Saturday, October 13, 2012

Burlington Concert Band: A Night At The Movies

Máté Szigeti, soloist with Burlington Concert Band

A Night At The Movies, with Special Guest Soloist Máté Szigeti

by Glen T Brown

The standing ovation for flautist Máté Szigeti was well deserved last night at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. He had accomplished all of the requisite flexibility and agility requirements in his performance of Carnival of Venice, and the significance of the feat was not lost on the audience. I knew I was watching and hearing someone special when I heard him playing the “grace notes” variation. That particular section requires the expert player to drop an octave from the embellished grace note to the main note in a split second. The result sounds like two people playing at once. Szigeti nailed it. When he topped it off with flawless flying fingers and clean, fast articulation we were all convinced of his credentials!

The great thing about community bands like the Burlington Concert Band is that players from all skill levels get to make music together. It’s a nice act of generosity that retired or semi-retired professional musicians may join a community band to keep their skills up, and to stay engaged with the local scene. Combine them with a few eager high school students and a variety of people from every walk of life and you have a cross section of the local musical community.

The Burlington Concert Band, now in its 104th year of active service, has successfully rounded out its membership. Fifty-six members took the stage consisting of eleven flutes, one bassoon, six clarinets, two bass clarinets, six saxophones, three horns, eleven trumpets, five trombones, four baritones, three tubas and four percussionists. In an ideal world we might wish that a few of the trumpet players or saxophone players might switch to oboe, horn, or clarinet, but that won’t be happening anytime soon! Even so, the band achieved a good balance and very good overall tone and intonation throughout the evening.

The Burlington Concert Band consistently delivers a high quality ensemble sound due to the deep skill levels of each of the members, and their commitment to high performance standards.

Trombonist/band president Harland Marshall, acting as emcee, obligingly shared anecdotal and historical notes to introduce each selection. Marshall’s diligent work leading the band executive has been evident in recent months in the consistent and clear marketing of band events and regular engagement and email communication with band personnel. The result has been reflected in solid ticket sales and enthusiastic audiences.

Director of Music, Dundas native and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient Don Allan chose appropriate repertoire of which this symphonic band is capable. With Allan’s extensive background in conducting and musical performance it was surprising the band did not play with more energy, confidence, and immediacy in some of the sections where cinematic excitement and energy is needed. The upper brass and percussion seemed a little pensive and should be encouraged to “go for it” in those moments. It seemed that towards the end of the long pieces, the band lost its focus and was unable to build properly to a big finish. With a band comprised of experienced and mature musicians such as this, I'm left wondering why those defining moments were not as clearly executed as they could have been.

Squadron 617, The Third Wave,
by Bruce Mackay, International Auto and Aero Artist
For example, in The Dam Busters the cinematic moment is an air raid with planes flying low across the water under enemy fire, dropping “bouncing” bombs which then explode triumphantly on their target. This musical moment, as described in the score, requires more than a drum kit foot pedal on the bass drum and should have been backed up by a double forte, heavy mallet on the full sized concert bass drum that was on stage. The timpani, snare drum and cymbal parts needed to triple their volume level to maximize the explosive capability of those instruments. This is not a decision for the players, but for the conductor.

I was surprised that some of these important musical moments slipped by without due consideration and maintenance of all the musical elements, perhaps due to the oversimplified strategy of simply getting through the piece at a lively tempo.

Concert Highlights

Hollywood Milestones (arr. John Higgins) was a nice opener. It included excerpts from Jaws, Love Story, Empire Strikes Back, Chariots of Fire  and others.

The Drama of the Dam Busters story as illustrated on Wikipedia.

The Dam Busters (arr. W.J. Dutoit) classic concert band arrangement kept a lively tempo throughout, and the band was able to execute cleanly. It was very nice to hear the glockenspiel and flute colour combinations, and the excitement created by the timpani. Low brass, as always in this ensemble, were full and solid throughout. The music was written for the movie of the same name, which tells the valiant story of Air Force Squadron 617’s Operation Chastise during WWll.

Concertino (Cécile Chaminade, arr. Clay Wilson) featured flautist Máté Szigeti in his first feature with the band. With his top-notch European training (Franz Liszt Academy of Music), years of experience in symphony orchestras including a ten year stint as principal flautist and soloist with the Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra, and solo appearances around the world making up his list of experiences, Szigeti is wonderfully involved in Hamilton’s musical life. He was a featured soloist with the Dundas Valley Orchestra, York Symphony Orchestra, and a participant in several chamber concerts around the Golden Horseshoe. At the present he is a Music Director of the Hamilton City Ballet Orchestra and teaching flute at Hillfield Strathallan College and the Hamilton Academy of Performing Arts (Dundas). Concertino was an enjoyable tone poem, capably accompanied by the band. The sensitive blending of the clarinets, horns and other woodwinds was especially noticeable in the opening section.

Superman (arr. Bob Lowden), was next. In my opinion, the music from the original Superman movie stands apart from the other heroic John Williams themes of the era, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back, for purely technical and analytical reasons. The bugle call opening 13 note fanfare is classic, reminiscent of another space theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey - Thus Spake Zarathustra (R. Strauss). When combined with the 12/8 march and its exciting snare drum embellishments the music instantly creates a setting of science fiction excitement! My enthusiasm waned slightly when the big moments were not as big as hoped. The tempo of the love theme was too fast, leaving the horn soloist almost no room for expression, and it would have been lovely and perfectly acceptable to relax and enjoy the moment. Why would Superman rush through the moment when he first got to fly with Lois Lane? Wouldn’t he want it to last forever?

Darryl Eaton was the trumpet soloist in The Man With a Horn. Eaton, being a master of the instrument with an impeccable performance and educational resume, was the logical choice for the solo. He made the trumpet sing. I can only assume that in his humility he declined the offer to come up to the front of the stage for his number, but remained seated instead. An enthusiastic round of applause was given when he stood for a bow at the end.

Special Ensembles

The Burlington Concert Band holds two trump cards: a saxophone quartet called Sax ‘n Sync and a flute ensemble. Lynda Eady, known to many for her music teaching with the Halton District School Board, and also the assistant conductor for the concert band, directs the flute ensemble. These two groups really enriched the evening. Sax ‘n Sync entertained in the lobby during intermission, and the flute ensemble was featured on stage. Both of the ensembles extend the band’s outreach by playing at various community events.

Bobby Herriot’s arrangement of Hooray for Hollywood allowed the Burlington Flute Ensemble a generous opportunity to shine. The bass and alto flute added depth to the ensemble sound and tutti sections.

Moon River (arr. James Christensen) was written with great sensitivity to the nuances and features of a flute ensemble. Being just the right length, it presented the melody and a few variations that featured the various combinations and textures inherent to the ensemble.

Dancing With Pirates?

The band returned in full force with Dirty Dancing (arr. Jack Bullock) and Pirates of the Caribbean (arr. Ted Ricketts). Both selections contained ample opportunities for the audience to connect with familiar movie moments. Szigeti performed his second and third features The Swiss Shepherd (arr. Nora Kile) and Carnival of Venice, then the band wrapped up the evening with Dances With Wolves (arr. Jay Bocook).

The Swiss Shepherd was delightful. The band accompaniment throughout the variations was tasteful and flexible, including a duet with the piccolo!

The Burlington Concert Band looks very good in its stage presentation. Every music stand is decorated with a banner bearing decorative BCB initials, and all personnel are dressed in black concert attire.

The next performance of the Burlington Concert Band is entitled Sounds of Christmas X. It takes place at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Friday, December 7, 2012 at 8 p.m.


by Glen T Brown
October 13, 2012

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