UConn Wind Ensemble captivates audience at breathtaking winter concert

The University of Connecticut Wind Ensemble wowed the audience with a breathtaking concert entitled “Bird Song" at the J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut Wind Ensemble wowed the audience in J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall Thursday night with a breathtaking concert entitled “Bird Song.”

The Wind Ensemble’s first piece, Olivier Messaien’s “Oiseaux Exotiques” (meaning “exotic birds” in French) was by far their most compelling performance of the night. According to conductor Jeffrey Renshaw, it was also the inspiration of the concert’s title.

“We’re going to ask you to use your imagination tonight,” Renshaw said as he introduced the piece. 

Renshaw asked the audience to envision themselves walking across aviary, taking in the “cacophony” of sound of the birds surrounding them. 

The composer, Messaien, was dedicated to replicating the sounds of birds from a young age, and “Oiseaux Exotiqes” is the “compositional interpretation” of these bird songs, Renshaw said.

Prior to the performance, Renshaw played the audience the actual sounds made by five of the birds featured in the piece, as well as their instrumental equivalents. For example, the piano was used to mimic the cry of the Cardinal Grosbeak, while the Lazuli Finch was represented by the piccolo.

The squeaks of the woodwinds throughout the piece mimicked the high-pitched chirps of song birds uncannily, and the passionate and skillful piano playing of soloist Ruth Nieh, a fifth semester music and actuarial science major, resulted in a standing ovation from the audience.

“I think it went really well,” Nieh said afterwards. “I’m really glad that Dr. Renshaw took the time to introduce the piece though, because it would definitely have been quite difficult to understand without it… You start to hear how all the instruments—or flocks of birds—fit in together to create the piece and it’s pretty neat.” 

The Wind Ensemble’s final performance of the evening “Symphony No. 1” by James Stephenson was a similarly captivating.

Though it was the longest piece of the night—clocking in at twenty-four minutes—“Symphony No. 1” didn’t fail to keep the audience entertained. Its juxtaposition of Spanish-sounding guitar and spirited, blaring brass was mischievous and puzzling, and the manic energy of the woodwinds and brass was infectious. 

The two other pieces performed by the Wind Ensemble were “Jump Start” by Eric Nathan and “Lament for Wind Orchestra” by Chang Su Koh.

“Jump Start” used the rumble of the timpani and loud outbursts of melody from the brass and woodwinds to convey the dynamic energy of a spark needed to jump-start a car, as well as the individual words “jump” and “start.” 

The strong and powerful horns of “Wind Lament for Orchestra,” conducted by UConn graduate Jessica Von Villas, boomed throughout the concert hall. “Lament” was shockingly loud and defiant for a piece whose title typically refers to a song of grief or mourning. 

With its four bold and animated performances, the UConn Wind Ensemble didn’t fail to enchant the audience for one moment of its winter concert.


Helen Stec is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at helen.stec@uconn.edu.