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Drilling For Gold At the Wind Ensemble

Finally, the Full Version Of the Ziporyn Concerto

By Bogdan Fedeles

staff writer

MIT Wind Ensemble

Kresge Auditorium

March 14, 8 p.m.

The MIT Wind Ensemble performed their first concert of the spring term Friday evening, enchanting a decent-sized audience with fresh performances of pieces old and new. The program included pieces by Jan Sweelinck, Kenneth Amis, Benjamin Britten, and Professor Evan Ziporyn, while the conducting duties were split between Frederick Harris Jr. and guest conductor Kenneth Amis. Overall, the concert was a pleasant and enjoyable musical experience; it lacked, however, a certain brilliance in some of the pieces.

The evening opened with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s “Ballo del granduca” (The Grand Duke’s Ballet), an orchestral piece adapted for wind ensemble. Sweelinck’s piece, written in 1589, is a delightful example of baroque art, rich in both the intricacies of fugal approach and imaginative folk-inspired melodies. The MIT Wind Ensemble delivered an impressive performance of this short piece. Their sound was well-rounded and forceful, highlighting the distinctive colors of each of the wind sections.

Benjamin Britten’s “The Courtly Dances,” an excerpt from his opera “Gloriana” arranged for wind ensemble, received a similarly inspired performance. The Wind Ensemble conveyed well the rustic feel of each of the Elizabethan dances, excelling especially in the percussion-heavy parts. The players’ enthusiasm matched well the joyful and simplistic character of the piece. I found their performance good and even fiery in some passages.

The guest of the evening, composer Kenneth Amis, conducted two of his own pieces, “Driven!” and “The Art of Adagio.” The latter piece, cast as a complex fugue, is an homage to J.S. Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue,” one of the most complex and complete treatments of the genre in the history of Western music.

The piece’s dreamy beginning, where only solo winds share the counterpoint, sounded heartfelt and was in good balance with the climactic ending, which required a solid tutti. The Wind Ensemble showed good counterpuntal abilities but fell a bit short in cohesion.

The other piece, “Driven!,” is an incessantly moving melodic stream employing folk-like pulses that create the effervescent rhythmic drive hinted in the title. The ensemble’s enthusiastic performance featured good dynamic contrasts and fervor, making up for a few transient inconsistencies in tempo in the piece’s middle section.

The concert ended with Ziporyn’s “Drill,” a piece whose first movement received its premiere a year ago by the Wind Ensemble. The piece has grown well, since last year, more solid and more enchanting. The performance on Friday put a stronger accent on the unsettling percussion chords. More percussion instruments playing at the same time came out fresher and more intense. Ziporyn soloed his piece on the bass clarinet, with great agility and splendid technique, that was well matched in intensity and ardor by the rest of the wind ensemble.

Overall, the piece sounded very good, ready to become a cornerstone of the the Wind Ensemble’s repertoire. An extra bonus: the ensemble plans to professionally record the work for release on a CD later on this year.

The next Wind Ensemble concert is on May 10, featuring pieces by George Gershwin, Mchael Gandolfi, and Assistant Professor Brian Robison. Judging based on this concert, the ensemble’s enthusiasm is sure to make it an event not to be missed.