The Lawrence University Wind Ensemble (LUWE), led by music teacher Kimberly-Clark and bands director Andrew Mast, performed their last concert of the year on Saturday May 21 in the Memorial Chapel. The program featured a refreshing offering, consisting of three contemporary pieces all composed over the past 30 years.
The program began with “Lux Aeterna”, a composition by former Lawrence student Evan Williams ’11. Williams originally wrote this piece for brass quintet, and LUWE’s concert represented the first wind ensemble arrangement of the piece.
“Lux Aeterna” translates to “Eternal Light” and is the title of a Gregorian chant from the Requiem Mass. Williams incorporated this chant into his composition, presenting it in various forms, including, in his words, “a hopeful hymn, a joyous celebration, an ominous dance, [and] a malicious taunt.
The piece opened with senior Eviatar Shlosberg playing a trumpet solo of the vocal melody, which was then passed between various instruments in the ensemble. The opening section created a mysterious and anticipated, almost eerie atmosphere.
Mast described the midsection as exhibiting “sharp energy”, which is evident in the ensemble’s performance; while the section had a melody guiding us, the focus was more on individual moments or impulses.
After returning to its opening section, the piece made several grand explosions before becoming more sparse, with only one section playing at a time, as if fading away. The piece ended with a light crash of cymbals, which seemed to me like a trickle of smoke.
The second piece on the program was Lowell Liebermann’s Concerto for Piccolo and Orchestra, arranged by Keiichi Kurokawa, for which the soloist was junior Cynthia Kaiser, winner of the 2022 Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition.
The first movement, marked andante comodo, seemed to represent complete tranquility and untouched perfection. It made me think of an imaginary land, a feeling reinforced by the ethereal presence of the harp within the whole, as well as the bird’s trills of the piccolo. While the midsection of this movement was more choppy and unstable, it had its sense of beauty regained intact by its ending.
The second movement, adagio, begins mournfully. When the piccolo entered, Kaiser played gracefully so that I imagined a delicate butterfly above the darker landscape of the other instruments. After a trumpet solo, several sections, including the flutes, played in unison with the piccolo, continuing this theme as the piccolo began more complex upward runs.
Later in the movement, the piccolo was accompanied only by a monotonous vibraphone rhythm. Other instruments were gradually added, including the double bass, which accentuated the strong beats with accents. The piccolo then became more and more buoyant and frantic, as if the butterfly felt encroached and tried to escape.
Towards the end of the movement, the slow music took on a reverential quality – obviously my imaginary butterfly had been captured despite its best efforts.
The last movement of the concerto, presto, was full of tense energy and seemed halfway between a run and a funeral march. This movement featured distorted quotations from several familiar pieces, including Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, which, instead of creating a ceremonial character, instead added unease. or worry, although the piece came to an intuitive resolution at its end.
The last piece on the program was James Stephenson’s Symphony No. 2 “Voices”, which LUWE performed with Stephenson as guest conductor. Stephenson was asked to write this piece for The President’s Own Marine Band in 2016. His mother died while he was preparing to write the piece, and the music expresses his process of struggling and grieving his loss.
Stephenson explained that his mother was a viola in their church choir who sang with a pure, unformed voice, and that the piece instead features a unique voice among wind ensemble instruments for this reason.
The first movement of the symphony, titled “Prelude: Of Passion,” made a thunderous grand entrance, then became more subdued. During this calmer section, mezzo-soprano, administrative assistant for music education Morgen Moraine sang a melancholy desant. The music then became more exciting and adventurous – I thought of sled dogs traversing the Alaskan wilderness during the Iditarod – before returning to the vocal section and ending quietly.
The second movement, “Shouts and Murmurs”, effectively emulated this. It opened with a whisper of percussion, including a cymbal played with paintbrush drumsticks. Other instruments entered, forming a light, relaxed texture that evoked the titular whispers.
Then came the screams, in which the ensemble developed a fuller sound, including crashing cymbals and gongs. The rest of the movement alternated between these two characters, with a later whisper section also including a vocal descant. The track ended with a fiery ending with percussion, more crashing cymbals and intense energy from the other instruments.
The third movement, “Voices of One,” began meditatively and with a feeling of tenderness and warmth, which it resumed after a grander middle section. With that return came the vocal input, blending effortlessly into the sound of the whole so that it seemed to be part of a cohesive whole rather than an isolated part.
As the wind instruments fell back, the impression was more of an accompanied solo voice, and I found Moraine’s sincerity particularly touching at the moment. The sound of the set built up to a much more substantial volume from there and ended majestically and hopefully with all hands on deck including chimes and triangles.
At the end of his piece, Stephenson held his hands up for an extra moment so we could catch the almost magical silence before the audience started cheering and clapping. Stephenson extended the applause to each of the ensemble sections in turn and to Moraine individually, so that each member’s contributions were gratefully and enthusiastically acknowledged.
I know I particularly enjoyed the selection this concert presented from the repertoire of living composers, and the opportunity it gave us to hear some ideas about what the exciting future of this field will look like.