UConn Wind Ensemble wows with '21st Century Symphony'

UConn music professor Jeffrey Renshaw leads the UConn Wind Ensemble in their performance of "21st Century Symphony" in von der Mehden Recital Hall on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut Wind Ensemble delighted an audience at von der Mehden Recital Hall Thursday night with their performance of “21st Century Symphony,” a collection of music composed since the year 2000.

The band, conducted by UConn music professor Jeffrey Renshaw, began the evening with “Auguries of Innocence” by Georgia-based composer William Pitts.

The piece began with a single clarinet and slowly built up layers of woodwinds and horns over a background drone created by percussion players swirling their fingers around crystal glasses.

The music crescendoed into a triumphant blast of horns and tympanies before entering a fast-paced section of galloping trumpets, which gave the piece a sense of urgency.

Midway through the piece, flutists Joseph Sosa and Courtney Plantier traded technically impressive solos.

The piece takes its name from the eponymous poem by William Blake.

It was very beautiful. I’d never heard something like that before.
— Samantha Swistak, a third-semester HDFS major

The structure of the music was inspired by the poem’s themes and style, according to the composer’s notes in the evening’s program.

“My musical interpretation uses the idea of [the poem’s] paradoxes to create numerous competing elements presented in various instrument groups,” Pitts wrote.

The second piece, “Recoil”, by Joseph Schwantner, was commissioned specifically for the UConn wind ensemble in 2004, according to the program.

It began with an intense piano and pitched percussion melody before exploding into a thunderous roar of tympanies and tom-toms.

At one point, several woodwind players set their instruments aside and sang a slow choral melody as the rest of the band played quietly in the background.

The ensemble finished out the night with “Symphony No. 1,” a three-movement piece by composer Jonathan Newman inspired by the works of beat poets and photographers.

The first movement, “Across the groaning continent,” is named for a line from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and draws musically from the sense of agitation and restlessness that defined the beat generation, Newman wrote.

The second movement takes inspiration from Robert Frank’s photography series “The Americans,” and the final movement incorporated elements of bebop jazz drawn from Lester Young and Charlie Parker, Newman wrote.

Samantha Swistak, a third-semester human development and family studies major said “Symphony No. 1” was her favorite piece of the night.

“It was very beautiful,” she said. “I’d never heard something like that before.”

Swistak said she goes to wind ensemble concerts regularly.

“They’re always amazing,” she said. “I thought the show was awesome.”


Charlie Smart is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at charles.smart@uconn.edu.