Arts concert review

Family Weekend Concert: a wonderful night for music aficionados

MIT Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble perform live for first time since pandemic

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MIT Wind Ensemble, Festival Jazz Ensemble, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble perform in Kresge, Oct. 29.
Olivia Lee

MIT's Annual Family Weekend Concert
MIT Wind Ensemble, Festival Jazz Ensemble, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble
Conducted by Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr. and Laura Grill Jaye
Kresge Auditorium
Oct. 29

Last Friday, MIT Wind Ensemble (MITWE), MIT Jazz Ensemble, and MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble came together in Kresge Auditorium for the first time in a year and a half to perform their annual Family Weekend Concert. The overwhelming theme was gratitude — the conductors of all of the ensembles acknowledged the difficulty of COVID times, expressed thanks for MIT’s support, and, most importantly, were thrilled to be performing again. The concert itself was excellent, with a diverse selection of pieces ranging from high-energy funk to slower, softer melodies.

MITWE, conducted by Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr., kicked off the concert with a rendition of Gustav Holst’s “Moorside March,” which started off strong with powerful resonance. The triangle and flute both added mellower notes to the song, making it evocative of spring. Following this lively opening was Carolyn Bremer’s “Early Light,” a piece Bremer wrote as a celebration of America and a tribute to her love for baseball. True to its form, the piece featured motifs from the “Star Spangled Banner” in its main theme. The conductor described it as “full of hope and light,” and the piece was certainly true to that description.

But the standout pieces from MITWE were those from the score of Star Wars—more specifically, “Princess Leia’s Theme” and the main Star Wars theme. Dr. Harris proclaimed that the music would “speak for itself,” and indeed, it did. “Princess Leia’s Theme” was performed exactly true to form; it is a softer, dreamier piece, and the flutes especially created the sensation of floating throughout the music. Plus, the muted purple lighting contributed to the tranquil atmosphere.

The biggest surprise, however, was the transition to the next song. Instead of ending “Princess Leia’s Theme” with a traditional cutoff, Dr. Harris held up a blue lightsaber in the darkness of the auditorium and used it to conduct the first downbeat of the Star Wars title theme. The transition was met with a resounding cheer and the high energy continued throughout the piece.  The trumpets especially were powerfully resonant.

Again conducted by Dr. Harris, the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble took over for the next portion of the concert, beginning with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.” Miles Taylor’s (’25) solo on the tenor saxophone contributed to the smooth danceability of the piece. This was followed by a double whammy: Fernando Huergo’s “Field of Sky,” which transitioned into Sy Johnson’s “The Subtle Sermon.” Peter Godart’s G solo in the former was played so flawlessly he could have been tickling the keys, and the audience began clapping along to his duet with the upright bass in the latter. Miles Kaming-Thanassi’s (’23) trumpet solo in “The Subtle Sermon” was truly like a sermon, and Mike Jiang’s (G) ending keyboard riff was just the icing on the cake.

MIT’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, conducted by Laura Grill Jaye, then took over for a short interlude, performing two songs: Nelson Angelo and Fernando Brant’s “Canoa, Canoa” as well as Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knife.” This was the world premiere of both songs’ arrangements, and the vocal jazz ensemble certainly did them justice. The bass and piano blended in seamlessly with the overlapping vocal parts of both songs. Jaye also accompanied the singers on the drums for the latter song, adding a brisk rhythm to the piece.

The concert concluded with two more pieces by the jazz ensemble. First was “Inundation,” composed and arranged by Peter Godart when he was an undergraduate at MIT. The piece had a fantastically strong beat that had the crowd clapping along. Taylor and Andrew Li (’25) performed a fantastic duet on the tenor saxophone and alto saxophone, respectively, and the rainbow lights reflected the upbeat mood of the piece.

But the real showstopper was Sabrina Drammis’s G tap dance performance during Charles Mingus’s “O.P.”. Inspired by bassist and cellist Oscar Pettiford, the piece was a throwback straight to Charleston in the 1920s. Drammis’s tap was the perfect complement to the swinging melody and the pink and red lighting, both visually and aurally. “O.P.” was the ultimate finale: the piece had so much energy that the performers and the conductor himself were dancing along to the music. The response from the audience was so exhilarating that Drammis and the jazz ensemble actually performed a short encore.

All in all, the excitement from the audience as well as the passion of the performers created an upbeat, high-energy environment. The song selection skillfully balanced jazz funk with more classical forms of jazz, and the experience of attending a concert in-person after so many months of virtual compromises contributed to the positive mood.  It was a wonderful night for music aficionados and novices alike.