Wind Symphony charms audience
The Mother's Day audience for Sunday's Dartmouth Wind Symphony performance of "Theatrical Music" may not have expected smoke, champagne, dance and howls; but they were charmed nonetheless with conductor Max Culpepper's multi-media approach.
Subtitled "Music from the Avant Garde" and billed as an unusual, unique concert, the symphony used the whole of Spaulding Auditorium and many theatrical elements to explore various moods and worlds, including that of a recondite cave and an active, dark forest.
The afternoon's concert began with a jazz-rock piece titled "Cave of the Winds" by Russell Peck. The musicians entered a hazy atmosphere, dressed completely in black, and lay motionless about the stage floor. A deep, eerie bassoon interrupted the silence and darkness, moaning in the lower registers, as the other musicians slowly arose and responded one by one with choreographed movements. The piece gradually built up to a more complex and active sound, which culminated in an intense, disturbing crescendo, and then slowly rewound back into itself.
This set the mood for the concert's first half. The musicians left the stage and surrounded the audience for "Callings," a work by Vermont composer Gwyeth Walker and designed especially for the auditorium. The timpani set the rhythm for the piece as the musicians responded to one another, imitating the conversations of nocturnal creatures.
For "Voodoo" by Daniel Bukvich, Culpepper returned with black cape. The piece employed aleatoric devices and nontraditional scoring as well as flashlights, whispers, singing and screaming to give the feeling of a seance designed to raise the dead.
The remainder of the concert came from a far more traditional approach. Slide projections of civil war scenes were added to a medley from Ken Burns' TV documentary while a brief celebration featuring champagne, dancing, and streamers was included at the end of the show's final piece, "Broadway Curtain Time." Otherwise, traditional medleys from Hollywood, Broadway and the animated Disney movie "Aladdin" rounded out the afternoon concert and were especially applauded.
Adding avant-garde elements to a wind symphony's performance can be risky. While the theatrical devices can enhance a piece or even test the boundaries of what a traditional symphony can do, they can also be used as substanceless gimmicks, merely to gather applause and attention. Only the champagne celebration of the concert's final moments would fall under the latter category, but the Sunday afternoon audience did not mind. In fact, they responded with a standing ovation.