I maintain that there will be no justice in the world until Ole Band packs them in as tightly as Ole Orchestra, but even in the absence of justice the Band played a mostly-marches program brilliantly.
The Band opened with Richard Strauss Feierlicher Einzug, a march composed for the Knights of the Order of St. John. The Band, accompanied by Artist-in-Residence Catherine Rodland on the Holtkamp organ, proved that it can match any ensemble you care to name for both grandeur and control.
This first march was followed by an arrangement of Claude Debussy's "The Engulfed Cathedral," which took full advantage of the bands greater range of aural effects. The band played Gustav Holst's "Fantasia on The Dargason" next, which provided a welcome change of pace, although the audience as a whole didnt seem to be having as much fun with the piece, better known as "The Irish Washerwoman," as I was.
The show-stopper of the first half and arguably of the entire show was the Bands performance of Percy Grainger's "The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart," accompanied by Professor of Organ Music John Ferguson on the organ. Grainger's mighty work is not widely held due to its limited print run, and is thus infrequently heard, but the Bands performance made an eloquent plea for the piece to be performed more often. The piece, the Band and Ferguson proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the orchestral band is just as capable of philosophical and existential introspection as any other ensemble. The sprawling, almost grandiose piece meditated on the individual soul in conflict with the powers that be in Graingers words, making the organ a full partner with the Band and using the Bands sonic potential to its utmost. The St. Olaf Band more than delivered.
The first half ended with a Grainger encore, the English folk tune "Sheperds Hey." This piece was a welcome palette-cleanser after "The Power of Rome."
The second half of the concert began with Albert Roussel's "Fanfare pour un sacre païen," one of the shortest pieces I've ever heard an ensemble play, but still charming. Contemporary composer Libby Larsen's "Prelude on Veni Creator Spiritus," transcribed for the Band this year by Jonathan Bartz '08, was also on the short side, attentive to its religious source material but still refreshingly contemporary.
Band member Charles Morgan '07 took the podium to conduct an arrangement of "Pierre Leemans Marche des Parachutistes Belges." Morgan looked as if hed been conducting large, accomplished ensembles for years, and the Band performed the piece excellently, doing full justice to its tempo and dynamics.
The brief hymn "Almighty Father" by Leonard Bernstein provided a segue between the rest of the concert and the final piece, William Schuman's "New England Triptych." "The New England Triptych" reworks three interlinked hymns by the early American composer William Billings: "Be Glad Then," "America," "When Jesus Wept and Chester," used as a march by the Continental Army.
Taken together, the pieces move from somber meditation to dark brooding and finally to exuberant celebration of the early American experience. Whatever the Band plays, they do well, and "The New England Triptych" was no exception.