The Brown University Wind Symphony performed pieces by popular wind band composer Gustav Holst under the direction of Matthew McGarrell, director of bands and senior lecturer in music, for a sizable crowd in Salomon 101 Friday night.
All the pieces in the program are characteristic of Holst's use of intricate counterpoints — when a musical piece has more than one melodic line played at the same time, McGarrell said. "It makes (the music) very complex," he explained.
The concert was the last of two performances the symphony puts on each semester. It was also a "capstone" and a chance to show friends and family what the symphony had prepared in a short amount of time, McGarrell said.
The symphony first presented "Bach's Fugue a la Gigue," which is Holst's wind band arrangement of an organ work by the Baroque composer. "A fugue is the ultimate statement of counterpoint," McGarrell said. "It shows how interested Holst was in organ music, counterpoint, 18th-century music in general," he added.
The fugue was fast, lively, upbeat and overall a very enjoyable piece. The music grew gradually louder toward the middle then softened as the piece transitioned into a minor mood. The music slowed dramatically toward the end and finished with a sustained note.
After a round of applause, the band proceeded to play the three-movement "Moorside Suite." The suite was a brass band competition piece that the BBC commissioned Holst to compose. The program described the suite's melodies as "traditional in quality but not actual folk songs."
The first movement, titled "Scherzo," began with a soft and low but fast tune, then suddenly crescendoed, with trumpets sounding a melody reminiscent of medieval fanfare. Just as abruptly, the music softened, with four flutes playing a tinkling melody. The piece ended with a soft note that provided a fluid transition to the second movement, "Nocturne."
"Nocturne" began with a single oboe, sounding out a slow, sorrowful tune. The oboe solo was undeniably one of the highlights of the concert, effectively conveying the melancholy, almost heartbreaking tone of the piece.
The last movement, "March," reflected its title. The piece began with a loud fanfare by the trumpets, punctuated by drums.
The band next played "Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo," which McGarrell described as "probably the most challenging piece" on the program, but nevertheless a rewarding one to perform. The piece was inspired by the English town of the same name, where Holst lived and worked for part of his life. Hammersmith juxtaposes the liveliness of the bustling town with the tranquility of the nearby Thames River, McGarrell said.
"Prelude" depicted the Thames River with a slow, low melody carrying a mysterious, foreboding tone that was startlingly punctuated by a single piccolo, then a trumpet. Both played a fast, brief and sharp tune.
"Scherzo" uses counterpoints to convey the "bustling and chattering of life that goes on in the streets of Hammersmith," McGarrell said. The piece began with fast, sharp staccato notes on a minor scale. The music grew louder and more complex as multiple melodies — as many as four or five — were played together to convey the excitement of the town. The music built up to a climax with lots of trumpets and tubas and swiftly gave way to a slower, softer melody similar to that in "Prelude."
The last piece was "Suite in F for Military Band." The exact circumstances of and the purpose in Holst's composing this is unknown, but according to McGarrell, the suite is essentially a collection of folk songs rearranged into four movements. "Holst was very interested in collecting folk songs throughout England, preserving the heritage of England through folk songs," McGarrell said.
The first movement was "March," a very fast, upbeat piece with lots of drums and other percussions. The second movement's title, "Song without words: I'll love my love," hinted at the romantic, sorrowful nature of the piece. "Song of the Blacksmith," the third movement, returned to a more lively tone. It was quite surprising to see how Holst incorporated an actual hammer and anvil into the piece, with the percussionist banging the hammer with the beat of the main melody. The program describes the last movement, "Fantasia on the Dargason," as a "particularly brilliant display of contrapuntal writing." The fast, dynamic piece provided an energetic ending to the concert.
For those who missed this concert, McGarrell said he definitely plans to have more performances dedicated to Holst in the future. "Holst's music among band players, among wind players, is very popular," McGarrell said, adding, "Everyone loves his music."