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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Wind Ensemble spring recital charmed audience with familiar tunes

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Last Sunday, April 6 the Brandeis Wind Ensemble held their spring recital, “History of the American Musical.” Conducted by Tom Souza, the Wind Ensemble consisted of an impressive variety of instruments, including flutes, clarinets, French horns, trumpets, percussion and an oboe. Unlike many of the musical events that take place at the Slosberg Music Center, this one had a large audience. There were so many people that Slosberg ran out of concert pamphlets.

The first piece played was a selection of songs from “Wicked,” all of which were originally composed by Stephen Schwartz, but were arranged for a wind ensemble by Jay Bocook. “Wicked” has won Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards and a Grammy. Because “Wicked” is one of Broadway’s most critically-acclaimed and well-attended musicals, performing selections from it was a wonderful way to open the night. The selections were not only chosen wisely but also mixed well. The final excerpt, taken from “Defying Gravity” (the signature “Wicked” song), ended the piece on a high note despite some messy playing. An obvious favorite, the selections from “Wicked” elicited loud applause from the crowd.

In between each piece, conductor Souza turned to the audience to give notes on each of the musical selections that the wind ensemble was about to play. It was a much-appreciated gesture; although the audience (presumably) loved American musicals, powering through each piece would have been tedious. Furthermore, Souza’s words showed that he was rather passionate about not only the American musical, but also his ensemble.

Following “Wicked” was “Show Boat,” a 1927 musical that redefined Broadway by addressing racial prejudice and, according to Souza, “tragic, enduring love.” Although more put together than the selections from “Wicked,” “Show Boat” was less familiar to the audience.

Leonard Bernstein’s beloved “West Side Story” was performed after “Show Boat.” Famous for its complicated and difficult music, “West Side Story” was one of the less exciting pieces of the night. Because the musical (like most Broadway productions) has such dynamic music, it was disappointing to hear the ensemble perform it in such a monotonous tone. However, I don’t think the audience minded. They were all enjoying the nostalgia-inducing performance.

After “West Side Story” and a brief intermission was “Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Although “Fiddler on the Roof” is an integral part of American Broadway history, I thought it was rather irrelevant to this concert because it was sung by the wind ensemble players instead of being played with wind instruments. Despite the confusing nature of the situation, I was quite impressed by the vocal abilities of the wind instrumentalists—they could have passed as a choral ensemble.

Once the very strange rendition of “Sabbath Prayer” ended, the musicians returned to their instruments, re-tuned and played selections from “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which was a 1979 musical thriller about British throat slitter Sweeney Todd. One of the flutists, Cheryl Burns ’15, demonstrated her instrumental versatility by moving to the piano and playing an accompanying part.

The wind ensemble and Souza finished the night with excerpts from “The Sound of Music,” which has played a part in the lives of many people. Songs like “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Do-Re-Mi” and the title song “The Sound of Music” were sampled. It was a comforting and fitting piece to end the concert with.

Overall, I thought using the American musical as a theme was a wise choice on Souza’s part. It brought in a larger audience than a regular Slosberg concert would have. After all, Brandeis has a rather significant musical theater student population on campus. Although the performance wasn’t Carnegie Hall worthy, it was still a fun and satisfying night.