Student talents play in a sea of symphonic melody

On Sunday afternoon, the Williams Student Symphony filled Chapin Hall with an eclectic mix of music inspired by the sea. The symphony is comprised and run solely by students and co-conducted by Teng Jian Khoo ’09 and Leo Brown ’11, who each conducted two pieces and played violin for the other two.

The performance was named Saluting the Sea for its four water-themed pieces. Brown commented that he and Khoo created a program meant to be “diverse – Each piece showcased both a particular facet of the classical repertoire as well as various strengths of the orchestra.”

The first piece, called Water Music by George Frideric Handel, was composed for the British Court and therefore very traditional. The piece was once performed three consecutive times for King George of England by his court musicians as he floated down the Thames on a barge. Both work and performance were commissioned by the King to curry favor among his constituency.

Next came the second piece, selections from Sports en Divertissements by Erik Satie, arranged by Brian Simalchik ’10. Every movement coincided with a fanciful French text, each read prior to the music by Michaela Morton ’12. The translations written in the program came off as rather arbitrary and strange. The movement titled “Sea Bathing,” for example, read: “The ocean is wide, Madame. Anyway, it’s quite deep. Don’t sit down at the bottom. It’s very damp. Here are some good old waves. They are full of water. You are all wet!” The music was erratic and felt both whimsical and foreboding.

The third piece, The Yellow River Piano Concerto by Xian Xinghai, featured Gary Jin ’10 in an incredibly impressive piano performance. The music emoted both the nurturing and antagonistic forces of China’s Yellow River, known as both the “cradle of the Chinese civilization” for its early settlements and “China’s Sorrow” for its terrible flooding. The concerto was my favorite because I especially enjoyed the emotional, ballad-like quality of the movements.

The fourth piece, Overture Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt, or Calm Sea and Prosperous Journey, evoked both the torment of sailors faced with calm seas and no wind as well as the satisfaction and liberation they feel when the wind starts up again. The program described how each note can “offer teasing hints of breezes and motion before it recedes once more to a static chord, over which the flute mimics a bosun’s call.” The piece ended on an optimistic note, signifying the ship’s arrival to land.

With its latest performance, the Williams Student Symphony carried out an impressive and gratifying feat. Of the process, Khoo said, “My main goal in conducting has always been to infuse the performance with the appropriate spirit and only then to add polish. It’s a testament to the orchestra that we’ve managed to achieve a good amount of both.” Through the mix of traditional and non-traditional pieces from time periods ranging from the 18th to the 20th century, the performance proved innovative and exciting. According to Brown, he and Khoo have to “remind the group from time to time that the Student Symphony experience is about the journey, not the destination, though ideally we will all arrive at the destination simultaneously and in tune.” The students clearly achieved their goal in a performance that reminded the audience of the beauty and variation of orchestral music this weekend.