As the audience chatted among themselves, the players onstage practiced and warmed up their instruments. As the lights began to dim, the performers played a harmonious chord, showing the audience what they had to offer.
The Ohio State University Wind Symphony performed “What Grateful Offering Shall We Bring?” its first concert of the season Thursday night at Weigel Hall.
Conducted under Russel C. Mikkelson, director of university bands at OSU, along with guest conductors Phillip Day and Andrew Lawrence, the symphony played five pieces: Stephen Montague’s “Intrada 1631,” Charles Ives’ “Variations on ‘America’” and “Country Band March,” arranged by James B. Sinclair, Michael Gandolfi’s “Flourishes and Meditations on a Renaissance Theme” and William Schuman’s “New England Triptych.”
Mikkelson said the performance title comes from the third verse, first line of “Chester,” a popular song sung around campfires during the American Revolution.
“It relates to what we do here at Ohio State,” Mikkelson said.
The program began with “Intrada 1631,” using a 20-bar hymn as the basis for an expanded processional scored for the modern forces of a symphonic brass choir, according to Montague’s notes in the program’s playbill. Percussion was placed onstage and in the back of the audience, creating a dramatic and surrounding tone to compliment the melancholy tone from the trumpets onstage. As more instruments were added, the music began to increase in volume, swelling in emotion.
Toward the climax of the song, the percussion from the back of house walked down the aisles of the audience, joining the symphony onstage. What started as a dramatic song ended in a hopeful sounding conclusion as the entire symphony members played in unison.
“Flourishes and Meditations on a Renaissance Theme,” which is a set of seven variations on an anonymous Renaissance melody that is simply titled “Spagnoletta,” according to Gandolfi’s notes in the playbill, started very somber and slower compared to the previous piece. As the music picked up tempo, different instruments were used to signify the different variations of the music. Such instruments used were castanets, a xylophone, chimes, cymbals, slap sticks, hand bells and a triangle. The control the players had on their instruments remained throughout the piece as they suddenly were able to mute their instruments after playing a loud note and as the final triangle note rang throughout the house, one audience member exclaimed “wow” as Mikkelson lowered his arms, signifying that the piece had ended.
“Country Band March” and “Variations on ‘America’” were conducted by Day and Lawrence respectively. Day and Lawrence are currently pursuing the master of music in wind conducting degree at OSU.
“One of the greatest opportunists I have at OSU is to mentor graduate conductors,” Mikkelson said.
“Country Band March” is a parody of the realities of a performance by a country band, according to Sinclair’s notes in the playbill. The song started light tempered and sounded patriotic. At one point, the flute section sounded like train whistles. As the song ended, the music sounded jarring and seemed off tempo, but concluded strong.
Originally composed for the organ, composer William Schuman arranged “Variations on ‘America’” for orchestration, according to Lawrence’s notes in the playbill. Each variation had a distinctive sound to it, one variation sounding like a patriotic march transposing into a Spanish tango number.
In “New England Triptych,” there are three parts: “Be Glad, Then, America,” “When Jesus Wept” and “Chester.” The song started with a timpani drum solo, sounding like it was playing in the distance. As the song built in dramatics, so did it in volume.
“When Jesus Wept” began with a drum roll, sounding like someone was being led to the gallows. A sorrowful bassoon, accompanied later by an oboe, was added, adding to the emotion of the drum roll. According to Shuman’s notes in the playbill, “When Jesus Wept” is played in the form of a round.
“Chester,” the last piece of the performance, sounded hopeful when compared to “When Jesus Wept.” Starting slow with a strong wind melody, the song was a happy conclusion to the piece and to the performance. As the symphony lowered its instruments, another member of the audience exclaimed “whoa,” the audience laughing in response.
“What Grateful Offering Shall We Bring?” is one of six performances the wind symphony is playing at OSU this season. This includes the performances of “NYC: In the Shadow of No Towers” with guest composer Mohammed Fairouz in October, Edward Elgar’s “Variations on an Original Theme, op. 36 ‘Enigma’” in November, “Looking Back, Listening Forward” featuring guest artist Michael Sachs on trumpet in February, Igor Stravinsky’s “Octet for Wind Instruments” and “Symphony of Psalms” in March and a performance with guest artist Jan Duga on tuba in April. The symphony is also performing at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in February and at the North Central Division Conference at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana in March.