A near-capacity audience at Tacoma's historic Pantages Theater Friday night was treated to a diverse concert band program, skillfully presented by the 60-piece Tacoma Concert Band under the direction of Robert Musser.
The program included band classics such as "Fame and Fortune" by Karl King, "The Thunderer" by John Philip Sousa, and even "A Leroy Anderson Portrait", arranged by James Barnes. Two soloists were featured as well. Local student saxophonist Erik Ibsen-Nowak performed the Glazunov saxophone concerto as winner of the Tacoma Concert Band Student Soloist Competition, an annual opportunity for local student musicians. Soprano soloist Edie Delegans shared lovely renditions of two traditional songs, "Down by the Sally Gardens" and "Gypsy Love Song".
The program also included two contrasting contemporary works for concert band, both of which were given a very committed and convincing performance. The first was Philip Sparke's "Dance Movements", a work commissioned by the United States Air Force Band and premiered by them in 1996. The four-movement work demonstrated superb writing for concert band, with excellent solo use of several instruments as well as wonderful layered ensemble writing. As the composer himself describes, "the four movements are all dance-inspired, although no specific dance rhythms are used". Perhaps most striking in this performance was the brass movement which Sparke describes as a "love duet". The tremendous strength and warmth of the Tacoma Concert Band brass were shown off in this touching brass chorale.
The true gem of the program was Aldo Rafael Forte's "Van Gogh Portraits", a five-movement work based on famous paintings by the great Dutch artist. Forte was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1953, and moved to the United States in 1962. The highly programmatic movements are unified by the use of the three notes B-flat, D, and A. This "Van Gogh motif" develops and transforms through the course of the work, but is always recognizable as a unifying theme. Throughout the work, new sounds and textures are explored as a means of expressing the theme of each painting. The third movement, "Zouave", which features the percussion, and the fourth movement, "The Drawbridge", in which clarinets and bass clarinet establish a remarkably suggestive foggy water scene, were particularly striking examples of the tone painting achieved by Forte in this work.
While it might be said that the program had "something for everyone", the bulk of the audience was attentive and receptive throughout the evening. The same folks who applauded the "Leroy Anderson Portrait" also enjoyed the "Van Gogh Portraits". Such programs are rare musical experiences, and are only possible when the ensemble as a whole has real commitment and skill on which to draw; this is obviously the case with the Tacoma Concert Band.
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