Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Wind Songs
Olathe North High School (KS) Symphonic Band, Percussion Ensemble, and Wind Ensemble
Justin W. Love, Director of Bands; John Wickersham, Assistant Director of Bands
Kingwood High School Band (TX)
Destry Balch, Director; Tyler Morrison, Assistant Director
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium, New York, NY
March 12, 2017
One hears so much about cuts to the arts these days, so it is heartening to note that there is a lot of really good music education taking place in the heartland. Two high schools, one from Kansas, the other from Texas, sent their best band players (and conductors) to show us just how comfortable they are with tricky wind instruments and myriads of shifting rhythms. They provided pleasure to the proud family members and friends who attended, and it was good to see an audience younger than customary, including many very small children, perhaps being exposed to the concert experience for the very first time.
First up were the players from Olathe, Kansas. Conducted by John Wickersham, they played Pierre La Plante’s American Riversongs, which could have been crisper, but contained a beautiful cornet solo of Shenandoah in its interior section. I believe they switched the order from that printed in the program and did Michael Markowski’s The Cave You Fear next. Based on an idea from Joseph Campbell, the comparative mythologist, the piece indeed had a spooky, adventuresome atmosphere. Finally, Randall Standridge’s Kinetic Dances displayed how well-versed the students are in rhythm. (Is there such a thing as a non-kinetic dance?) A small group of percussionists then played Alarm! by Brian Blume, showing off how much variety can be obtained from such a limited set of sonorities.
The Olathe music director, Justin W. Love, then took over conducting duty for Gustav Holst’s well-known Second Suite in F for Military Band, which was phrased nicely. Brian Balmages created moody blends in his Rippling Watercolors, which the band played beautifully. They finished the first half of the concert with Rossano Galante’s Transcendent Journey, which sounded very Star Wars-ish in the beginning, then settled into a quasi-Copland sound, alternating between the two—an attractive piece, maybe not transcendent, but definitely on its way somewhere heroic.
After intermission, the much-larger Texas group from Kingwood High School took the stage. Their director, Destry Balch, conducted the brief Festive Fanfare by Robert W. Smith. He then yielded to his assistant, Tyler Morrison, who conducted another sort of fanfare called . . .Go, by Samuel R. Hazo, followed by Hazo’s Autumn on White Lake, whose clusters created a gorgeous atmosphere inspired by autumn in Michigan. This group concluded with James Swearingen’s Blue Ridge Saga, replete with folk feeling, if somewhat conventional. It was played with excellent attention to contrasts of texture.
I can’t resist a bad pun, so I must say “Destry rode again” (I’m certain he’s tired of hearing that!). He returned to conduct two pieces by Balmages that framed a really good account of Paul Dukas’ war-horse Le Sorcier apprenti (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), which is forever linked with Mickey Mouse because of the 1940 Disney movie Fantasia, but was written in 1897! These young players managed to get a good French wind sound from their instruments and, despite the lack of “softening” provided by a string section, they made the piece sound really radical again, which was a pleasure.
The first Balmages work was Summer Dances, effective enough, but the real gem was the second work . . . Not Afraid to Dream ,which closed the entire program. Sadly, the occasion for the piece was the accidental death of a Minnesota high school band player in 2004. The work was designed to allow his friends and family to have some sort of closure about that loss (at least in part). It proceeds from solemnity, the ringing of bells and dark lower-brass chords (he was a tuba player), to fragments of the hymn tune Lift High the Cross, to a more joyous energy that reflects his optimism and the joy he brought to all who knew him. A beautiful tribute, well-played!