Student soloists headline concert

The Berkshire Symphony gave its last performance of the year on Friday evening, featuring the winners of the music department’s soloist competition and the premiere of a student composition. Although the individual winners were clearly the focus of the program, the orchestra was also given a chance to shine at the end of the night with the hilarious whirlwind of the “Enigma Variations.”

Pianist Joo-Hee Suh ’03 opened the concert with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which holds the unusual distinction of being an experimental composition that met with both popular and critical appeal from the moment of its debut.

Deftly integrating the playful sounds of jazz into a traditional orchestral form, Gershwin produced one of classical music’s most identifiable compositions. Indeed, “Rhapsody” has been featured in everything from United Airlines commercials to Disney’s “Fantasia 2000.”

With the piano front and center, the Chapin stage was jam-packed with musicians. Suh’s intensity and technical ability were evident even from the very back of the hall. Her concentration was unmistakable, as was her understanding of Gershwin’s lively sense of imagination. Gershwin’s piano compositions feature the same whimsy utilized by Debussy. As the piece came to a close, the musical conversation between the piano and the orchestra became stronger and stronger.

The second soloist was cellist Noah Capurso ’05, who performed “Elegie” by Gabriel Fauré. Originally written as a duet for cello and piano, Fauré orchestrated the piano part in response to popular demand. The piece began slowly, with a single solemn chord repeated by the orchestra. At Capurso’s entrance, however, the cello immediately took command of the music, its long, sweeping notes dictating the pace and mood of the orchestra’s accompaniment. The ensemble reflected Fauré’s rich sadness, fading dolorously to silence at the end.

Matthew Resseger ’05 was the next soloist to take the stage, leading the audience through the melodies of “Oboe Concerto” by Richard Strauss. Rarely is the oboe the centerpiece for the entirety of an orchestral composition; Resseger took full advantage of the opportunities provided by Strauss to explore the breadth and depth of the oboe’s capabilities. At its best moments, “Oboe Concerto” evokes the romance of Strauss’s better-known operas, the tone of the instrument mirroring the lyrical qualities of a human voice.

The melancholic dissonances of “The Devil Waits at Dusk” by Matt Swan ’03 followed the charming melodies of Resseger’s oboe. To Swan, the title is a metaphor for the process of composition, “a sort of sparring of intent and intuition, in which the music sometimes begins to suggest its own inevitable consequences.” The piece began with slow, deliberate notes in the bass and cello lines, then added the violins. The raw quality of the sound allowed the instruments to have minds of their own, their slides and screeches both forceful and eerie. In the closing moments, the music returned to its first theme, replaying the pattern like the echo of nightmare in search of resolution.

Ian Warrington ’03, the last of the soloists, performed “Violin Concerto No. 2” by Henryk Wieniawski. Wieniawski was one of the most renowned virtuosos of his day in Europe, hailed for his brilliant performances but critiqued for his untraditional technique. “Concerto No. 2” was a fitting showcase for Warrington’s abilities; at times frenetic, at times lovely and sweet, the piece demands both technical agility and emotional fluency. A protracted orchestral introduction built up suspense for Warrington’s entrance; he took the spotlight and led the audience on a romanticized trek through the expressive range of the violin.

The highly entertaining “Enigma Variations” brought the Berkshire Symphony’s 58th season to a fitting close. Composed by Edward Elgar, a self-taught British musician, “Enigma” is a series of 14 variations constructed on a single theme. Each variation is a brief vignette with insight into the personality of one of Elgar’s friends, leaving ample room for mockery and wit.

Because each variation was only several minutes long, the composition resembled the pace and organization of a modern album rather than the more traditional classical model in which each melodic idea is visited with great depth.

Overall, the evening provided an appropriate showcase for the talents of the soloist competition’s winners and engaged the audience with its varied program, holding their attention until the last notes.