The Eastman Wind Ensemble just had an incredibly successful summer tour in Asia, and along with the Eastman Philharmonia, made their triumphant return home last week – well, sort of. The opening concert of the school year saw the acclaimed Eastman Wind Ensemble getting used to yet another new hall. Rochester’s historic 84-year-old Eastman Theatre is still undergoing renovations to improve acoustics, so perhaps it’s lucky that the students are used to being on the road – the concert took place in the Hale Auditorium at Roberts Wesleyan College. The first Eastman Wind Ensemble performed first, and they started concert with the classic Shostakovich wind piece, “Festive Overture.” From the first perfectly in-tune trumpet chords to the woodwind runs that blazed by with remarkable control, conductor Mark Scatterday established the robust, energetic and clean sound the Wind Ensemble is known for. The big work of the Wind Ensemble’s half was Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy,” arguably the Australian composer’s best work. “Lincolnshire Posy” is one of those pieces whose depth is a lot greater than it may appear on the page – Grainger based the music on folk songs he dictated from a ’20s Edison phonograph and combined these melodies with a modern touch. Unfortunately, the first movement was undefined, with a lot of inner voices sounding mumbled. The offset woodwind solos in the third movement, however, were pulled off confidently, and the fifth movement was terrific with powerful brass playing displayed, and most notably, an impressive horn section. The sixth movement established a great groove, and left audience members humming its folk tune during intermission. There were some balance issues, but I attribute those mostly to the “wet” and muffling effect of the Hale Auditorium. I was impressed that even in these less than perfect playing conditions, the core Eastman Wind Ensemble sound was still present. Mark Scatterday showed precision and powerful flair. The whole orchestra performed amazingly under maestro Varon’s baton, with coiled energy exploding and mammoth amounts of power being projected out into the hall. The low brass hit all of their important marks, and the trumpets were absolutely incredible with excellent teamwork apparent in their presentation. The horns, however, were the weak link in the brass section, with a couple of cracks and splats here and there in addition to several out-of-tune notes. The horns did redeem themselves, though, with a perfectly in-tune chord at the end of the first movement. Watching this performance, it was obvious “Scheherazade” is a piece Varon loves to conduct, and when a conductor has fun, the orchestra gets to have fun. When the orchestra has fun, we all cross our fingers and hope for the best. But seriously, you really could feel the energy of Varon’s interpretation, and the strings sounded phenomenal. The whole experience of the piece, in spite of its schmaltz, was absolutely spectacular. It was just the kind of performance every conductor wants to start the year off with – on hearing it, everyone feels like they should be practicing even more!Levy can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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