IWS Christmas Concert: Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010

December 11, 2010 at 1:05 am | Posted in Concerts | Leave a comment

The last Indiana Wind Symphony concert before we make the move to the Palladium is this Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010 at 3pm at Arsenal Tech High School.

Now, I’ve gone off before about EAM (Eardrum Assault Month) and how I don’t like Christmas music, but this is one of the reasons why the IWS is such a great group to play in. When you hear the phrase Christmas music, musicians like Norman Dello Joio, Alfred Reed, and Gustav Holst probably don’t pop straight into your mind. But with the IWS, that’s just what Christmas music means.

Sure, we’ll do our share of Christmas standards; it’s what our audience expects to hear. But a major part of the IWS’s mission statement is “the performance of serious music for band,” and our Christmas concert is no different. Serious music doesn’t mean heady or inaccessible; it means well-written. It means good.

The concert opens with the relatively new “A Christmas Fanfare” by James Beckel, Jr. The IWS has been developing a relationship with Mr. Beckel, who has been the principal trombonist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for four decades. His reputation as a composer has been rising over the last decade or two, as well. “A Christmas Fanfare” would be the perfect processional for a December graduation ceremony, and it’s a great way to start a Christmas concert.

Then comes Pola & Wyle’s “The Most Wonderful time of the Year,” which is one of my top-ten most-hated Christmas songs. I’m certain you’ll enjoy it more than I will.

Third is Norman Dello Joio’s “Variants on a Mediaeval Tune.” (The mediaeval tune in question is “In dulci jubilo.”) This starts with a tune everybody knows, but it’s anything but your standard Christmas music. Dello Joio is one of the few band composers who consistently includes a part for the alto clarinet — the clarinet that clarinetists love to hate. Listen for it.

Then we do two Christmas music medleys: Jerry Nowak’s “A Christmas Portrait” followed by Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” Both arrangements are pretty good, and “A Christmas Portrait” will include a vocal quartet from Arsenal Tech. This is the Christmas reminiscences part of the concert.

After an intermission, we come back with Kenneth Soper’s “Jingle Bell March” (the two things I hate most: Christmas music and marches), and then we get to best parts of the concert — for me, anyway.

For the final four pieces of the concert, we start with “Ode to Greensleeves” by local boy Richard Saucedo. It’s extremely easy to make Greensleeves a very, very boring piece of music. Or to put it another way, it is not easy to make “Greensleeves” fun to listen to for longer than ten seconds. This arrangement, though, will keep your attention from the first note to the last. The orchestration is really warm and rich.

Then, to cleanse our musical palates, we play another Leroy Anderson piece, “Sleigh Ride,” as in “lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.” I admit that this one can be fun to play, especially when it slips into a swinging jazz feel. (Most Christmas music is improved by jazzing it up, including The Nutcracker.) The horse whinny written into the trumpet part is always a crowd-pleaser, too.

Next is a Robert W. Smith arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I don’t know this piece as well as I probably should, but as far as Christmas music goes, I like the title. “In the Bleak Midwinter” just sounds like it was written by a Grinch. (The music isn’t actually all that bleak. The title is from a very Christian Christmas poem written by Christina Rossetti in the mid-19th century.)

Finally, we save the best for last: Alfred Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music.” Reed was commissioned to write this piece in 1944 for a concert in Denver that was meant to improve Soviet-American relations; it was to include the world premiere of both American and Soviet works. Although you probably won’t recognize any favorite Christmas tunes in this one, it apparently is based on actual Russian Christmas carols. Wikipedia says that it’s modeled on Eastern Orthodox liturgical music, but the last half of it is downright Mahler-esque.  This piece is worth sitting through “Jingle Bell March” to hear.

And that’s it. Part toe-tapping, part thought-provoking, part memory-teasing; all Christmas.

When: Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3:00

Where: Arsenal Technical High School
1500 E. Michigan
Indianapolis, IN 46201

How much:
$15 Adults
$10 Seniors and students
Children 10 and under free

Half-season tickets will be available!

Posted by Andrew Hollandbeck

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