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Combined band concert offers talented soloists and technical music

The University of Maine concert and symphonic bands held a combined concert on Thursday, April 26 at the Collins Center for the Arts. Directed by Philip Edelman, the concert band played four songs. Christopher White conducted the symphonic band in five pieces to finish off this year’s concert series.

The concert band led the evening off with “Fanfare and Flourishes,” a piece originally commissioned for the 1991 European Brass Band Championships held in Rotterdam, Holland.

“We added ‘Fanfare and Flourishes’ and ‘Pacem’ just for this concert,” Edelman said of the band’s first two pieces. “Two of the pieces, ‘Sevens’ and ‘Joy in All Things,’ have been in our literature pile since the second or third week of the semester.”

“Sevens,” a song anchored by deep, pounding trombones, completed the concert band’s performance. Edelman noted the somewhat rare opportunity the piece provided for the band to dabble in genres they otherwise might not normally play.

“It pushed in a lot of ways that classically trained musicians don’t often get pushed. For example, the opening section was written in an alternating 7/16 – 11/16 time signature pattern which we rarely get to see,” Edelman said. “It also had some very interesting layering and tuning challenges. It also isn’t common for us to get to play music inspired by the jazz, rock, and funk idioms in the large concert ensemble.”

The symphonic band’s performance was highlighted by two soloists: Alto saxophonist Nathan Sprangers in the song “Fantasia for Alto Saxophone,” and Dr. Jack Burt in “Antique Violences.”

Sprangers’ song was originally composed for renowned saxophonist Dale Underwood, and the solo part “displays contrasting technique and lyrical tonality,” according to the concert program. Sprangers played it beautifully and even while moving his fingers unbelievably fast, he was able to maintain clear, full, powerful sound, as well as climb a few octaves to hit the high notes.

“It’s speedy, it’s technical, it’s very rangy,” White said of the solo saxophone part. “The middle section is set way up in the altissimo register on the saxophone, which is not a typical place to play and Nathan [Spangers] had to work really hard to play it.”

Sprangers was not simply chosen at random but rather had to win a contest among his peers in order to be awarded the solo part in the song, a symphonic band yearly tradition.

“Every December with the symphonic band I have a competition for anyone who wants to be the soloist for the spring semester,” White said. “So kids pick a piece that’s in the standard repertoire of whatever instrument they play and then they play for a panel of faculty members. Whoever wins becomes the soloist for the second semester and they get to play their piece on tour and be featured in our spring concert.”

The final song, one for which composer John Mackey was recently awarded the 2018 Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Award in Music, “Antique Violences,” featured UMaine staff member and talented trumpeter Jack Burt switching between five different trumpets. White was quick to note how crucial it was to have Burt on trumpet, but also that the rest of the band had to play to their full potential as well in order for the piece to come together.

“It’s a professional level piece. We’re one of four groups in the country that have played it,” White said. “We have the New England premiere of the piece and it’s a difficult piece for the soloist and the band as well. It expects soloist level playing on every single part. The students love the piece and worked very hard on it.”

White talked about ways in which the symphonic band prepared for the concert, including a four day, 11-concert tour to elementary schools around the state.

“One of the schools in Bingham had never had an assembly of any sort for the arts, so we were the first one. Most of those kids had never heard a fully dissertated band perform,” White said. “So when we can do outreach to schools like that and open up their eyes that this exists, to see live music. It changes some of their lives forever.”

After the concert the conductors were happy with their bands’ performances, which both earned a standing ovation from the audience.

“I was very happy with it,” Edelman said. “The band has been working diligently to be able to pull off such difficult music with only two rehearsals per week.”

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