UConn Wind Ensemble takes audience members through “Urban Neighborhoods” of the world

The UConn Wind Ensemble performs compositions by David Dzubay for the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Music Compositions Prize Concert held in Von der Mehden Recital Hall in Storrs, CT on Thursday, March 2, 2017. Dzubay won the Sackler Music Prize for his compositions in 2015. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus)

From Congo Square in New Orleans to the busy, urban centers of America, UConn Wind Ensembles took audience members around the world with their spring concert entitled, “Urban Neighborhoods,” on Thursday night.

The program began with “Congo Square” by James Syler.  The piece was written to depict the music present at Sunday slave celebrations in Congo Square. Congo Square was a place of “conflicting emotions and multi-layered meanings” (in reference to the program notes) for the slaves who occupied the space both during the time of oppression and celebration.  The piece draws influence from a combination of African, Creole and Caribbean themes, depicted mainly by dance-like and pre-jazz style music, reminiscent of the music that was often played at the time.

The ensemble then followed with a piece by John Harbison titled, “Three City Blocks.”  The piece took the audience to the 1950s urban setting.  The piece broke down into three movements: “Fervent and resolute,” “Tough, driving,” and “With relentless energy.”  “Fervent and resolute began with a fast melodic chaos across the ensemble and gradually transitioning into a bluesy section.  “Tough, driving,” was mostly featuring heavy rock themes, relying a lot on the pulse of the drum kit.  The winds imitated this with their percussive and dissonant parts.  The piece closed with a continuation of the rock-like style in “With relentless energy.”  As the title suggests, the movement was a continuous build to what eventually sounded like the chaotic noise of the city streets, ending with whistles and sirens.

After the intermission, the stage was reset for the performance of “Urban Requiem” by Michael Colgrass.  The piece was written for a smaller wind ensemble and featured the UConn Saxophone Quartet.  The piece opened with a lyrical, bluesy soli by the saxophone quartet.  The piece continued to feature sparse melodic or rhythmic solos by varying instruments throughout.  With the saxophones at the center of the piece, the composition demanded them to explore performance techniques, such as growling, outside the common practice.  

The highlight of the work was when the tenor saxophonist began wandering around the stage, attempting to converse with the musicians around him.  He eventually settled in front of the drum kit and engaged in an aggressive, fast-moving, musical conversation with the drummer.  From there, it was end of the clutter and chaos and the pianist enters with a lyrical riff that supports the English horn and alto solo that followed.  The solo eventually expands to participation from the full ensemble which again reverses itself until the piece finishes only with the chimes.

“I really enjoyed the Colgrass piece.  [It] was really cool to work with the saxophone quartet and loved all the different instrumentations [in the piece],” said Master’s in flute performance student Allison Fletcher. “It was great to show off student artists and cool to see all the different soloists.”


Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.