An Uplifting and Memorial Night

            The Concert Band and Symphony Band of the University of Iowa performed their opening concert on Thursday, October 4th at the Iowa Memorial Union Ballroom where both bands featured a few remarkable pieces. As well, Concert Band featured a couple of guest conductors which were Kevin Kessler and Steven Riley who are graduate students at Iowa. The program was filled with marching and memorial pieces that raised the audience to their feet and a surprise at the end.

             The Concert Band opener was a short and sweet piece by James Curnow called Fanfare and Flourishes for a Festive Occasion. The brass indeed flourished with their majestic melody while the woodwinds repetitively trilled underneath them for the grand arrival of a concert. This piece was a great opener to a partly marched themed program. The following piece, A Jubilant Overture by Alfred Reed featured energetic runs that represented the joys of spring and the broad, singing melodies symbolized the enthusiasm of youth which DMA candidate, Kevin Kessler guest conducted the piece. Then it was Steven Riley`s turn to guest conduct Sarabande and Polka by Malcolm Arnold. The two dance pieces were an addition to Arnold`s Eight English Dance`s that was set to the ballet Solitaire. The woodwinds slowly breezed through the Sarabande while the trumpets danced through fast, complex rhythms of the Polka. The Polka was a nice uplift to the slow, lyrical Sarabande.

              The last marching piece for Concert Band was by John Philip Sousa called Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. This piece is unique for Sousa`s marches because there is a harp part and was performed by the largest band Sousa ever conducted, 6200 members. The contrasting march style of accented attacks to the smooth soaring section was well heard with the booming acoustics in the Ballroom. The final selection Yosemite Autumn by Mark Camphouse was a memorial piece for his mother-in-law, Daphna Lodean Wilson.  California`s Yosemite National Park inspired the piece. The beauty of nature was brought out with the piece’s contrasting styles of a warm tone in the melodic line that reminded me of sunlight beaming through the trees. Then there was a minor, dark section of clouds hovering over the park, back to the optimistic melody which the band well-played through distinctive dynamics.

            The last half of the program, Symphony Band opens with Procession of the Nobles, “Cortege”: from the opera Mlada by Nicholai Rimsky-Korsakov. This opera-ballet piece was filled with an intricate brass and woodwind melody that repeated, while the percussion kept a marching pulse. My attention was compelled towards the constant driven pulse that the band never let up on. The Procession of the Nobles was the last suite of an arranged five numbered suite in the opera-ballet. The next selection, Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger is described by him as “a bunch of musical wildflowers” based on folksongs of Lincolnshire, England.  I could picture the different musical wildflowers with contrasts between the legato and staccato notes. Then I heard the sense of an optimistic sailor theme through-out each movement whether it was in the trumpets, piccolo or clarinets.

Next there was, From Glory to Glory by Kevin Walczyk which was commissioned by the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic to honor the life of Heather Reu. The piece`s melodic and harmonic structure are from pitches based on words and folksongs relating to Heather`s life. The woodwind’s and percussion’s simple repetitive line reminded me of a clock when the texture builds upon complex rhythms. The final piece and my favorite out of the program is J’ai été au bal (“I Went to the Dance”) by Donald Grantham. This piece was a surprise because it contrasted the march and memorial styled pieces but stayed in the theme of folksongs. It began with a sweet, singing melody within the woodwinds that the brass turned into a jazzy celebration of popular/folk music styles of Louisiana such as Cajun music and brass band tradition of New Orleans. Towards the end, the rhythms grew more and more complicated with notation of 3+3+2 and one of the Cajun songs “The Flames of Hell” was well represented with the flurry of sixteenth note runs and accented brass beats.

The Concert Band and Symphony Band had an amazing performance of marches, folksongs and memorial selections. The ballroom was filled with energy after each March, especially after the last piece by Symphony Band.  The audience rose to praise the bands excellent work.

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