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Concert Review: MIT Wind Ensemble Explores ...The Art of Fugue...

Despite Slow Start, MITWE Picks up Wind

By Tanya Goldhaber

MIT Wind Ensemble

MIT Wind Ensemble Winter Concert:

The Art of Fugues

Friday, Dec. 1, 2006

Kresge Auditorium

On Friday night, Kresge Auditorium rang with the sound of the Kresge Organ, which was played for the first time since the 1990s, as part of the finale to the MIT Wind Ensemble’s winter concert: The Art of Fugues. The concert, true to its name, consisted of several arranged Contrapuncti from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of Fugue,” as well as six other pieces that integrated the fugue structure. The repertoire for the concert was very well selected, and many of the arrangements were spectacular.

The highlight of the concert, by far, was the last work, “Mannin Veen,” by Haydn Wood. The piece itself is a tone poem based on Manx Folk-Tune, and made for an enjoyable piece to start with. MITWE did a particularly good job performing it, while the organ at the end added a nice touch. This piece stood out as one in which MITWE was very together as an ensemble, and brought a lot of emotion and depth to Wood’s work.

There were also some good solos in the latter half of the program. One who shined was oboist MartaLynne D. Milan ’10. Her solos were amazingly clean and had an outstanding, smooth, resonant tone. The entire horn section also played very well in general, but stood out more in the last two pieces as being one of the most together, in-tune, and cleanest sections.

The concert began with the “Susato Suite,” by Tylman Susato. The six-section suite was not originally scored for any particular instruments, but was subsequently arranged by John Iveson for wind ensemble in 1975 based on vague instructions left by Susato upon completion of the piece. MITWE stumbled a bit with this particular work, perhaps because they were just warming up. The piece is also much more exposed than a typical piece for large wind ensemble because it is arranged for fewer instruments, so any errors on the part of one player stand out much more.

The one primary flaw in the first half of the program was that MITWE seemed to have trouble staying together. Granted, keeping a large wind ensemble together is very tricky and the repertoire was by no means easy. The Bach Contrapuncti, especially, would be vicious to prepare for any large ensemble. Bach’s “Art of Fugue” was originally written for harpsichord, and this particular transcription was done by MITWE’s assistant conductor, Kennith Amis. The transcription itself was spectacular and made for some very enjoyable interplay between the instruments. Nonetheless, the instruments were not always completely together.

“Old Wine in New Bottles” is a series of four folk songs, elaborated by Gordon Jacob. MITWE performed three of the songs, and I found the performance to be very well done.

The “Toccata for Percussion Instruments” by Carlos Chavez was a very interesting piece, although the fugue was often hard to weed out, as the structure of the piece, understandably, was based almost entirely on non-melodic rhythms. That said, aside from the few times when some of the drummers were not entirely together, the percussionists of MITWE did a fantastic job preparing this obviously difficult piece and bringing it to life.

MITWE seemed to hit its groove, so to speak, during the second half of the concert. I have always been a huge fan of the Dvorak “Slavonic Dances,” and now I am also a huge fan of the transcription of “Slavonic Dance No. 1” for wind ensemble by Kenneth Amis. I had previously never heard any of the Slavonic Dances done by a wind ensemble. After hearing it performed well by MITWE, I am looking forward to my next experience. I hope that Kennith Amis will soon transcribe another one for MITWE to perform.

I have heard very few performances of Hindemith pieces that I have liked, but MITWE’s was one of them. Their performance of the Hindemith “Symphony in B flat” was not only clean, in tune, and together, but also lively and soulful. The problems of ensemble and intonation present in the first half nearly disappeared, making for a spectacular finale to the concert.