There are few experiences comparable to sitting before a live wind symphony. A wind symphony embodies a more powerful sound than other live music.
Last Tuesday, the Conservatory Wind Symphony, directed by Steven D. Davis, made the distinction very clearly when it played both Paul Hindemith’s “Konzertmusik fur Blascorchester, Op. 41,” as well as Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy,” both of which demonstrated the expert ability of the musicians.
Conductors David W. Clemmer and Andrew J. Putnam provided brief lectures on each work and composer before the performances, further enriching the impact of each piece.
The first piece, “Konzertmusik fur Blasorchester, Op. 41,” began with an eruption of sound. This was composer Hindemith’s first work for a wind ensemble, and was originally presented at the 1926 music festival in Donaueschingen, Germany. One can hear, almost immediately, the modern feel of this work where the entire ensemble comes together in loud and abrupt high wails, which seem to make the entire sound ascend, only to be crushed back down by the loud crash of the percussion.
Using sounds and arrangements resembling military march themes, Hindermith creates an extremely active type of music with the woodwind’s gentle interludes opening for the great shouts of the brass section. There are moments when the march beat is abandoned for quiet and suspenseful playful melodies that, simply by closing one’s eyes, can transport the listener to a fantastic and beautiful narrative.
The busyness and constant activity of the piece add to this. With the low and booming outbursts of the percussion, one would imagine the gods themselves were in the midst of an enormous battle onstage.
The second work, Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy”, is a much more personal piece which is based in narrative. As a young man, Percy Grainger was greatly enamored by the concept of natural things. As a child, when given a plot of land for gardening by his parents, he chose to collect various specimens of weeds and other natural plants to build his garden rather than plant the seeds his parents gave him.
This interest in natural things eventually encompassed music when he began work on the “Lincolnshire Posy” a compellation of old folk songs transcribed for wind symphony. To create this he traveled around Lincolnshire, England with an Edison wax cylinder recorder strapped to his chest and sought out folk singers to record folk music directly from the most natural source.
The piece is split into six movements, but because each is based off of a folk song, they are all relatively short. The longest is only a little over two minutes. The way Grainger is able to imitate the sound of the human voice through the instruments is beautiful. He creates a lively collection of melodies.
Walt Disney would have wanted to animate this performance, though he may not have thought himself up to the job.