When I hear the words “ensemble” or “symphony,” I always think of the classic setting of a suspended and acoustically engineered concert hall with Byzantine decorations on the wall. Musicians on stage would play attentively and solemnly to create a harmonic yet distant atmosphere. However, attending the concert at the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall at Peabody on Saturday, Sept. 29 reshaped my image of wind ensemble.
As the lights went off, trumpeter Josef Burgstaller, along with a group of saxophonists and clarinetists, made his way to the stage from the back of the concert hall and greeted the audience.
“It is an invitation to all. Welcome to our living room,” Burgstaller said. He took out his phone and smiled, capturing a selfie with the part of the audience sitting in the lower orchestra. All the musicians then flooded onto the stage, greeting the audience with warm smiles.
During the first half of Saturday’s wind ensemble program, audiences were introduced to Armenian folk songs with Alfred Reed’s “Armenian Dances, Part I” and Alexander Arutiunian’s “Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble.”
The Armenian Dances comprise a four-movement suite based on Armenian folk songs.
According to the program notes written by Violet Vagramian, “[Part I] is an extended symphonic rhapsody built upon five different songs, freely treated and developed in terms of the modern, integrated concert band or wind ensemble.” The five songs that “Part I” was based on are: “Tzirani Tzar” (“The Apricot Tree”); “Gakavi Yerk” (“Partridge’s Song”); “Hoy, Nazan Eem” (“Hoy, My Nazan”); “Alagyaz”; and “Gna, Gna” (“Go, Go”). All five of the songs were lively and melodious, creating an overwhelming feeling of warmth and happiness.
Arutiunian is one of the star composers of Armenian music; he is renowned for his speciality in delineating and reviving folk songs of his own heritage.
“Concerto for Trumpet and Wind Ensemble” contains a wide range of trumpet techniques. Burgstaller played a stunning rendition of the recurring melody that overlaid the piece. Before working as an instructor at Peabody, Burgstaller was a multi-genre trumpet soloist who toured internationally.
Undoubtedly, Burgstaller seasoned the performance with his captivating movements and dazzling skills. In an extremely sophisticated display of harmonization, the ensemble joined the leading trumpet, adding a richness to the texture of the song.
The concert concluded with Dutch conductor Johan de Meij’s “Symphony No.1, The Lord of the Rings,” a representative work based on the trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels of the same name.
The symphony, containing five movements, narrates emblematic scenes from the books and introductions of dramatic characters from the series.
The first movement, “Gandalf (The Wizard),” represents one of the principal characters in the trilogy, the wizard Gandalf. He is a character full of wisdom and virtue, and the song was representative of that.
In de Meij’s own words, “The sudden opening of the Allegro vivace is indicative of the unpredictability of the gray wizard, followed by a wild ride on his beautiful horse ‘Shadowfax’.”
The second movement, “Lothlorien (The Elvenwood),” is a movement containing woodwind solos. The arrangement paints the scene of flourishing plants and spirited animals.
The sudden shift to a sneaky-feeling melody indicated the beginning of the third movement, “Gollum (Sméagol).” Gollum is a monster whose weirdness and maliciousness are expressed through the soprano saxophone. There is a clear sense of impending danger.
As a sense of darkness permeated through the concert hall, we were then drawn to the fourth movement, “Journey in the Dark.”
“The fourth movement describes the laborious journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, headed by the wizard Gandalf, through the dark tunnels of the Mines of Moria,” de Meij writes on his website. “The slow walking cadenza and the fear are clearly audible in the monotonous rhythm of the low brass, piano and percussion.”
The piece concluded with the fifth movement, “Hobbits.”
This final movement had a carefree and lively air that contrasted starkly with the adversities and anxieties of the previous two movements.
The symphony unexpectedly ended on a peaceful note instead of an exuberant one, staying true to the last chapter of the original work.
The well-rounded and slow movement at the end of the concert was a calm culmination to the night. The Peabody Wind Ensemble, skillfully conducted by Harlan D. Parker and his assistant conductor, Michael Carter, demonstrated its level of proficiency and delivered a skillful and thoroughly enjoyable performance.