Two Old Chestnuts and a Lot of Bull

Spectators trekked through the subzero weather in order to warm up with Solar Winds, the woodwind quintet that performed on Friday. This ensemble combined music with storytelling to give audience members an unforgettable experience. The talented group began performing together in 1990, almost 20 years ago. When asked how he was introduced to the other members of the group, the narrator, Gary Urban, laughed. He’s married to oboist and Phillips Academy music teacher Charlyn Bethell and said that the other members of Solar Winds knew each other through different orchestras. After starting the ensemble, the obvious need for a name was apparent. Though the name is puzzling at first, the answer to this question was simple for flautist Jill Dreeben. She said, “My husband is a physicist. And it was the most creative name we could think of.” “Two Old Chestnuts and a Lot of Bull,” though an unlikely name for the performance of a quintet composed of a flautist, clarinet player, oboist, bassoonist and horn player, had a connection to each of the instruments played. “Among musicians, an old chestnut refers to—to put it bluntly—an overplayed song,” said Neil Fairbairn, bassoonist for the group. The first two pieces performed, Ibert’s “Trois Pieces Breves” and Nielsen’s “Kvintet,” hardly seem overplayed to the general population. According to Fairbairn, however, “If you’ve ever been in a woodwind ensemble you know how to play both with your eyes closed.” The third piece the quintet performed, or the “bull” section of their title, refers to the story “Ferdinand the Bull.” The musicians, with the aid of a narrator, told the tale of an unlikely bull that gets dragged to the bullfights of Madrid. Sara Barn and Kerry Bowe, 11 year-olds from Reading MA, both said, “Our favorite part was the story of Ferdinand the Bull.” Though the whole quintet played through the majority of the pieces, during Nielsen’s “Kvintet,” each instrument had a solo as the Kvintet was written with the idea of showcasing each instrument. The three-part piece featured a different mood in each section. The beginning of the piece was a Mozart-esque composition, broken apart by a violent “conversation” between the French horn and bassoon and concluded with a hymn-like tone. The transformation of stories to music, from “Peter and the Wolf” to “How the Bear Lost his Tail,” makes this ensemble distinctive. Dreeben said, “We’ve even had composers arrange different stories so we can help bring them to life.” Besides the interwoven stories and fables, another rather unusual aspect of the ensemble can be summarized in three words—bright red socks. Upon first glance the socks seemed to be a mistake, clashing with otherwise the all-black attire. Later it became obvious it was not a fashion faux pas, since all the members of the ensemble sported them. Urban, speaking about the socks, said, “the color changes depending on the key.” Bethell replied differently, “It started for fun, but now it’s become our trademark.” Professor George F. Leger of Tufts University, a student of clarinetist Diane Heffner, said, “It’s superb, they’re all remarkably talented artists.” Eve Sinister ’12 said, “It was interesting to see them play exciting pieces with some humor as well.” Christopher Walter, the choir conductor and a music teacher at Phillips Academy, said, “We invited the group to allow wind players of the Academy’s bands and orchestras—and students in general—to get a chance to hear truly talented musicians.”