With its usual mix of student and community musicians, featured performances by the winners of the 1999 Williams Student Soloist Competition and the expressive conducting of Ronald Feldman, the final Berkshire Symphony concert of the year was as enjoyable for the eye as it was for the ear.
Friday’s concert in Chapin Hall opened with Tchaikovsky’s “Cossack Dance” from Mazeppa, an opera that relates the story of two Cossack chiefs, who begin to feud when one refuses to let the other marry his daughter. Relying heavily on the string section, the piece shifted from urgently forceful to light and whimsical. The second piece, Johann Hummel’s Grand Concerto for the Bassoon in F Major featured Heather Kovich ’99. With an intricate layering of the instruments, the piece had a rich texture. Kovich handled her solo with skill, and when the piece ended, the audience erupted into thunderous applause.
Next, Richard Giarusso ’99 sang “Hai gia vinta la causa!…Vedro mentir’io sospiro” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in a sonorous baritone. Giorusso’s voice was both strong and expressive, and his stage presence fairly emotive. He infused the somber piece with just the right amount of energy to keep the audience attentive to every move and gesture.
A rather long pause followed Giorusso’s piece when the stage was rearranged for Sarah Song’s performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 11. The pause was distracting, as it somewhat disrupted the flow of the concert. However, Song ’00 played the piece quite beautifully so that the slight technical problem was easily ignored. After Song, violinist Alexandre Wolfe ’99 played Dimitri Shostakovich’s Violin Conerto No. 1, Op. 99. He played both “Passacaglia” and “Burlesca,” the third and fourth movements of the concerto. Beginning with a slow, somber passage, Wolfe’s violin softly sounded the first notes. His playing quickly intensified, energizing the music. The overlapping musical patterns of the strings accelerated, becoming wild and at times a little cacophonous. Aggressively he pushed his bow back and forth across the strings, his whole body overcome with motion that matched the music. The twenty other violinists followed, bows flying as the stage swirled with exhilarating motion. When the piece concluded, its coda loud and boisterous, the audience once again erupted into thunderous applause.
The student solos were for many in the audience the highlight of the concert, as they were all very strong. The performance continued to be just as visually and sonically pleasing after intermission. When the Symphony returned to the stage, Feldman announced that the group was about to play Tchaikovsky’s last work, Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique.” Having performed the work, which he deemed Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, at least seventy-five times as both a cellist and a conductor, Feldman said that he had always wanted to hear how performing the passionate third movement and then the slow, elegiac fourth without a loud burst of applause between them would sound. However, he claimed that since the third movement ended with a grand flourish, the audience always applauded. Feldman asked the audience to humor him by staying silent between the movements so that he could hear how the silence affected the overall presentation of the piece.
The piece ranged from slow plodding dirge, a theme possibly related to Tchaikovsky’s pessimistic attitude before his death, to epic musicality as it barreled toward its conclusion. The bows danced over the strings with urgency, as Feldman’s entire body jolted and swayed with a triumphant gracefulness and fluidity. When the Symphony reached the grand flourish, there was moment of tension when no one knew whether the silence would be broken. The violinists sat poised with their bows ready on the strings. Then Feldman raised his arms, and the music began play again, softer but with just as much grace and just as beautiful to watch.