Probably at no time in the school’s dozen year history have so many and so varied winds blown in and around Wakefield High. There on a hazy Sunday afternoon, the fine auditorium hosted a joint concert of the “home team” Wakefield High School Wind Ensemble and the North Carolina Wind Orchestra.
The first half of the program featured the host ensemble. Director Joshua K. Potter chose Earl Slocum’s arrangement of the Overture to Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro. It was pleasant to hear and see these young players tackle this familiar old chestnut, and to note how well they were able to simulate the strings that one normally associates with the piece.
Most of the large forces left the stage for the work by David Gillingham, leaving some twenty or so to perform "Walking Angels." The composer points out that the piece is meant to express grief over the scourge of AIDS and the destruction it has wrought. A quotation on the piano from the hymn “Softly and Tenderly” opened, followed by spare orchestration with percussion and harp. Various sound effects and even rank cacophony were mellowed by occasional fleeting references back to “Softly and Tenderly.” Honored and valued guest musician was harpist Alicia Reid from Leesville Road High.
Finishing on a cheerful note, the players sounded first-rate in “Danzón No. 2” by Arturo Márquez. The joyful Latin (up) beat gave a hint as to how “El Salón México” might have sounded had its composer, Aaron Copland, been a native of Mexico.
The “veteran” performers came on after intermission. Director Evan Feldman led the North Carolina Wind Orchestra in four works, two of which were by no means commonplace. Australian-born composer Percy Grainger contributed the congenial opener, “The Immovable Do.” (The “do” here refers to do-re-me… notation.) The music was vintage Grainger except for the one unwavering (immovable) “do” note throughout. The flutist deserves commendation for endurance.
Did you ever ride one of those bumper cars at the fair? That was the effect provided by the comedic “Country Band March” of Charles Ives. Feldman rightly pointed out that it required skilled artistry to play that “bad” and yet be playing correctly. Somehow the players, at times on the money and other times decidedly off, ended their lines together in a brilliant display of comedy and musicianship.
In the program notes, composer Steven Bryant described his Ecstatic Waters as touching “upon naiveté, divination, fanaticism, post-human possibilities, anarchy, order, and the Jungian collective unconscious.” That probably describes it well enough! Feldman had to “wire” himself in order to follow the electronic component. It was sometimes difficult to know whether the sounds were electronic or live. The work featured creative percussion, gimmickry, and aggressive experimentation. It was a brilliant full-length showpiece for the “latest” technology, a veritable masterpiece for advanced music appreciation students. But the audience seemed to love it, so who’s to argue?
The players came back to earth with “Savannah River Holiday,” by prominent composer and educator Ron Nelson. This full-throated, festive holiday celebration showed the orchestra in its finest light.
No ill wind was suffered to intrude upon budding musician or master. The supportive audience was treated to a wide and unlikely spectrum of wind repertory. It was a good afternoon for music.