Berkshire Symphony pays tribute to late composers

Friday night, Chapin Hall was packed with members of the Williamstown community for the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra’s third performance of the year. The concert concluded a yearlong tribute to composers who passed away in 2009, this time honoring Lukas Foss with an inspiring performance of his Salomon Rossi Suite. Other pieces featured by the talented orchestra (led by conductor Ronald Feldman) included Robert Kyr’s Fanfare for a New Dawn, Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 and Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
The first piece, Fanfare for a New Dawn, was inspired by the beauty of Mount Hood during the summer months as viewed at dawn. The piece began quietly with low bass and a very faint melody in the brass, suggesting the darkness just before the dawn. However, as the piece progressed more and more instruments entered the mix, slowly building and brightening the sound as the sun rose and eventually crested the peak of the mountain in a moving climax heralded by three trumpets and a brass chorale.
Mozart composed the next piece of music, Symphony No. 36, in a stunningly brief four days during his stay with friends in the Austrian city of Linz. The first movement, entitled “Adagio – Allegro Spiritoso” (Slowly – Fast with Spirit) alternated between loud, strident passages and quiet, lilting melodies played in the strings and winds. The second movement, entitled “Andante” or “moderately slow,” was filled with warm, rich melodies from the upper strings and short, plucked notes in the bass. The third movement, “Menuetto,” evoked a waltz-like feel with its stately, slightly bouncy melody. The fourth movement, “Presto,” was light and quick, alternating between trilling notes in the upper strings and winds and responses from the low brass and strings. The Berkshire Symphony’s delicate and nuanced performance of this piece truly brought Mozart’s beautiful and hastily written composition to life.
After a short intermission, the symphony returned to the stage for the first of their two featured pieces for the night, Foss’s Salomon Rossi Suite. A professor, conductor and composer-in-residence, Foss’s compositions range from neo-classical to avant-garde. In his Salomon Rossi Suite, Foss reset pieces written by Rossi in the late 16th and early 17th century to modern instruments while ingeniously maintaining the original essence of the piece.
The first movement, “Moderato Con Moto,” began the piece with a slow and moving brass chorale leading into the second movement, “Allegro,” which featured a lively dialogue between the strings, brass and winds. In the third movement, “Andante,” all other instruments were silent as the harp and timpani performed a stately and beautiful duet echoing the traditional lute and drum. The fourth movement once again comprised a dialogue between winds, brass and selected strings. In the fifth movement, however, the strings spewed a quiet and tender melody alone. The piece was concluded with a bright and vivacious movement played by the entire ensemble. Though played by modern instruments, the piece retained its renaissance feel, and powerful performances from the many featured instruments kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Despite these stunning performances, for many members of the audience the best part of the concert was yet to come. Bartok wrote the final piece, Piano Concerto No. 3, on his deathbed in 1945. Although doctors at the time were unable to diagnose his illness, we know today that Bartok had leukemia. Concerned for his wife’s finances once he was gone, it is said that he composed this concerto as a piece which she could perform and collect royalties on after his death, and for this reason adopted a calmer, more lyrical style than he had in the past. The piece was performed by world-famous pianist Peter Serkin, who has played in countless world premieres and collaborated with many of the biggest names in music including Pamela Frank and Yo-Yo Ma.
In the first movement, “Allegretto,” the piano entered the piece with a jaunty but surprisingly simple melody that was repeated throughout the piece as it swelled and ebbed. In the second movement, “Adagio religioso,” the strings and piano created a slow, sweet dialogue before the orchestra exploded into motion. The second half of this movement, in which the piano played quick, sharp notes, is inspired by bird calls that Bartok heard while resting in the country. The third and final movement was lively and strong, comprised of a final theme repeated again and again. Serkin’s passion and professionalism made this concerto a truly thrilling end to the performance. As always, the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra gave a nuanced and enthralling performance not to be missed by any music enthusiast or adventurous Williams student.