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Friday's presentation by the Harvard Wind Ensemble revealed a rapidly maturing musical group which gives promise of becoming an instructive and valuable addition to the community. There were limitations in the music at the concert, and technical flaws in execution were occasionally painful. Still, the group has made immeasurable progress since its inaugural program last spring and hopefully it will continue to improve.
The theme of the Eliot House series--Music in America--gave director James Walker a chance to do what he has talked of since he came to Harvard three years ago: play the music of contemporary America. Modern composers have built up a large literature for smaller groups, among them all-wind organizations. The Friday program exposed some of the same time indicated a few of the musical limitations.
Vincent Persichetti's Bagatelles for Band, which began the evening, is an example of this ambivalence. The four movements, while containing interesting rhythmic devices and harmonic structures, were unsatisfying as individual entities and failed to form a coherent whole. Phrases caught the ear, but no meaning or emotion was conveyed. Canzona, by Julliard director Peter Mennin, was similarly unsatisfying.
These criticisms, though, might be ascribed to a conservative bent in my ear, and perhaps for that reason I most enjoyed the Tower Music of Alan Hovhaness. Tranquil and lush, the music reflected a mood of quiet contemplation. Walker's musicians took full advantage of the opportunity for richness and filled the Eliot hall with perfectly blended harmonies.
The brass section is currently the strongest part of the Ensemble, the French horns and lead cornets being particularly fine. With the exception of the oboe and the first stand clarinents, the woodwinds were sometimes painfully shrill, and attacks were not always clean. Perhaps because of inferior equipment rather than lack of playing skill, the percussion section did not have the clean staccato required by Persichetti, Kurka in the Good Soldier Schweik, and Barber in his Commando March.
It was a pity that only 70 persons heard the concert, and it is to Eliot's credit that it presented the Ensemble knowing the ticket sales probably would not cover costs. The program dignified the Eliot "Music in America" series and gave the Ensemble its first real chance to introduce itself. As Walker and his musicians become better acquainted with each other and the possibilities of the repertory, the Ensemble's circle of friends should grow.
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