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Around the World in (Less Than) 80 Minutes

MIT Wind Ensemble Presents Family Weekend Concert

By Jeremy Baskin

MIT Wind Ensemble

Kresge Auditorium

Oct. 18, 8 p.m.

On Friday, the MIT Wind Ensemble presented its first concert of the season, entitled “Wind Ensemble Music from Around the World.” Geographically, the concert spanned from England to Eastern Europe, via North America and Korea. The music was unusually accessible for this ensemble and was much appreciated by the large crowd at this Family Weekend concert.

The first piece was English Folk Song Suite, by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The march movements were pretty generic but were pulled off quite well with an excellent brass section, led by trumpeter Rahul Sarathy ’03, though the dotted rhythms in the flutes and clarinets left a bit to be desired.

We then traversed the Atlantic to hear the music of Charles Ives, one of North America’s preeminent composers. MIT Wind Ensemble Director Fred Harris prefaced Ives’ suite Old Home Days with a speech that may have exceeded the piece in length. It was nonetheless very informative and entertaining, more than making up for the lack of program notes.

In his introduction, Harris spoke of Ives’ musical upbringing by his father George, a military band member who inspired a young Charles to push tonality to its limits. “If you hear things that sound like mistakes, they’re not,” Harris commented, to much laughter. The actual performance was executed very well, especially the vexing trumpet rhythms in the fifth movement, “London Bridge is Fallen Down.”

Next was Variations on a Korean Folk Song, by the American John Barnes Chance, who served in Korea in the late 1950’s in a military band. The piece was very inventive, using the different sections of the band in five variations on a rather idiomatic Korean theme.

The first variation featured a polished clarinet section, and the second variation gave the audience a very brief taste of France, a country otherwise ignored in this concert, as it resembled closely (perhaps too closely, some might think) one of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, complete with a mesmerizing oboe solo, delivered correctly, though with extreme trepidation.

The brief concert finished with Alfred Reed’s Armenian Dances (Part I). It was played well, allowing the ensemble to show off both its technical and lyrical abilities. I found it compositionally to be a disappointment, though. Armenian Dances was rather banal and long-winded, consisting of five pieces based on folk tunes (“The Apricot Tree,” “Partridge’s Song,” etc.).

The icing on the cake -- or perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back -- was the final movement, “Gna, Gna,” which was meant to portray laughter, which sounded suspiciously like a third-rate rip-off of a rather famous Romanian Rhapsody by the gifted composer George Enescu.

The attendance at Kresge Auditorium was the best I’ve seen for a student ensemble concert in years, probably because of Family Weekend. Even in comparison to past Family Weekend concerts, though, this short offering by the MIT Wind Ensemble, which was professionally recorded, far exceeded even the highest of attendance estimates. And the performances weren’t too bad, either.