Kevin Michael Holzman, music director and conductor; Sebastian Serrano, guest conductor; Rob Stull, guest conductor; Rick VanMatre, saxophone soloist

Saturday, March 2, 2019 Patricia Corbett Theater 8:00 p.m.

Toccata Marziale – Ralph Vaughan Williams; Adagio para instrumentos de viento – Joaquin Rodrigo; Concerto for Saxophone and Wind Orchestra – Kimothy Pensyl; The Winds of Nagual – Michael Colgrass

The CCM Wind Symphony is an ensemble of some four dozen undergraduate wind players augmented by a hefty percussion section, a pair of string basses, piano, and harp.

Quite capable of undertaking any contemporary full-scale composition for brass and woodwinds, they did precisely that in their Saturday March 2 concert at CCM’s intimate Patricia Corbett Theater.

Leading the young players, Kevin Michael Holzman, a recent and welcome addition to the Conservatory’s faculty of performing artists, was joined by two talented young candidates for graduate degrees in conducting.

Sebastian Serrano helmed the ensemble with elegant clarity in the opening Toccata Marziale, a 1942 extended fanfare for brass and woodwinds.

Joaquin Rodrigo’s Adagio for Wind Instruments is a single-movement composition replete with melismatic melodies redolent of the Moorish side of the Spanish musical soul. Rob Stull elicited some very nice work from the oboes, clarinets and flutes in the orchestra.

The anticipated appearance of saxophonist Rick van Matre in the American premiere of Kimothy Pensyl’s Concerto for Saxophone and Wind Orchestra drew a sizeable crowd to the event. Pensyl’s work is a freely polytonal, jazz-inflected tone poem in which movement seamlessly follows movement, stopping just long enough for a pair of dazzling cadenzas. Filled with unexpected harmonic twists and turns, lyrical one moment, vividly blunt and bold the next, the music imaginatively replicates the unpredictability of nature in a Korean island that is home to a sleeping volcano.

Pensyl knows how to write for the orchestra and for his soloist, both an esteemed friend of his and a musical colleague with whom he has been playing for quite some time.

VanMatre filled the assignment with complete assurance and flair, delivering a bravura performance that employed both a soprano and a tenor saxophone. Moving through passages of fiendish difficulty that called for extreme agility articulated to perfection, VanMatre demonstrated complete mastery of his two instruments without once faltering or letting go of the intensity that hallmarked his playing.

In the Pensyl work, the young and musically mature maestro Kevin Michael Holzman conducted his players with an equal mix of flexibility for the needs of the soloist and rock solid leadership. With the kind of programming heard on this occasion and that which is announced for the upcoming months,  Holzman demonstrates imagination and attention to the work of a rich pool of contemporary composers writing for wind ensemble, many of them members of CCM’s teaching-performing faculty.

A fantasy for wind orchestra, Michael Colgrass’ The Winds of Nagual mixes inventive orchestration with snippets of melody pieced together to create a fantastical sonic landscape peopled by giants and monsters, wizards and aspiring sorcerers.

Colgrass takes the listener on a musical white knuckle rollercoaster ride, one moment serene, nervous and unsteady the next. Massive tone clusters alternate with delicate filigree work for the high woodwinds. An improbable duet for flute and contrabassoon is followed by an out of tune riff in mariachi style. An altogether wacky, off the wall composition, The Winds of Nagual splendidly led by Kevin Michael Holzman brought the concert to a rousing ending, with all those in attendance giving VanMatre, Pensyl and Holzman an extended ovation.

The CCM Wind Symphony returns on March 29 with a lineup of contemporary works by Julien Monick, Adam Gorb, Joel Pucket and Morton Gould, and again on April 27 with compositions by Miguel Roig-Francoli, John Mackey, Michael Martin and Steve Allee. Saxophonist James Bunte will be the featured soloist in the April concert.

Rafael de Acha