On Sept. 27, 2018, the prestigious UNCG Wind Ensemble took the cavernous UNCG Auditorium stage by storm, giving their audience a performance that inarguably went off without a hitch. This transformative presentation of technical ability and raw passion gave the audience a night of revelation and transfiguration, bringing them from their childhood to the shining sea.
Comprised of fifty hand-selected musicians that span the hierarchy of the music department- undergraduate, graduate and doctorate- this concert band is highly competitive and distinguishable in its regional diversity and vast individual and collective accomplishments.
Performers in the ensemble come from seventeen states, as well as Slovenia and China, and the ensemble as a whole has been nationally recognized countless times since its formation over 30 years ago.
The majority of the evening was conducted by cherished and esteemed UNCG faculty Dr. John R. Locke. Locke has worked in the music department at UNCG since 1982, serving as Director of Bands, Director of Summer Music Camps, conductor of the Wind Ensemble and as the conducting teacher. This December, Dr. Locke will be retiring after more than 36 years on faculty in this department.
The evening opened with “Circus Overture” by William Schuman. This piece was conducted by John R. Locke. Distinctly reminiscent of the classic circus ambiance that nostalgically nudges each audience member’s inner child, this piece allowed the show to begin by priming the audience for a night of authenticity and adolescent enjoyment amidst such a sensible and mature environment.
“Circus Overture” was followed by “Shortcut Home” by Dana Wilson, conducted by graduate conductor J. Benjamin Jones. This work was notably brief by comparison, but captivating from the first note to the last. The ensemble was certainly under great pressure to do such a momentous piece justice so quickly, but the impression was effective and interesting.
Following Wilson’s work was “Aria di chiesa” by Alessandro Stradella, again conducted by Dr. Locke, and “The Immovable Do” by Percy Grainger, conducted by graduate conductor Pamela L. Klena. “Aria di chiesa” transcends lyrical necessity by inaudibly pleading for repentance and forgiveness. Any attentive audience member could feel the music crying the intended lyrics “Have mercy, Lord, on me in my remorse!” and later “always mercifully, look down on me.”
“The Immovable Do” shifted gears slightly and transitioned from a work of the soul to a work of technical precision. Everything about this work was so explicitly meditated on and labored over, and the prodigious punctuation moved the audience to a realm of undeviating, motivating rigor.
Dr. Locke returned to the stage for the final three works of the night; “Zion” by Dan Welcher, “Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Niccolò Paganini” by James Barnes, and “Sea Songs” by Thomas Knox. “Zion” simulates an ethereal sensory experience for the audience, reproducing the composer’s experience in Zion National Park.
Without being subject to a literal mental depiction of vast canyons and incessant sky, the audience is ushered into the holistic experience right from their seats in the auditorium. “Zion” was followed by “Fantasy Variations…” which once again refocused the audience on the technical ability and prestige of the ensemble.
“Sea Songs” was perhaps the most highly anticipated work of the night, primarily because of the accumulated anticipation prompted by unused instruments on the stage. A harp and piano lie untouched stage right until the final moments of the concert, leaving the audience eager and impatient for their eventual incorporation. Based on “nautical songs and sea shanties,” the audience is once again brought to a place and time currently physically inaccessible.
Any audience member in attendance at the UNCG Wind Ensemble’s performance had the great privilege to be transported back in time, to the great outdoors, to a place of great introspection, and then back to the sea. The performance was not only brilliantly arranged, but also brilliantly performed.