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Concert Band

Good sound but unsound sight

By Amrita Ghosh

50th Anniversary Pre-Spring Concert

John Corley, conductor

Robert Rucinski, assistant conductor

Richard Applin, guest conductor

Upon entering Kresge, I pick up a copy of the program for tonight’s performance, head into the auditorium, and find a seat close to the stage. Lucky for me, there are an ample number of seats from which to choose. “Tonight’s performance should be good... It’s their fiftieth anniversary, you know,” an old man tells me from the row in front. “Oh, I see,” I politely reply. And he strains to read the program in eager anticipation.

I wonder what he’s scrutinizing, so I look at my own program, noticing the clever clip art used on the cover, with wind and brass instruments spelling out “50th.” The first of the performers trickle in, and as I wait for the band to finish coming in, I read impressive biographies of the band members, the conductor, and descriptions of the pieces. The MIT Concert Band was founded in 1948 and has over sixty musicians, students or recent alumni, and has dedicated itself to finding original works for band, “in the belief that the wind band is an important and unique means of musical expression.” An honorable dedication, but will their expression live up to their lofty ideal?

The conductor walks in, and the audience hushes as best it can. John D. Corley has been conducting the MIT Concert Band since its inception, all fifty years. Someone whispers that his next performance, the one in the Spring, will be his last. He begins to conduct.

The first piece, “Psalm for Band, Op. 53,” by Vincent Persichetti, is a “piece constructed from a single germinating harmonic idea.” It begins a bit shaky, with lukewarm tones; not everyone starts together. But the band is able to overcome their first impression with increasingly intense warm notes, a rich blending sound that the band pulls into the piece. Nice sounding timbres build, and a loud, low thunder by the timpani and tuba fills the auditorium. Parts of the music sound like ethereal, cosmic events, while other parts just sound like parts. At times, they have trouble sustaining the sound between phrases. And even though Corley does a good job of keeping the various players together, the Band lacks unity.

The second piece, “Rose Variations,” by Robert Russell Bennett, sees the introduction of a trumpet soloist, Priscilla Fonseca. Nervously she adjusts her stand, but once she begins, her sound is warm and calm. As she keeps one eye on the conductor and one eye on the music, the Broadway musical-like piece brings you through The Garden Gate, and through to the next waltz-like theme of Carolina (wild) Rose, and its variations. The trumpet solo rushes along with fast notes, and after several volleys of the melody between the soloist and the band, the theme ends with a string of fast-paced notes down to a veritable cadence. The variations do the theme justice.

After each piece, the band stops and tunes, interrupting the continuity of their music and flow. But after the second piece, a window is provided for a younger man to step out onto the podium. He is Richard Applin, guest conducting his own “Introduction, Saltarello and Afterdance.” From the very beginning, his animation and energy do something to the sound. “Introduction” takes life in the form of a river, its undeviating flow of water interrupted by the sound of flutes acting the part of fish jumping in and out. Then the dance begins, the full band forming an exciting, moving sequence, complete with the life, expression, and animation of its members and their guest conductor. The third movement has many of the same qualities, and delivers a beautiful climax and nice ending, with the band playing as one throughout.

The Celtic tune of Ira Schwartz’s “A Celtic Rhapsody,” and the patriotic sounds in William Schuman’s “New England Triptych,” are both deserving of praise. Commissioned by the MIT Concert Band, Schwartz’s piece ingeniously incorporates several celtic tunes. The soloists and orchestra, playing a balanced dissonance, moved the theme along swiftly, although the band seemed lifeless. “Triptych” is based in a beautiful timpani solo, building tension with the woodwinds. The next movement starts with what sounds like a battle march, whose solemn bass clarinet melody tells of a soldier trudging the war grounds, ending in a nice cadence.

The concert is over and the band joins their guests in the lobby for some snacks. Perhaps if they had advertised their snacks, they would have played to more bodies.

A very good group of musicians, I urge each of them to be even more musical: Animation! Life!”These are what make or break the visual aspect of a presentation.