Orchestra Performs the Rite
The Oberlin Orchestra put forth a massive effort last Friday evening under the baton of Bridget-Michaele Reischl, giving a magnificent concert to a packed Finney Chapel. The program consisted of extremely challenging pieces that only a focused and well-rehearsed ensemble could even consider: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
The buzz floating around the Conservatory in the days leading up to the concert was filled with animated and excited banter about Rimsky-Korsakov’s brilliant orchestrations and Stravinsky’s groundbreaking masterwork. In fact, students were so eager to attend the performance that the Conservatory Library had to close an hour early on Friday evening due to a lack of student workers.
Both pieces were surprisingly illustrative. Based on specific stories, the works each contain imaginative musical material that give them distinct substance and depth. Scheherazade is based on 1001 Arabian Nights, the classic stories that include the tale of Sinbad the sailor. The stories themselves are based around the Sultan Shahriar, who demanded that one of his wives, Scheherazade, tell adventurous tales in a “fair” exchange for him not executing her.
The pieces were both striking in the aspect of storyline and their morbid content. While the Sultana Scheherazade found that telling stories kept her benevolent husband from killing her (as he had done with his previous wives), The Rite of Spring is about a pagan tribe in ancient Russia performing a ritual sacrifice.
The sacrifice in Rite includes the death of a young maiden who is chosen by the elders to dance herself to death. Originally a ballet, it shocked audiences into riots with its dense, pulsating music and Vaslav Nijinsky’s modern, harsh and wholly unexpected choreography. While the orchestra’s performance was void of a ballet company, the imaginative power of Stravinsky’s music was more than enough to convey the story.
The audience was treated to this illustrative writing throughout the night. Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestrations of his lush and ever-present melodies were played flowingly. Despite an unstable start, the orchestra didn’t look back and treated the audience well.
Concertmaster Conservatory junior Evan Shallcross was featured throughout the entire work, gracefully lilting over the powerful solos. Toward the end of the last movement, Shallcross had amazing stamina, holding frighteningly high notes for what seemed like hours as the orchestra softly pronounced the final chords. The audience erupted in applause.
Scheherazade was filled with numerous solos, which sparkled over the various movements, adding color and variation. The clarinet, oboe and flute shared similar solos; all included agile runs up and down the instruments that were masterfully performed.
Percussionist senior Aaron Williams performed a prominent snare drum solo during Scheherazade, one that was fast and dance-like, yet had to be contextually soft and extremely intense. His concern lay with fitting into the music, a concept by which every musician should live.
Rite began with its famous bassoon solo, a melody most classical musicians can sing on cue. Bassoonist sophomore Max Pipinich was granted this standout solo. Even when water got stuck in one of his keys during the first few measures of the piece, Pipinich blew the water out in one sweeping motion and continued the part as a true professional, nailing every note.
Pipinich expressed admiration for the orchestra’s performance of Rite.
“It was a very difficult piece,” he said. “There are passages that are extremely hard to get together rhythmically…Rite is an absurdly complicated piece, you have to be fully engaged every time you play it…I think the orchestra handled it really, really well.”
While the string section was largely featured playing the waves of sound in Scheherazade, the winds and brass were finally given more prominent roles during Rite. The enlarged section didn’t fail to produce the power Stravinsky wanted. The piece is orchestrated for eight French horns and was complete with sharp, piercing brass punctuations that were enough to make the entire audience jump.
At one point, all eight horns even lifted up their rear-facing bells in choreographed motion, bringing out an accented passage.
“The horns in Rite always stand out,” said percussionist Williams. “I enjoyed sitting directly behind [them] on that piece.”
Williams was also pleased with his section’s performance.
“We all performed at the top of our game. Rite requires a lot of great sounds from each instrument in the section and we made some great selections on sounds and gave a musical performance.”
Coming off such a successful production, one can only hope that the orchestra’s May concert will be comparable. The group will be performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107.