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A wide mix of musical tastes found accommodation at Stewart Theater on the N.C. State University campus. There, Music @ NC State presented The Wind Ensemble in a program ranging from the literally Wagnerian all the way up to 2003. These sixty or so musicians gave an admirable account of themselves under the direction of Paul Garcia.
After the rousing opening “El Capitan” by the obligatory Sousa (what wind group would dare leave out that composer?), the players launched into “Molly on the Shore” by that great tunesmith, Percy Grainger. As Garcia pointed out in his explanatory remarks, the composer introduced his many melodies in fresh new ways. (The director’s remarks throughout were beneficial, especially so given the heavy mix of students in the audience.) Smart woodwinds were prominently featured in this piece.
Possibly “Vientos Y Tangos” (Winds and Tangos) could be considered the principal offering of the evening. The starting measures of this 2003 piece by Michael Gandolfi might lead one to wonder why the piece is so named. But shortly the unmistakable tango flavor moves in fog-like on little cat feet. The tango theme and variations work up to a bit of a frenzy, then to calm, and to frantic again, eventually dying away with faint echoes from the soft voices. One attendee observed that this number allowed just about every instrument to enjoy its own moment of glory.
The aforementioned Wagnerian connection came by way of “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” from the opera Lohengrin. In this elegant piece, the oboe lines near the opening were especially pleasing. Here was a creditable treatment of some of the most glorious music ever prepared for a wind orchestra. “Variations on a Shaker Melody: From Appalachian Spring” was extracted and scored for wind ensemble by Copland himself. As is generally the case, this presentation proved to be a crowd pleaser. A rather large contemporary work, “Blue Shades” by Frank Ticheli, closed the evening. Throughout were mere hints of the blues as opposed to overt strains of same, with the closing clarinet solo summoning the wailing brass.
While strings are rightly thought of as fundamental in orchestral settings, it is frequently good to hear how pleasing the rest of the instruments can sound in their own right.