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ISSUE 115 VOL 21 PUBLISHED 5/10/2002

Ensembles step out of shadows

By David Fine
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 10, 2002

It was hardly just another lazy Sunday last week at Skoglund Athletic Center. As St. Olaf students recovered from Arbstock, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and procrastinated for another few hours, they had a chance to catch two marvelous performances from the St. Olaf Philharmonia and Norseman Band.

Philharmonia, under the interim direction of Martin Hodel, played to a well sized and laid back Sunday afternoon crowd. A sea of pastel shirts and blouses, the audience remained engaged throughout the concert by an enticing program, which featured overtures by Brahms, a pair of Romanian works, and two solo concerto performances.

The performance was focused, spirited and exhibited a number of Philharmonia’s strengths as an ensemble, while giving many individual players time to shine. Brahms’ "Tragic Overture" opened the concert, and a solid wind section supported the strings as they floated over sweeping melodic phrases with ease. Amanda Wessel ‘04 was featured on Beethoven’s first Piano Concerto. Her fluid, meticulous playing demonstrated playfulness that had the audience standing afterwards. The two Romanian numbers had 300 toes tapping in unison as the group flexed its rhythmic muscles. As cymbals crashed and the strings danced, the crowd moved. President Thomforde, three seats down, let out a whoop and proclaimed with a grin, "That was fun!"

The next piece featured Matt Nudell on trombone. Backed by a strong orchestral accompaniment, Nudell unleashed a sackbut sound that every orchestral trombone secretly dreams about while snoring through 294 measures of rest. The orchestra closed with a vigorous performance of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, and the contented crowd leapt to its feet. Hodel said afterwards that he was grateful to work with Philharmonia, which exceeded his expectations for the semester. "There are a lot of terrific players; this is definitely not a second-rate group."

Just an hour later, the Norseman band packed the house. The program demonstrated the band’s wide range of abilities. Norseman director Paul Niemesto, in his 24th year, programmed a concert that spanned a range of rich band literature, striving to find challenging works with "stories to tell." The result was a listening experience rich with expression and bustling with energy.

The powerful Norseman brass opened the concert, filling the house with their bold sound in the opening chords of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. The woodwind sections exhibited a dizzying array of fast finger-work, a stunning display of skill and dexterity. The rest of the concert was also a treat for the ears and senses. Luscious solos from Doug Stone ‘05 and Katie Audette ‘02 were the highlights of Percy Grainger’s "Colonial Song." The band tied together complex textural ideas in the an esoteric symphonic movement by Giannini. The rich interweaving lines of the piece made for a contemplative listening experience, and helped to make this performance more than just another band concert.

The group continued as Stacy Peterson displayed her rich and flute abilities in her solo feature, a concerto movement by Quantz. The last half of the concert was filled with illustrious and exciting sounds, especially the enigmatic and driven minimalist work "Short Ride in a Fast Machine. " The band’s soulful sighs in "Blue Shades," were highlighted by clarinet work that dripped with sensuality from Chris Renk ‘05 and Stephanie Tywater ‘02. The band closed with a bustling ride entitled "The Big Apple. " The frenzied spirit of the reeds, glorified yelling of the brass and furious bravura of the percussion section captured all the optimism and spirit of a recovering New York City.

The wealth of individual talent as well as refined group ability was readily apparent in both performances. Philharmonia and Norseman Band have come to their own as performing groups. The coming years will see continued artistic growth as well as increasing support from the St. Olaf community for these fine ensembles.

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