Music’s sultry, mystical quality comes not from the instruments that combine to produce a perfect merging of sound nor the finesse of the players nor even the individual composition they chose to perform. Actually, what makes music intangible is the collision of all these facets, as well as its unique ability to send the listener to other planes. When done right, music is capable of having an impact, creating a certain ambiance and eliciting images of beautiful places beyond the listener’s imagination.
Or so the “Made in the U.S.A.” concert, which kicked off the fall semester season, successfully accomplished. On Saturday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. in Slosberg, the Solar Winds Quintet brought euphonious delight back to Brandeis. The dream team, which enchanted the audience and brought any and all conversation to a halt, consisted of Jill Dreeben on flute, Diane Heffner on clarinet, Neil Godwin on French horn, Charlyn Bethell on oboe and Neil Fairbairn on bassoon.
These five players have all led illustrious careers with lifelong experience honing their craft. Although the audience was primarily made up of non-Brandeis students, this should not serve as a reflection of the quality of the performance; on the contrary, it would seem that Brandeisians are entirely unaware of the various free events that are available on campus.
The Solar Winds’ lineup was composed of three pieces, two of which were in the first half of the program. Their first piece, which has the positively ethereal title Three Summer Dances, showcased three major shifts in mood within its movements. Composed by Joseph Turrin, the only composer of the bunch who is still alive, the song has a more modern vibe that is simply irresistible. It also highlighted both the strength and diversity of sound in what is a uniquely American composition.
The second piece of the night, Quintet for Winds, was similarly composed of three movements: Allegro risoluto, Andante and Moderato-Allegro con spirito. Perhaps the most graceful and intimate musical composition of the night, Quintet for Winds brought forth images of candle light, sandy passageways and ornately decorated clay houses. Robert Muczynski’s work, which had come to life with the hands of five very talented musicians, showed how instrumental expertise, breath support, dynamics and group chemistry can elicit great, if not out-of-this-world results. What made the composition memorable was definitely the players’ comfort with each other and obvious comfort performing the piece. Unparalleled unison and amazing poise helped ensure that “Made in America” rose in the ranks to one of Slosberg’s most notable performances.
The group finished the night playing yet another cleverly titled piece, called Serenade for Quintet. Steven Stucky’s composition is comprised of five movements in total, with gorgeous Italian titles such as Con fuoco, Notturno, Allegro scorrevole, e Calmo and con tenerezza. Each of these movements has no relation to the others, though they do, in fact, seem to contrast the next movement. The composition Serenade for Quintet banks its success on the merging of very different registers, so that the flute and the bassoon provide a great dichotomy to the piece. Overall it is a wholly serious work which has a hint of playfulness in the final movement that was an absolute delight to behold.
When the term serenade was first used to describe music, it once signified that the composition was played outdoors to entertain listeners at night. However, this meaning later completely changed with the ushering in of Mozart, Brahms and Schoenberg. Ever since, the term serenade has been used to describe more formal, indoor concertos, and the same applies to Serenade for Quintet.
The first draft of Stucky’s composition was written in 1989 in Los Angeles and was later completed in 1990 in Ithaca, New York. The piece, in its entirety, takes about 16 minutes to perform, and the first time it was performed was later that same year at Penn State University.
Despite having attended a multitude of Slosberg performances during my academic career at Brandeis, Solar Winds’ “Made in the U.S.A.” was pure gold, an obvious thrill that reeled me in like no other concert in the past ever has. To those who think that instrumental music is boring, pompou and strictly outdated, wait for the next concert the Brandeis Department of Music will hold on Sept. 24—you just might change your mind on that front.