Kick Off Season With a Bang
than one month into the academic year Oberlin’s orchestras
have already performed two high-quality concerts. Last Sunday in
Warner Concert Hall the Chamber Orchestra played their debut concert
of the season, followed by the Oberlin Orchestra performance in
Finney on Wednesday. Both concerts were conducted by Music Director
of the Oberlin Conservatory Orchestras Steven Smith.
The Oberlin Chamber Orchestra presented a concert broadcast live
on Cleveland’s classical music station, WCLV 104.9 FM. The
concert began with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 39 in E-flat
major, K. 543.” The Chamber Orchestra’s performance
explored the entire scope of classical emotions. While Mozart’s
music is often characterized by a restraint and balance that is
mistaken by some as repetitiveness, here the orchestra discovered
and demonstrated all the subtle nuances of variation and color,
resulting in a vital and interesting interpretation of this late
Mozart symphony. The third movement, Minuetto — Allegro was
especially charming, with all the grace and surface simplicity of
a Viennese music box.
After intermission, the program continued with Beethoven’s
“Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37.” Performing
on Oberlin new German Steinway, soloist Peter Takacs, Professor
of Piano, displayed in his playing a love for Beethoven’s
music. The first movement, Allegro con brio, was a tasteful rendering
of the composer at his finest, with all his extremes of dark storminess
and light airiness. The second movement, Largo, was perhaps the
highlight of the concert. Takacs played wonderfully and his phrasing
was flawless and unpretentious. The orchestra accompanied him very
well, avoiding dead background roar and adding to the depth of feeling
expressed in this pathos-filled movement. The Beethoven concerto
concluded with a brilliant Rondo – Allegro, full of exuberance
and enthusiasm, and again showing the concordance between soloist
and orchestra. Takacs later complimented the orchestra on their
“They reacted very sensitively to what I was doing,”
The concert closed with Aaron Copland’s little-heard piece
“Three Latin-American Sketches.” The orchestra seemed
to enjoy this piece greatly, handling the technically difficult
sections with ease to present a lovely aural portrait of Copland’s
view of Latin America. The first and third movements, Estribillo
and Danza de Jalisco, respectively, were energetic and rhythmically
driven, and distinctly Copland. The middle movement, Paisage Mexicano,
was more reserved and reminiscent of some of the slower sections
of “Rodeo.” As with much of Copland’s writing,
this piece called for many wind and brass soloists, all of whom
performed admirably, effectively capturing the spirit of the work.
Three days later in Finney Chapel, the Oberlin Orchestra performed
an equally ambitious concert featuring more recent composers, all
of whom wrote during or after the late Romantic era. First on the
concert was a piece by an obscure contemporary composer, Arvo Part.
“Fratres,” for string orchestra and percussion, was
written in the 1970s, with several newer editions and arrangements.
Part’s “Fratres” has all the lyricism of Barber’s
better-known work, “Adagio for Strings.” The Oberlin
Orchestra’s string and percussion sections maintained this
lyricism while creating intense sound, even in quiet sections.
The percussionists punctuated the smoothly changing chords, adding
almost the only rhythmical touches to an otherwise unformed piece.
Part fans in the audience found themselves somewhat unsettled, however,
by the absence of a violin soloist, as is featured in one of the
better-publicized editions of “Fratres.” Apparently
the orchestra performed one of the lesser-known editions of this
piece that dispenses with the soloist.
The brass and wind sections joined the strings and percussion onstage
for the next work, Richard Strauss’s “Tod und Verklarung,
Op. 24” (Death and Transfiguration), a piece which contrasted
sharply with the minimalistic “Fratres.” A common interpretation
of Tod und Verklarung explains it as the narrative of the death-struggle
of an artist. The various sections of the piece are each associated
with a particular incident: the artist preparing his soul for death,
reflecting on the good he has tried to do, wracked with pains, recalling
his childhood, dying and entering the afterlife. The orchestra responded
sensitively to the piece’s many moods. The transitions between
such sections were clean and precise and ensemble playing was excellent.
Especially noteworthy was the fine work of the brass choir, which
created an impressively rich and full sound.
After the intermission, the concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s
“Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36,” a piece often interpreted
as being somewhat autobiographical and probably not originally intended
for publication. This is Tchaikovsky baring his soul; such a piece
requires the most careful musicianship. The opening Andante Sostenuto
again featured a superb brass choir and the violin sections played
very well, evoking all the delicate colors in Tchaikovsky’s
writing. The second movement, Andantino in modo di Canzona, featured
several excellent soloists who insightfully lingered on just the
right notes to express the full depth of Tchaikovsky’s emotions.
The third movement was considerably lighter, with pizzicato strings
and a melody that seemed almost like a French folk tune. The piece
ended with an Allegro con fuoco, which the orchestra performed with
definite fire and energy, especially noteworthy at the end of such
a difficult concert.
Through fine performances of difficult works, both orchestras justified
Oberlin’s reputation as a music school of the highest quality
and showed promise of a highly successful 2002-2003 season.
“I was very pleased with both concerts,” music director
Smith said. “Both concerts came up very quickly in the school
year, but I think [the students] really rose to the challenge. For
me, it was a great way to start.”