Seasons change, people come and go, and school starts again. At the Eastman School of Music, the wind ensemble held their first concert of the school year last Tuesday — this time, in a new, virtual landscape.
Attendees could watch the performance live at a link provided on Eastman’s website. The conductor, Mark Davis Scatterday, made several remarks about the history of the Eastman wind ensemble and the unique nature of this school year. Throughout all the years the ensemble has been established — since 1953 — they have never held a virtual concert.
During my first year, I attended these ensemble concerts in Kodak Hall nearly once a week. I liked sludging through the snow drifts that piled up on Gibbs Street and sitting way in the back of the theater. I liked the red velvet seats, the gigantic chandelier that hung from the ceiling, and the way the musicians moved like one ocean of sound.
I don’t know much about classical music. I just liked how the performances made me feel small.
Last week, sitting in my bedroom, it was the players that looked tiny. They were positioned six feet apart on my computer, with individual music stands that they Lysol wiped between each piece. The five-piece program consisted of a variety of music, all of which I was unfamiliar with — featuring Strauss, Dvorak, Tavener, Chavez, and Gabrieli.
In Tavener’s “Village Wedding,” five saxophone players stood far apart with holes cut in the middle of their face masks for their instruments. Scatterday described this piece as a relationship between the natural and unnatural world — everything in the natural world is a result of a supernatural arrangement.
There was something supernatural about the entire event. Watching the musicians with their faces covered, hearing the smattering of applause from other musicians backstage… Kodak Hall seemed empty. Scatterday did say that he hoped all supporters of the musicians were watching online, since they couldn’t be there in person. But we couldn’t see any of the other participants, not even as a box like on Zoom. It was just us, in our various bedrooms or living rooms or basements, watching the doll-like musicians from far away.
The Dvorak piece, “Serenade,” was much more energetic, featuring bassoons, a bass, a cello, and a few clarinets. My favorite piece was “Tambuco” by Carlos Chaves. It was played by all percussionists, and some of them rubbed two pieces of sandpaper together while others passed wooden sticks between them.
Some of my favorite words I’ve heard to describe this year are unprecedented, surreal, perturbed, and uncanny. I think I’ll go with the last one. In a year so uncanny, so unusual, it was soothing to turn on my computer and fill my house with such strange tunes. Eastman will be offering virtual performances throughout the academic year. Find their calendar of events here.