouth Wind Symphony played with impeccable precision. They started with Donald Hunsberger's transcription of Shostakovich's Festive Overture. The upper woodwinds were spectacular in the fast opening section, playing with amazing clarity. The symphony remained this tight throughout their half of the concert.

Despite this technical brilliance, the Dartmouth Wind Symphony failed in the musical interpretation of their repertoire. Though the soloists played their parts perfectly, their phrasing imparted no feeling or understanding of the music. This was most noticeable in William Schaefer's arrangement of Stravinsky's Suite from Petroushka, which includes prominent solos by trumpet, flute, and bassoon, and other smaller solos. Neither did the symphony as a whole impart much emotion into its playing. The opening bars of Matthew Lake's transcription of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture were more efficient than romantic under director Max Culpepper's lead.

Musicality was actually the strong point of the MIT Concert Band's performance. Many of the band's section leaders are very impressive musicians and they made themselves heard. Despite the band's roughness around the edges, they were much more exciting to listen to than the Dartmouth Wind Symphony. The percussion section was often a driving force, and excelled in Fantasy of the Elements, which highlighted the percussion.

Still, the lackadaisical attitude of the MIT Concert Band presented serious problems to the band's credibility. Ten members of the MIT brass section joined the Dartmouth Wind Symphony from the balcony for the ending of the 1812 Overture to add volume and an antiphonal effect. During the first half of the piece, half of the MIT group stood, half were seated, and several fidgeted throughout. When they started playing, they appeared unrehearsed, coming in late, playing loudly at times, and dropping to near silence during the several passages that they were lost. Some of this could be attributed to the trumpets being the weakest section of the band, but it was a global problem as well. The MIT Concert Band would have been impressive indeed if its musicians were just more proficient in the technical aspects of playing their parts.