Wind Ensemble tackles Stravinsky

by Kourtney Kawano | 4/29/15 5:23pm

After exploring the works of Shakespeare in the fall and spending an evening in Metropolis this past winter, the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble will conclude their 2014-2015 season this Saturday by featuring work from several 20th-century composers. In the Spaulding Auditorium concert — titled “Stravinsky and Friends” and featuring work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky as well as composers from France and Belgium — the wind ensemble will explore the “strong connection” between the featured composers, Hopkins Center student relations advisor and wind ensemble member Ryan McWilliams ’14 said.

“You can really see it come together, especially toward the end of the term as you get closer to the concert date,” McWilliams said. “When things start to gel — especially on this material, which is really difficult and professional-level stuff — it’s exciting to see that come together.”

As in many of the ensemble’s past concerts, Saturday’s performance will center around one featured piece of music and several accompanying compositions selected by director Matthew Marsit, according to the performance’s playbill. In the playbill, Marsit wrote that he chose Stravinsky’s “Concerto for Piano and wind Instruments” (1923) after soloist Scott Smedinghoff, a graduate student in mathematics, approached him nearly a year ago to express interest in performing the piece alongside the wind ensemble. Marsit then selected additional works based on Stravinsky’s connections to composers writing throughout Western Europe in the same time period.

Smedinghoff said that while Marsit first encouraged him to think about performing the Stravinsky piece, he decided on his own that he wanted to approach Marsit and ask to audition for the part.

“Eventually I came back to [Marsit] and told him, ‘It would be really awesome if I could play this with the wind ensemble,’” Smedinghoff said. “He asked me if I could prepare it just to play for him [first] — it’s a very difficult work to put together, and he wanted to make sure I was rock solid before he actually committed to putting it on the schedule for this year.”

In addition to the work by Stravinsky, the concert will also feature work by French composer Florent Schmitt, a member of the artistic cooperative “Les Apaches” that included Stravinsky, Spanish composer Manuel De Falla and French composer Maurice Ravel among its members, according to the program notes. Building on each other’s influences, some of these artists shared similar styles, content and harmonic language, McWilliams said.

“They would review each other’s work, and they would promote each other’s performances and attend them,” McWilliams said. “It was a group collaboration, or a collective of composers. They would all support each other in these works.”

As a testament to this important collaboration and the links between Stravinsky and the other featured artists, Marsit will open the concert with Schmitt’s “Dionysiaques, Op. 62” (1914), a challenging 11-minute composition that features climactic tuttis by the entire ensemble and chromatic shifts, according to the performance’s program notes. Following an intermission, the performance will also feature Alexander Arutiunian’s “Concerto for Trumpet and Symphonic Band” (1950), featuring soloist Ben Meyer ’15.

Like Smedinghoff, Meyer also initially approached Marsit about performing a solo in the spring concert. Meyer, who has performed in the wind ensemble since his freshman fall, said that he approached Marsit because he was interested in performing a solo piece near the end of the year in part as a culminating experience for his “most formal” musical outlet on campus. Meyer is also a member of two campus bands.

“The program as a whole is really lively and bombastic in many ways,” Meyer said. “All the music is great and [Marsit] has done a phenomenal job of preparing us. He’s a terrific leader and musician and a great person, and it’s just such an honor to be able to play with him and for him and that he had faith in me to be able to do this.”

McWilliams, who played in the wind ensemble as a student at Dartmouth, echoed Meyer’s praise of Marsit.

“He’s really taken the ensemble and pushed it beyond what it had been doing in previous years,” McWilliams said.

Mallory Rutigliano ’17, who performs with the group and serves as the ensemble’s librarian, said that the wind ensemble does not always play with soloists and that their addition to the concert this spring had been a “wonderful transition.”

“As usual, we started just practicing with the ensemble, and then as we went along we started practicing with the soloists,” she said. “It was really great to see that transformation from playing with just the winds and the brass to playing with the soloists.”

“Stravinsky and Friends” will take place at 8 p.m. this Saturday. Tickets range from five to 10 dollars.