On Dec. 4, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble performed its final concert of the semester, which featured numerous works that invigorated listeners and called attention to current events. John B. McCoy-Banc One Distinguished Teaching Professor of Music Dane Heuchemer, the band’s director, fostered a comfortably amiable atmosphere for the audience, often interjecting to go into detail about the history of the pieces being performed or explaining the thought process behind their selection. The result was a deeply thoughtful program that filled Rosse Hall with optimism and amusement.
Opening with Dana Wilson’s 1998 piece titled “Shortcut Home,” the ensemble quickly moved to a presentation of two national anthems — the “Star Spangled Banner” and Ukraine’s “The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished.” Heuchemer took care to note that the choice to play both anthems was informed by empathy for the Ukrainian people who are suffering as a result of the ongoing war with Russia. He urged the audience to consider their privilege living in a nation at comparative peace. The performance of the anthems was quite moving, and it was clear that the musicians took the responsibility of playing them very seriously.
Immediately following the two national anthems was another social-justice-oriented piece, Karel Husa’s composition “Music for Prague 1968.” In another address to the audience, Heuchemer explained how Husa was inspired by the Soviet put-down of protests in the Czech Republic in the spring of 1968, an event that eventually became known as the Prague Spring. Comparing it loosely to the current situation in Ukraine, he again encouraged the audience to be mindful of their favorable circumstances. The piece itself was extremely interesting, as it had distinctly avant-garde rhythms that required the ensemble members to listen carefully to one another in order to produce the right kind of sound at the right moments. Though this was undoubtedly a challenge, they handled its complexity with grace while making the more unsettling moments of dissonance in the music agreeable to listeners. The first half of the concert was concluded with a smaller selection of the ensemble playing Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Two Marches for Harmoniemusik,” which provided an appropriate contrast to the strangeness and experimentation of the Husa piece.
Following a brief intermission, the ensemble played three pieces from “Civil War Brass Journal,” whose jaunty and brassy tone provided a good warmup for the second half of the concert. The group then moved to a selection from a 1941 work by José Pablo Moncayo titled “Huapango!” that Heucheumer said would be presented in full during the Symphonic Wind Ensemble’s next concert in February. Similar to the pieces from “Civil War Brass Journal,” “Huapango!” was notably more upbeat, giving the audience a reprieve from the deeply emotional mood of the concert’s first half. Though the piece was unfinished and in some places a bit rough, the musicians were able to keep up with its demanding speed and rhythms remarkably well.
The concert’s conclusion featured a surprise — preceding the performance of Alfred Reed’s 1969 work, “Russian Christmas Music,” the musicians stood and sang “Carol of the Russian Children,” a short choral piece that is traditionally sung alongside Reed’s composition. Despite the fact that the ensemble is purely instrumental, they formed a lovely choir that embodied the childlike eagerness of both pieces. “Russian Christmas Music” was the perfect closer, providing a seasonally appropriate and hopeful energy, while not forgetting the solemnities of the music presented in the first half.
Kenyon’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble is filled with remarkably committed and adaptable musicians who performed a challenging set with impressive elegance. The passion of its director, Heuchemer, was apparent throughout the entire event, matched only by the enthusiasm of the audience. The only misfortune of the concert was that there were not more people there to experience it.