The Fresno Community Concert Band kicked off its 2019-20 season on Sunday, Oct. 20 with two performances at the Fresno City College Theatre.
The 3 p.m. matinee sold out, and there was substantial turnout at the 7 p.m. show. The Oktoberfest theme of the performance was reflected in musical presentations leaving an unmistakable ambience of Bavarian autumn in the evening air.
In its 27th year of existence, the all-volunteer band continues to make good on its mission to “provide a musical, educational and recreational advantage to the Central Valley by sustaining the American tradition of concert band,” according to the band’s Facebook page.
Whatever one’s musical taste, there is a certain call to attention inherent in the dissociate cacophony of an orchestra warming up. At once urbane and ancient, numberless trills and phrases bring long-forgotten songs of childhood to the very edge of recognition, only to fade again into the background’s anonymous hum.
After a while, the band gathered together around a single sustained major chord and the audience was brought to its feet spontaneously by the first familiar notes of the National Anthem.
The tone of the event was set by the exhilarating flourish of Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture.”
In keeping with the spirit of Oktoberfest, the next three offerings were polkas, replete with a delightful tutorial by conductor Bruce Weinberger on the several conditions that must be met by a musical piece to qualify it as a true polka. Every piece must have a 2/4 time signature, three distinct musical themes which must include a frilly, flourishing segment as well as a section containing the familiar ‘oom-pa’ feel.
Weinberger demonstrated this before each piece by prompting the band to play short passages containing those specific elements in each of the respective songs.
The two high points of the presentation were Eric Whitacre’s whirling comedic “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas, Part Two,” with various vocal exclamations by the band and an appearance by Godzilla itself, and the eternal jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.”
After almost three decades of delighting local audiences, the band’s fortunes are only looking brighter says band manager Michael Bonner.
“Last year our first show here at City College sold out also,” he said, “and about 90 people attended the second show. This year it looks as though upwards of 300 people will be attending tonight’s second show.” Bonner said that’s a significant increase and that people have grown more interested in just a year.
The Fresno Community Concert Band was founded in October 1993 after a yearlong planning process by its organizers. Conceived as an organization that would provide an outlet for the many amateur and retired professional musicians in that area, the band now boasts 80 players representing a wide range of ages and occupations. All members are former high school or college band participants.