Last Sunday, Solar Winds, a woodwind quintet comprised of Neil Fairbairn, bassoonist, Charlyn Bethell, oboist, Jill Dreeben, flutist, Diane Heffner, clarinetist, and Neil Godwin, French horn player, performed a concert in the Timken Room of Graves Hall. Fairbairn and Bethell are Adjunct Instructors in Music. The music in their repertoire included pieces from many different countries and time periods.
The concert began with “Pastorale” by Amy Beach. Slow and peaceful, “Pastorale” started on a low note before flowing into a middle range. A few flat notes punctuated the cohesive and full quality of the playing. As the piece continued to progress, the melody acquired a swaying quality as the dynamics became louder and softer. The tune ended with the low rumble of the bassoon.
“The time signature made ‘Pastorale’ comfortable. It’s in 6/8 time, so you could feel it in two and it was kind of lilting, soothing. It wasn’t super fast. It was pretty tonal – [something] that people are used to listening to,” said Dreeben.
Solar Winds then played Ruth Crawford Seeger’s “Suite for Wind Quintet.” Dissonance dominated the piece, with each instrument playing various melodies at the same time in different tempos. The tune began with a low bassoon beat, after which the other instruments started to play and create a layered sound. As the piece progressed into its second movement, the flute and bassoon contrasted more and more both melodically and dynamically until the flute played a wavering solo. The other instruments rejoined after the flute solo, creating a new haunting tone. With a sudden increase in volume and a loud blast from the bassoon, the song finished.
Fairbairn said, “Seeger was a modernist; she composed that in 1952. She was not interested in conventional harmonies, but she was very interested in counterpoints, the interweaving of two strands of melody.”
She continued, “It’s an 18th century compositional technique, and so you can hear her using, in a dissonant way, the elements of music that have gone back for 300 years before. So in a way, although it’s a modern piece, it includes a lot of very traditional compositional techniques.”
Solar Winds ended their concert with “Sextet for Piano and Winds,” a three-movement composition by Louise Farrenc. The first movement started low before the notes dramatically floated up the scale. A light piano melody played in the background, adding a twinkling layer. The fluid tone of the woodwind instruments alternated with short and bright sections full of staccato notes. The dominant instrument also changed several times between Godwin on the French horn and Heffner on the clarinet.
In the second movement of “Sextet for Piano and Winds,” the background piano flowed up and down, adding another layer of excitement to the woodwind composition. The French horn provided the foundation for the tune as the flute hummed the melody above. The volume in the piece shifted starkly, going from extremely loud to very quiet at a sudden pace. At the conclusion of the piece, the tempo sped up, steadily growing louder before a brief tap of the final note that served as an almost unfinished ending to the song.
Bethell said, “There are some times in ‘Sextet for Piano and Winds,’ like the opening, where everyone is playing, and then as soon as we play that opening part, I play a part all by myself. So suddenly out of this texture of everybody, that’s kind of thick comes just a single instrument. And then the clarinet plays the opening of the second movement with oboe and then the flute comes in, which I think [Heffner] does really well.”