Dallas — A critic is always a little wary when hearing an established musical organization for the first time. Such was the case when I attended the Lone Star Wind Orchestra’s concert on Sunday afternoon. However, as it turned out, there was no reason to be concerned. The LSWO presented a concert that was creatively programed and excellently played.
You can begin to judge such an ensemble when the oboe started the process of tuning. Do the players really listen to that note, and then carefully tune or do they think “close enough” and go back to tossing off some concerto passages? The LSWO easily passed the “tune test.” Both tuning notes were precisely matched by the ensemble.
As most fine wind ensembles do, or should do, they tuned twice: first, on to the same A that orchestras use for tuning and then on B flat. This is because some instruments, such as the flute, trombone and the oboe itself, are based on C major overtones while others, such as the clarinet and trumpet, are based on B flat overtones. Orchestras only tune to the A and the B flat instruments have learned how to translate that to their instrument.
The next test is what is on the program: is it routine or creatively put together? (Presenting something that is not well known can enhance even an “All Mozart” concert.) Once again, the LSWO’s program for Sunday passed with high marks. On the well-known side, they played a suite of tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! But the rest of the concert was either in the not-so-well column or downright obscure.
The Oklahoma! suite is a potpourri of most of the tunes from the show. Hearing all those songs in a row reminds of how many hits there are in that musical. The suite was originally assembled for orchestra by Robert Russell Bennett, and sensitively transcribed for symphonic band by R. Mark Rogers, who was in attendance.
Rogers is the conductor of the San Antonio-based Heart of Texas Concert Band. He is also on the faculty of San Antonio College, Texas Lutheran University and Trinity University.
Because of a lack of top-level repertoire for band/wind symphony, their programs often include “bandistrations” of works originally written for orchestra or piano. Today’s well-known composers have caught on and are writing for wind symphonies or adapting earlier works for orchestra. Rogers has written a number of such transformed scores in addition to his own compositions.
The rest of the program was equally intriguing. The program opened with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, in an excellent wind band arrangement by Clare Grundman. The first movement of Robert Schumann’s Konzertstuck for four horns and orchestra (arranged for band by William Schafer) was well played by the horn section, but they should have played the entire piece. George Gershwin’s Three Preludes, originally for piano in Nicholas Enrico Williams’ suburb arrangement, greatly impressed.
There were some pieces on the program that were originally written for wind symphonies. One of them, A Copland Portrait by David Conte is a hybrid. Conte’s piece is not an arrangement of some of Aaron Copland’s music, as you might assume. Instead, Conte’s composition is tribute to the composer. The Dayton Philharmonic and its Artistic Director, Neal Gittleman, commissioned it for the 100th anniversary of Copland’s birth. Although there is not a note lifted from Copland’s compositions, it is written in Copland’s musical style and is a clever and well-crafted piece.
Three Short Stories by Gernot Wolfgang was the most interesting piece on the program. Instead of an orchestral piece rewritten for band, this work was dramatically expanded from its original version, which is for only two instruments: clarinet and bassoon. (Wolfgang’s wife is a bassoonist.) Hearing the original version and then the one for band, there is little that surprises. The takeaway is how much music and harmony your ear fills in when it is only implied in the duet version.
There were two guest conductors on the program. The Oklahoma! suite was conducted by Jackie Townsend, a Doctorial Conducting Fellow at the University of North Texas. She did a fine job, only marred by the constant mirroring of her hands. Thus, the left hand was too busy to do its real job of shaping the music.
The other guest conductor, Richard Rosas, won his moment on the podium with the winning bid in the silent auction held as a fundraiser for the LSWO. But he was not unfamiliar with the job. He played trombone all through high school and at the University of Texas at El Paso. He jumped on the podium and conducted John Philip Sousa’s New York Hippodrome March.
The Music Director and conductor of the LSWO is Eugene Migliaro Corporon. He is also the conductor of the wind symphony and Regents Professor of Music at the University of North Texas. His biography lists amazing awards, almost every honor that a wind symphony specialist can win.
Conducting seated, he is calm and precise. Much of his extraordinary communication abilities are minimal, and much is conveyed facially. Seeing a YouTube video of him from the front gives a very different impression than seeing him from the back. He eschews showmanship: in fact, his baton technique is just the opposite. Arguably, some more podium excitement would help him involve the audience, but wouldn’t improve his musical product. But best of all, he resists the almost universal temptation to revel in excessive volume.