Over the past few weeks, Brandeis University’s 2015-2016 Concert Series has seen the likes of the Lydian String Quartet, the jazz band New Black Eagles and even the renowned fortepianist Robert Hill, all of whom have received considerable honors and recognition for their musical abilities. Even so, Brandeis’ Ensemble Showcase outshone them all. Most importantly, the showcase reflected the individual talents of Brandeis’ very own instrumentalists and vocal performers, which is significant because it shows the continuing musical journey of Brandeis’ own. The performance, which flaunted the talents of the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra, Brandeis Wind Ensemble, Brandeis Chamber Choir and Brandeis University Chorus, was on Sunday, Oct. 25, in Slosberg at 2 p.m. as part of Fall Fest.
The showcase opened with Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra, which sounded incredibly refined and cultivated with a professional touch that is remarkable given the limited time the group had to practice. The orchestra includes students, faculty, staff and associates of Brandeis and Wellesley, having formally united in 2002. Neal Hampton, who conducts the orchestra, has a great amount of experience leading a number of other orchestras—Boston University’s Symphony Orchestra to name one—and it is his ability to conduct coupled with the knack for technique inherent in the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra that showed throughout their performance.
The orchestra’s one and only piece, Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, Op. 26 no .7, utilized powerful dynamics, catapulting into epic crescendoes with continuous control and support. As Finlandia progressed, the piece gently built up, waned and then continued to gain momentum; like an airplane shooting through the sky, at points obscured by the clouds, though eventually pushing through and beyond. Periodically the triangle’s harmonious “tink” resounded, adding a delicate, reverberating chime. Throughout the piece, the hands of the various string players, from the cellists to the violinists, worked furiously and with an almost indiscernible speed that is impressive for the orchestra’s size, and with special attention to timing.
As the second group to perform as part of Ensemble Showcase, Brandeis’ Wind Ensemble’s performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ piece “Folk Song Suite” lacked a certain precision and range, though mainly because of the lack of time to adequately practice and prepare. Despite this fact, the Wind Ensemble still successfully utilized dynamics and produced a supported, blended sound that forged a degree of balance between the instrument sections. A piece best described in its early stages, “Folk Song Suite” is deeply entrenched in nationalistic and more motivational music, most likely on account of the piece’s use of the snare drum and horn.
“Folk Song Suite” saw many transitions and changes in tempo and was overall a testament to the raw performance.
The last part of the program, Brandeis’ Chamber Choir and University Chorus, the former of which has both music and non-music majors and the latter of which is composed of only music majors, sang three songs that were reminiscent of religious hymns most fit for a church setting. All pieces except the last song were not sung in English, and therefore required a speaker to come forth before each piece to give a translation of the chorus. All the pieces were centered around religious devotion. Brandeis Chamber Choir’s piece, Mozart’s “Kyrie” from Missa in C. KV. 220 displayed the crushing power of strong, blended vocals and deeply seated emotional investment that only increased as the program progressed.
Brandeis’ Ensemble Showcase was a wholly worthwhile performance that showed the musical abilities of Brandeis’ entire music department in the most organic way, without the benefit of exposure and practice time under its belt. As a matter of fact, Brandeis’ music department should be lauded for its unflinching jump into the abyss, perhaps before having the chance to fully get its bearings.
Overall, Fall Fest’s Ensemble Showcase gave parents and students alike an exceptional preview into Brandeis’ music department and all the hardworking musicians and vocalists that represent the future of the musical tradition. Though an imperfect performance, the Ensemble Showcase should be praised for its strengths instead of ridiculed for its mistakes and points of improvement. Based on where each of these groups are currently, it doesn’t require too much imagination to see where these groups can wind up with just a little nudge.