There is a tendency in music to fall into the trap of the expected, which may be why the performance of the NC Symphony Wind Ensemble Monday night was so magnificent.
Say quintet in classical music and for many people the image is four strings and a piano. But a wind ensemble is certainly not that. Four woodwinds and a French horn, but there’s not a violin, viola, cello or piano in sight.
Because of that, what the music becomes is something that is so profoundly different from the usual repertoire of strings that it becomes compelling.
As Christopher Caudill, who performed on French horn, explained at the beginning of the program, the wind ensemble is comprised of five instruments each with their individual sound. Strings play at different pitches, with different resonance to their instruments; but there is no mistaking how similar their sound is.
The challenge, then, is how does a composer blend these somewhat disparate sounds into a piece of music that people will want to listen to.
It would seem the best way to do that is to stress the differences of each instrument instead of trying to make them somehow sound alike when the are not.
From the first selection, “Three Short Pieces” by Jacques Ibert, that concept was apparent.
Each instrument is so distinctive that when the oboe trades the melody to the flute it is heard immediately. It’s the same pitch; very much the same notes, but the color of the music changes.
The counterpoint and countermelodies that are happening behind the melody are more distinctive and it creates a palette of music that seems only possible with this mixture of sound.
The second selection, “Quintet for Wind Instruments” by Paul Taffanel, was introduced by flutist Carla Copeland-Burns, who if memory serves, mentioned that the composer was her great grandfather. Since Taffanel seems to be the father of modern flute teaching method, it was fitting that she introduced the piece.
Taffanel was a flutist and the music certainly appears to push the instrument to its limits with a series of beautiful but precise arpeggios.
The flute is not the only instrument featured in the piece, but the flute certainly seemed to bear the largest burden of complex melody lines.
The use of the flute as the focal instrument, as interesting as that may have been, is not the only aspect of this piece of music that makes it absorbing.
Written in 1872, this was certainly the earliest composition in the program. Yet there are a number of modern ideas in it. Especially in the third movement, Vivace, snippets of music and melody appear and disappear as another instrument takes over with a slightly varied musical idea..
The entire composition makes extensive use of atonality. It’s a composition tool that’s used extensively in jazz, but in the 19th century its use was just beginning to be explored.
It may have been the most challenging piece of music to listen to—and perhaps to play—but it was wonderful.
“Three Shanties for Wind Quintet” by Malcolm Arnold is a fun piece of music. The first movement, entitled Allegro con brio. Ha! I found it impossible not to start singing to myself, “What shall we do with the drunken sailor, what shall we do with the drunken sailor…”
Because it is such a recognizable tune, it helps to demystify classical music. Sitting in the audience, nodding my head in time to the music and singing to myself brought home how universal all music is.
“Three Shanties,” with its roots so firmly in folk music was the ideal introduction to Early Hungarian Dances by Farenc Farkas.
It was very interesting how Farkas conceived of this piece. It begins almost baroque-like in the way it sounds. As his music moves beyond that, it becomes very evocative and tuneful. These are melody lines that you could almost sing along with.
The third movement, “Shoulder-Blade Dance is this wonderful fast moving slice of music. There were a number of kids there from a home-school organization and I asked them what their favorite piece of music was and almost to a child they point to Blade Dance.
The night ended with “El Porsche Negro, a Tango” by Julio Medaglia, It’s the kind of music that gets the crowd moving their feet and if there is going to be an encore, it’s what would be played.
Marvelous piece of music. Best part of it may have been Caudill on French Horn perfectly mimicking the classic trombone glissandos of a tango.