Two groups in the Yale Bands community — the Yale Concert Band and the Yale Jazz Ensemble — brought holiday spirit last Saturday to Woolsey Hall through the music of Tchaikovsky and adaptations by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
Before an audience of about 1,000 people, the two groups joined forces to present the suite from Tchaikovsky’s orchestral score to the 1892 ballet “The Nutcracker.” After the Concert Band’s rendition of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” the two bands, both led by music director Thomas C. Duffy, played selections from the suite, alternating between the Concert Band’s rendition of a movement transcribed for wind band, and the Jazz Ensemble’s performance of a jazz arrangement of the same movement by Ellington & Strayhorn for big band. At the concert, the bands collected donations to support Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services of New Haven.
“Fans of both the classical and jazz worlds found delight in the juxtaposition of styles and players,” Duffy said.
He added that when concert bands play transcriptions of orchestral pieces — like that of the original Tchaikovsky ballet orchestra score – they are the “impostors” borrowing the repertoire of another genre. At Saturday’s concert, the Concert Band’s rendition of “The Nutcracker” became the authentic version when compared to the Jazz Ensemble’s Ellington & Strayhorn jazz style, he said, making for an “interesting aesthetic.”
Monica Barbosa ’19, a flutist in the Concert Band, said that last year’s Concert Band holiday-themed program featured mostly traditional carols, but this year’s collaboration with the Jazz Ensemble struck the “right balance between entertainment value and artistic appreciation.”
Members of both groups noted that the collaboration allowed them to learn from their counterparts.
Hersh Gupta ’20, an alto saxophonist in the Jazz Ensemble, said that although he is familiar with the traditional orchestral version of “The Nutcracker,” the juxtaposition of the two renditions “deepened [his] appreciation for both the underlying musical brilliance in Tchaikovsky’s score as well as the creative genius in the beautiful arrangement by Strayhorn & Ellington.”
Gupta added that the alternating format of the concert allowed him to compare the wind band version to the big band jazz version that he played. With this comparison, Gupta said he was able to recognize where Ellington & Strayhorn made their creative choices to emphasize or adapt melodies, motifs and rhythms.
“The jazz version of ‘The Nutcracker’ breathes new life into the music,” Gupta said. “Strayhorn & Ellington’s arrangement brings both a cultural and historical perspective to Tchaikovsky’s composition, weaving in the socio-cultural threads that underpin jazz music and history along with a contemporary harmonic framework.”
Gupta said he preferred the jazz arrangement for its freedom and expression, adding that the “relaxed energy” gave a “modern kick” to the music.
Beatrice Brown ’19, the Concert Band’s principal flutist, said that hearing the jazz adaptation of “The Nutcracker” side by side with the Concert Band’s performance of the more well-known version gave her “perspective on the motives from the piece that stick with people.”
Duffy highlighted the band’s collecting of donations for IRIS. According to Duffy, collecting these donations furthered the Concert Band’s commitment to using music as a “social force.”
Brown said that during the Concert Band’s summer 2016 tour of Italy and Greece, the group performed at a refugee camp in Athens as another effort to give back.
“Playing at this refugee camp was a really powerful and emotional experience for me and the whole band, and to be able to give back in another way made this concert even more special,” Brown said.
Duffy has been teaching Yale since 1982.
Julia Carabatsos | firstname.lastname@example.org