‘Strap In’: Wind Symphony Blows Away FCH

During the frenzied finale of Friday’s concert, conductor Warren Olfert literally unleashed the North Dakota State wind symphony upon the crowd.

He left. Stage right. Mid-performance, surprising audience members — and perhaps some performers — alike.

His departure, and encore, excellently capped the first of eight performances the audition band will play during its 2016 tour.

The 75-minute show kept the hundreds in attendance at Festival Concert Hall entertained throughout, showcasing rhythm, enthusiasm and a contemporary collection of composers.

The night began, appropriately, with “Stomp” by David Biedenbender, commissioned in 2009. The lower voices and percussion section put down crisp syncopation, which, along with Eric Greenep’s unchained clarinet solos, set the tone for the night.

“How’s that for a wake-up call?” Olfert asked the crowd after the lively performance.

The band contrasted its fiery start with Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep,” a lush lullaby. Whitacre performed the same piece with the NDSU concert choir when he visited during October’s symposium.

Olfert noted how the instrumental rendition, while keeping a similar composition to the vocal arrangement, differs because of its medium. The fresh approach offered soaring harmonies and a haunting al niente ending. The silence after the last note lingered for seconds before the crowd applauded.

The tempo picked back up with episodes of Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town.” This musical — a predecessor to “West Side Story” — offered a soundtrack filled with standout solos. In particular, the third and final song, “Times Square: 1944,” let first-chair alto sax Taylor Eichinger and lead trumpet Clayton Miranda steal the spotlight. Miranda, who is recovering from a bout with pneumonia, made his horn growl in the best of ways.

The band came together for the symphony’s more traditional selections, which filled the heart of the performance with religious songs. Movements from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” brought with it the formal, yet unstuffy, sounds of the Russian Orthodoxy; Bach’s “My Jesus! Oh What Anguish” was poignant.

Between these two works was Kathyrn Salfelder’s “Cathedrals.” While keeping the religious tones of Rachmaninoff and Bach, Salfelder’s piece from 2008 is a fresh take on the old. Olfert called it a “neo-Renaissance” selection.

“Cathedrals” called for the splitting of the brass section to the far left and right of the stage, dismantling the concert arc. This created an echoing effect, reminiscent of sounds in a cavernous church. And it worked, with the song receiving one of the largest ovations of the night.

Olfert kept the momentum going, choosing two rollicking secular selections to close out the night: Steve Bryant’s “Anthem” and Henry Fillmore’s “The Circus Bee.”

With “Anthem,” and any Bryant piece, Olfert said, “You’re in for a riot.”

A brouhaha it was.

The flutes, led by Theresa Schlangen and Tara Troxel, started with an intricate and intense rhythm. The percussion section, aided by Cydney Berlinger’s grand piano, chimed in, adding clapping and a downbeat heartbeat as the song reached its pinnacle.

“How do you follow that?” Olfert asked. His answer: the raucous march that he left halfway through. “Strap in,” he warned before the final piece, and with good reason.

Olfert’s tempo drove the band well past the speed limit, a joyride that would upset Mom and make Dad grin.

His early departure was amusing and symbolic, invoking Fillmore, who also had a reputation of leaving the stage during songs. Both Fillmore and Olfert studied at what’s now known as the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory.

And the crowd ate it up.

The wind symphony takes its show on the road during spring break, playing in high schools throughout Minnesota before ending at the North Dakota Music Educators Association Conference on March 20 in Bismarck.

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