New pieces and old favorites featured in MSU concert

The University Band and Wind Symphony’s latest concert, “A Musical Metamorphosis,” delighted audiences last Friday, Feb. 27. Under the direction of Nathan Stark, the two bands performed a combined total of eight pieces that touched a wide range of genres in the music spectrum. One of the pieces, “The Seasons,” was composed by School of Music professor Eric Funk and was based on a legend from the Assiniboine tribe.

“It’s hard to avoid the Native American world. It’s so compelling — it’s so real and so connected to nature,” Funk said. Moving to Havre when he was in the eighth grade positioned Funk near the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap reservations, exposing him to the Native American world from a young age and leaving him with an enduring admiration for its culture. “The Seasons” was ultimately born of his “love of the Native American perspective [when he was] growing up,” he said.

“I wasn’t trying to recreate Native American music as much as poeticize what was going on,” Funk went on, “I wanted to put [that world] into a different form so it could be presented to an audience who otherwise wouldn’t see it.” He needed a good story to use as a platform, and after sifting through several pieces of Native American literature, he stumbled upon an Assiniboine legend about the changing of the seasons, which ultimately became his inspiration for the piece.

Funk (who, in his lengthy career, has composed four operas, nine symphonies, six ballet scores and a mass of other musical works) wrote “The Seasons” over two decades ago, but Friday’s concert was the first time it had been performed in Montana — and by his students, no less. Speaking of his normal work environment, in which he generally works with musicians he’s never met before, Funk said, “I’ll go in, and we’ll have an affinity, but it’s not nearly as endearing as [with] these students who are in my classes. They talk to me before class, say they’re working on a section of my piece — it’s a nice connection.”

On both “The Seasons” and excerpts from “The Man of La Mancha,” a musical adaptation of Don Quixote, The Wind Symphony was joined by Frederick Frey, an acclaimed professional baritone singer who performed the vocal parts on each piece. Frey has performed pieces all over North America and Europe, including a previous performance of “The Seasons” in New Jersey. Typically, when a singer is brought in to perform with a large group, they may only get a handful of rehearsals in before the performance. Because Frey now lives in Bozeman, however, he was able to practice with the Wind Symphony for nearly two weeks before the concert.

“He’s such a great guy. No ego whatsoever,” said Funk, speaking of Frey. “You know, great musicians are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. The ones who want to be famous…not so much. But [Frey] really gets it, he’s very humble, very talented — he’s having a blast with the piece.”

The fun was certainly felt by the crowd at the concert. Other highlights of the night included the University Band performing a shortened version of familiar, jazzy composition, “Rhapsody in Blue,” as well as “Time Streams (After Tricycle)” a piece that originated when composer Andrew Boysen Jr. decided to completely rework “Tricycle,” a song he had written years earlier. Meanwhile, in addition to Funk’s piece, the Wind Symphony entertained the crowd with the traditional “Overture for Band,” the intense march from “Symphonic Metamorphosis,” and finally, excerpts from “The Man of La Mancha,” during which the symphony was accompanied by four guitarists in sombreros.