Wind Ensemble performs professional, student compositions

The wind ensemble performed both a student composition as well as pieces by more well-established composers in their concert on Saturday. (Julia Carleton/The Phoenix)

When the audience first read the program of this fall semester’s Wind Ensemble Concert, some of them were surprised to see a piece that was composed by a student at the college. Last Saturday evening in the Lang Concert Hall, four different pieces spanning a wide range of styles were performed, from “Electricity Factory” composed by Ben Kapilow ’13 to “Suite from Mass,” a long piece by American composer Leonard Bernstein.

“All the pieces are different. The first piece and the last one are both strong and exuberant. Then, the second one is more lyrical and song-like. The third piece has a very different, ragtime style,” Andrew Hauze, a music professor at the college and the director of the ensemble, said.

The first piece of the ensemble, composed by Kapilow, marked a spirited and energetic beginning. Professor Hauze said, “It’s a wonderful opener for a concert because it’s so exciting and had these very driving rhythms and sense of dialogue.” Using a large number of octave doublings and thick chords, Kapilow wrote this piece to challenge himself and develop his own composition style.

“I composed this piece because almost all of the pieces I’ve written have been short, chamber works,” Kapilow said. “Additionally, I wrote for wind ensemble because I don’t play a wind or brass instrument (except trumpet in middle school), so I thought it would be a big challenge to write only for instruments that I don’t play.” Kapilow added that there is a stereotype surrounding contemporary classical music: people always consider it to be dissonant and inaccessible. He hopes to break this stereotype by letting people know that “for every super-modernist university composer, there is also a composer like me who writes pieces with hummable melodies, drum beats and key signatures.” One of his goals is “to be able to write something that is original and technically interesting but is not inaccessible and doesn’t alienate non-musicians.”

According to Kapilow, this was, after all, not an easy goal to reach. “It required a lot of mental energy and really exhausted me by the end. I would routinely spend an hour or two just on one measure,” he said. Even so, the hard work it requires as well as the different ways of expressing emotions it offers attracted him to composing in the first place.

He said, “I think music is the perfect combination of emotion and logic. Though the ultimate goal of composing music is to portray emotions, the process of creating these emotional atmospheres involves many hours of tumultuous intellectual labor.” Then he mentioned, “I love spending many hours critically thinking and working through pieces like a puzzle in order to create a few seconds of something with emotional substance.”

After the powerful emotion displayed in Kapilow’s piece, the emotion shifted to a tender feeling in “Shenandoah,” an American folk song. “Graceful Ghost Rag” by William Bolcom, a similarly melodious ragtime piece, followed. The last piece — “Suite from Mass,” however, differed from the previous three and was relatively much longer. Professor Hauze chose this piece because he wanted people to become engrossed in a longer piece, which is both musically and rhythmically challenging.

“The way that it presents its musical ideas is very unique,” Hauze noted. “It really speaks for Leonard Berstein’s individual voice. I find it very compelling.”

Through the ensemble, the audience understood the messages the performers and the composers of these pieces wanted to convey. Rich Thon, a resident from Swarthmore, commented on the performance. “It was a good mix of stuff, mix of pieces that were not the same at all. And the performers are very good,” he said. In regards to Kapilow’s piece, he said, “Because a lot of modern composers try to make their pieces complex, sometimes they [the pieces] are discordant and kind of tough to listen to. But this was a little complex and also very pleasant. I also liked the ending as it made me want to hear more. It’s a good way to end. It’s much better than I expected. I gave him an A plus.”

Alejandro Sills ’13, who plays the piano and cello, also shared his response to the ensemble. When asked what score he would give out of 10, he said, “I will give it an eight. The performance was very nice. I wish that the concert could be a little longer. But I really appreciate an original composition from a peer as well as other pieces from other contemporary composers.”

The performance lasted for an hour and indicated Swarthmore students’ passion for music and their sense of cooperation. “It always amazes me because Swarthmore is not a big school,” Hauze said. “Many of these pieces are for wind ensembles which are very large, with lots of instruments we don’t even have. When I look at a piece and I think it’s maybe too big for us, the students always drive themselves into it, not caring about whether it’s for big group or not.”

This was the first time Hauze conducted Wind Ensemble. “I love the sense of cooperation in the group,” he said. “We are all in this together. [The students] have a wonderful sense of openness and are willing to try and approach very different music.”

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