by Robert Rollin

LastYSU-Wind-Ensemble Friday evening Stambaugh Auditorium’s austerely-attractive hall witnessed an intriguing event: The 7th Annual Youngstown State University Wind and Percussion Invitational. Serving as both an entertaining evening and an undergraduate recruitment event, this year’s invitational, guided by YSU’s band director, Dr. Stephen Gage, featured the YSU Wind Ensemble and two specially-selected high school wind ensembles: the Cleveland area Lakeview High School Concert Band and the suburban Pittsburgh North Hills High School Wind Ensemble.

Though each of the two guest ensembles performed with surprising maturity and panache, it will be no surprise that the YSU Wind Ensemble contributed the evening’s two high points: Dana Faculty soprano, Misook Yun’s expressively astute portrayal of Musetta’s Waltz from Puccini’s La Bohème’s second act, and Dana Faculty clarinetist, Alice Wang’s performance of Frank Tichelli’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble, movements II and III

La Bohème’s Musetta is a sophisticated, vivacious character willing to lead on older suitors, but who is in love with Marcello, the artist protagonist. Ms. Yun sang the short but difficult bel canto part with great poise and skill, and conductor Stephen Gage carefully kept the actively-florid Wind Ensemble parts from overbalancing her.

Tichelli’s second movement, subtitled Song for Aaron, requires passion and great dynamic control, since it is a vocal piece recast for solo clarinet and ensemble. Here Ms. Wang played remarkably expressively — never blatant, but always audible enough to display her wonderful tone. The third movement, Riffs for Lenny, extravagantly displays Leonard Bernstein’s musical enthusiasm through vivid, experimentally jazz-like passages. Wang again maintained balance, as she tossed off her challenging solo part. The YSU ensemble accompanied with flair, notwithstanding the musical complexity.

John Mackey’s skillful and imaginative Asphalt Cocktail portrays a feverishly terrifying taxi ride in downtown Manhattan. Though Mackey’s piece is short and splashy, it deftly exploits both soloistic and tutti textures fully, and packs in many intricately intriguing wind ensemble timbres.

Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dance Music from Westside Story (in Paul Lavender’s 2007 arrangement), much like the original 1961 orchestral version, is overly long, and more concerned with modernistic sounds than with actual dances. The piece dragged a bit, in spite of a skillful and well-balanced performance.

Nathan Sensabaugh, Lakeview’s excellent director and a Dana School of Music alumnus, conducted Boorne’s Queen City March very effectively, providing the requisite dynamic contrasts. Claude T. Smith’s Incidental Suite showed interesting rhythmic variety, and Steven Reineke’s more modal, The Witch and the Saint, skillfully integrated individual solos. Legendary composer and University of Iowa School of Music administrator Hymie Voxman’s rarely performed Scherzo for Saxophone Quartet was given a scintillating reading by the Lakeview Saxophone Blue, a fine group of young students.

Len Lavelle, North Hills’ impressive director, presented two movements from another John Mackey composition: Kingfishers Catch Fire. The first movement, Following Falls and Falls of Rain, displayed fine solos by trombone and clarinet principals. Kingfishers Catch Fire, the second, was an effective perpetual motion piece.

Gustav Holst’s Second Suite in F for Military Band, a venerable masterpiece, contributed two movements and a refreshing visit to British band music: a modal Song Without Words, replete with lovely dissonant suspensions, and Fantasia on the Dargason, an enchanting extended movement deftly combining variations on an original hornpipe-like English country dance with the tune Greensleeves. The performance was exceptional. The North Hills Wind Ensemble is a long established group with a new music commissioning program going all the way back to 1965. The group showed great dynamic balance and surprisingly mature phrasing.

The interesting evening closed with the two guest high school ensembles joining the YSU Wind Ensemble in a massed performance of Sousa’s Stars and Stripes, providing a huge ensemble over 150 strong and an appropriately rousing close.


Published on February 26, 2013

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