Soloists shine in Symphony

The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra, directed by Ronald Feldman, gave a concert to a full house in Chapin Hall last Friday that featured the four student winners of the Berkshire Student Symphony Soloist Competition: Noah Fields ’11, Holly Fisher ’13, Jingyi Liu ’14 and Madura Watanagase ’12, as well as Jacob Walls ’11 conducting Passionate Armistice.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture as performed by the Berkshire Symphony and directed by student conductor Fields. As the melody peaked and valleyed, intensified and subdued and tumbled through what seemed like endless crescendos, each instrumental section was, well, instrumental in making the classic Beethoven piece not only thrive onstage but also ring out powerfully within each recess of the high-ceilinged hall.
Fields was both excellent and confident at the fore of the stage. In fact, Fields’ excellence and confidence were so in sync that it was impossible to tell which one inspired the other. Regardless, the flowers he was awarded after the performance were definitely more than well-deserved.
Following the opening performance, Liu joined the Symphony for a flute rendition of Aram Khachaturian’s Concerto in D Minor, transcribed by Jean-Pierre Rampal for flute. Liu treated the audience to a performance similar to that which she executed during the earlier soloist competition. Her graceful contribution to the score meshed perfectly with the orchestra’s bold tones, and their teamwork often took the form of call-and-response.
Liu embarked on a semi-solo that was characterized by a sweet, slightly jazzy interlude. Then followed her first actual solo of the night, in which the flautist was calm and careful, playing the gentle tune that I’d come to associate with her since Liu performed the piece during the soloist competition back in February. It was certainly energizing to witness the same tune carried out not only through Liu’s eloquence, but through the Symphony’s tenacious force. As she entered her second solo, Liu’s increase in confidence and poise were evident. She piped quick streams of notes and, in her comfort onstage, explored her instrument before the otherwise silent Chapin Hall.
Fisher explored a different instrument onstage: her own voice. Belting out a soprano rendition of Mozart’s Voi avete un cor fedele, Fisher matched the Symphony with every note, sometimes even seeming to lead the group along with the conductor’s baton. Mirroring the talents she exhibited at the soloist competition, Fisher again executed fantastic expression, at one point spiraling with the orchestra through an intense crescendo and then leading seamlessly into a careful and articulate vocal recitation.
Toward the end of the piece, both Fisher and the Symphony paused, then segued into a repetition of some of the song’s earlier, slower chords before racing along with the instrumentalists to a strong conclusion.
Next followed Walls, who conducted the orchestra in a colorful performance of his own composition, Passionate Armistice. Walls’ display was by far the most vibrant and varied of the night, nodding toward an array including the xylophone, horn section, castanets and drums and bells in addition to the oft-heard string section. The piece settled into more low-key pace and the strings came in strong, introducing a stunning symbol crash that invited what sounded like classical car chase, the score ending in a sudden, cliff-hanger conclusion just before intermission.
The second segment of the concert featured Watanagase on the piano, delivering a skilled version of Camille Saint-Saens’ Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. Unlike the other performances, this one began with a gently-trickling solo by Watanagase. As her speed increased, hands flying across the keys, Watanagase gave new meaning to “tickling” the ivories. Much of this piece was tranquil and packed an easy ebb and flow, but occasionally both the symphony and Watanagase indulged in a few starbursts of sound.
Fields again took the stage for the final student performance of the night, Paul Hindemith’s Trauermusik (Music of Mourning) on the viola. This piece stuck out as a soft and subtle contrast to the heavier sounds heard earlier through the majority of the concert. Fields was again resolute and confident onstage, playing a placid piece that contained little conflict within its notes, quite a far departure from Walls’ composition. Additionally, Fields’ second performance seemed far briefer than any other of the night, but, as the grounds outside Chapin were enveloped in a deeper darkness, the piece served as an appropriate farewell to the Friday night audience.