Wind Ensemble’s ‘Paris Sketches’ Transports Audience Abroad

Wind Ensemble

An enthusiastic and sizable crowd gathered in Gasson Hall on Saturday for the University Wind Ensemble’s dynamic presentation of Paris Sketches. The show took the audience on a trip around the world for music inspired by various countries, while showcasing the band’s immense and diverse array of talent. Containing highly energetic songs with fluctuating moods and intensities, listeners heard selections from numerous points over the past century, which gave both a chronological and geographical progression of artistry throughout the concert. Most of all, the pieces demonstrated the wealth of depth that one can find in the world of music.

The evening opened with “Molly on the Shore,” composed by Percy Aldridge Grainger in 1907 as a birthday gift to his mother. Using melodies inspired by contrasting Irish reels, the piece embodies a whimsical and spirited attitude, while the layers of instrumentation create depth and prevent the bouncy cadence of the song from becoming too lighthearted. Opening with fluttery clarinets and building with effervescent flutes, the piece becomes more robust as crashing percussion duels with the swirling melodies. The overall effect is an enchanting and mildly mysterious piece that many listeners bonded with immediately.

Next, the band played “Cuban Overture” by George Gershwin, composed in 1932 after Gershwin visited Havana and was inspired by the country’s rich culture, particularly their rhythmic dance and music. Opening with an emphatic, discordant sound featuring Latin percussion and powerful brass instrumentation, the grand introduction to the country eventually cedes to more laid-back, thematic material. While the volume and tone of the piece oscillates throughout, the unpredictable melodies maintain the listener’s attention and preserve the agitated and exotic nature of the unmistakably Cuban-inspired composition.

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Following with the titular group of compositions, the band performed Paris Sketches, a collection of four songs composed by Martin Ellerby in 1994 as a tribute to the composer’s personal attachment to a city with powerful artistic history. The first song, “Saint-Germain-des-Près” features music inspired by the Latin Quarter of the city with resonating, slow-burning instrumentation and a dark and dreamy landscape. The subtle, twinkly embellishments enhance the peaceful nature of the piece, an attribute that was skirted by the succeeding piece, “Pigalle.” Ellerby described the song as “a burlesque with scenes cast in the mould of a balletic scherzo-humorous” kind of way, and that intricate description captures the mischievous sound of the woodwind section amidst thundering, reverberating percussion.
Continuing with “Père Lachaise,” a piece named after the largest cemetery in Paris, the song unfolds with haunting and graceful subtlety. In particular, the leaden bells that accent the meandering and pensive melody assert a sense of finality to the piece, which is fitting considering the location to which the song refers. The last song in the collection, “Les Halles,” features a fanciful tone to create an understated brightness that is challenged by an uneasy undertone, and wrapped up Paris Sketches in a way that captured the sense of wonder and intensity of Pairs.

The group then performed “Bulgarian Dances,” composed by Franco Cesarini in 2006 and inspired by the rich tradition of Bulgarian folk songs with roots tracing back to antiquity. The piece features a mix of warm, meandering melodies and frantic, vehement energy that gives a multidimensional presentation of the traditional Bulgarian art form.

The show closed with a jarring, controversial track called “Redline Tango,” composed by John Mackey in 2004. Inspired by the breakdown of an engine pushed too far, and Mackey’s experience with the New York subway system, the piece is a blazing, at times deafening dedication to the tortured life of a machine. Perhaps one of the most novel aspects of the piece is the fact that it was inspired by a commonplace occurrence such as a subway train. While many go about their life without attending to such metal turmoil happening in their presence, Mackey captured the unhinged, maddening quality of this inhuman struggle and personified it with great complexity, which the Wind Ensemble rose to meet with an abundance of energy.

With compositions inspired by everything from cultural history to urban phenomena, the show brought the audience a diverse collection of musical and artistic influences, which was carried out effortlessly by the band’s skillful and impassioned presentation.

Featured Image By Taylor Perison / Heights Staff