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Hello to Byron Graves and Goodbye to Summer

Hello to Byron Graves and Goodbye to Summer

    The debut concert on Oct. 28 of the new director of the Wind Symphony, Byron Graves, Oct. 28, gave summer a proper send-off, with compositions ranging from light-hearted to solemn to triumphant. Eclectic as their moods, the pieces chosen were written in times from the Baroque period to the twentieth century. Put together, the songs reflected the different feelings and attitudes that comprise people’s feelings toward summer and its inevitable end.

First, the Wind Symphony played “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite March,” written by Karl L. King and arranged by Glenn Bainum, but it sounded more like a bouncy polka than a march. Alternating between jubilantly bombastic sections and soft, bright melodies, the song brought the image of a circus to mind very effectively.

After that romp, Graves turned from the platform and approached the front of the stage to give some general remarks. With slickly parted hair and a crisp white bow tie, he shared with the audience that he had played for the first time with the Andrews University Wind Symphony as a student exactly 18 years ago. He joked that it was in a less glamorous location, comparing the glossy finish of the Howard Performing Arts Center (HPAC) with the Johnson Gym. “We are very blessed with this building,” he said of the HPAC.

His style of conducting as he launched into the next piece remained reserved but precise in its movements. His conducting effectively kept the over seventy band members, from undergraduates to seasoned members of the community, playing the music with the same speed and sound.

“An Outdoor Overture” by Aaron Copland rang as cheerfully as the first song, but “As Summer Was Just Beginning,” composed by Larry Daehn in the memory of James Dean, bore a more somber tone.

Graves dedicated the song to “all whose lives have been taken too early-cut down in the proverbial summer of their lives.”  

Sorrowful, low brass began the song, but when the other instruments joined in, the tone became more sentimental, as if celebrating the life lost. The song left a general impression of the bittersweet: a solemn appreciation for the individuals, as well as mourning for their early death.

Graves introduced the next song, “Summer Dances” by Brian Balmages, as another nuanced take on summer, contrasting the festive feel of lively summer dances, with the “lethargic quality of the hot humidity of summer.” He drew laughs from the audience when he mused that the musicians must be feeling similarly drained from the hot stage lights and the malfunctioning air conditioning. Accurate to its description, the song vacillated between syncopated moments full of movement to sedated moments painting pictures of lazy summer days.

It was fascinating to listen to both chamber groups—the woodwind quintet and the brass sextet—because one could see and hear more clearly the interplay between the melodies and countermelodies of different instruments. The trills and flourishes in the first movement of the woodwind quintet’s “Trois pièces brèves” by Jacques Ibert remind me of a summer meadow buzzing with activity from insects and birds and all sorts of creatures, and it ends in an exhilarating glissando. The middle movement slowed down dramatically, with a beautifully executed duet between the breathy flute and the thick tones of the clarinet. The ending movement was characterized by smooth, flying strings of notes with many upbeat trills.

In the brass sextet’s songs by Johann Pezel, the restraint of volume and tempo for the pleasant melodies clearly exhibited the chamber’s mastery of the Baroque style.

Anthony Iannaccone’s “After a Gentle Rain” included some audience participation when Graves asked the audience to snap their fingers to simulate rain during the song. There was little need, as the dreamy tremolos and brooding minor chords brought into view the drizzle and clouds of the rain, before the second movement’s images of sun breaking through the clouds with a joyful melody.

“I wasn’t planning for the weather to match up so perfectly with the song,” Graves said, before conducting “October” by Eric Whitacre.
     

The song opened with wind chimes over sustained flute notes, setting the tone for a pensive song before the nostalgic melody rolled in with the rest of the ensemble. Rumbling softly at first, the drums built under the brass to a large swelling of the same melody tinged with sadness for the end of summer.

Before the final piece, Frank Ticheli’s “Nitro,” Graves announced the next concert for “unabashedly Christmas music” on Dec. 2.

“Nitro,” Graves also informed the audience, is based on Ticheli’s fascination with the element Nitrogen found in the air. Its energetic fanfare with various percussion interjections made for a grand finish to this diverse array of music.

Amanda Bange (senior, theology, speech-language pathology and audiology), said of the concert, “It was really good. It really evoked the feeling of the end of summer and moving into fall.” The theme clearly resonated with the audience, and the dazzling collection of compositions and instruments definitely made Byron Graves’s first concert a success.

 

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