SymphWinds joins Student Symphony to wow crowd

Saturday night, the Student Symphony and Symphonic Winds came together in a concert entitled “Music for Strings, Percussion, Band and the Brave.” While Chapin was not quite full to capacity, SymphWinds conductor Chaz Lee ’11 did note that it was one of the largest audiences SymphWinds has had in a while. Those who picked this performance over other campus events that night were treated to a diverse program led by Lee and Student Symphony conductors Jacob Walls ’11 and Dan Kohane ’12.
Student Symphony took the first half of the program, kicking things off with 20th-century composer Witold Lutoslawski’s Dance Preludes for clarinet and orchestra. Led by clarinetist Akemi Ueda ’11, who gave a strong, compelling performance, the piece showcased the versatility of the clarinet. While this piece is much tamer than some of Lutoslawski’s later works, it fit the orchestra’s personnel quite well, and the varied tempos and colors made for an enjoyable experience.
The ubiquitous Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (of Suzuki Book 4 fame) was next. Leo Brown ’11 and Noah Fields ’11 were the soloists. The Baroque harmony was a sharp contrast to the modernity of the previous piece, but it proved to be a seamless transition for the orchestra. The soloists were commanding presences, flanking Walls at the front of the stage, and although Fields is primarily a violist, he seemed completely comfortable with the smaller instrument.
Next up was the second part of the composition thesis of Rob Pasternak ’11. Pasternak, mainly a jazz pianist, was returning to his roots by composing a classical piano concerto, on which he was featured as the soloist. The composer’s program observed that it was his first composition for orchestra, but that would not have been apparent to the average listener. The first movement was a conventional sonata form in G minor. Pasternak described it as “a mixture of drama and humor, overt expression and introversion,” and in that way it evoked comparison to the “Opening Credits” of the first part of his thesis, Cinematic Suite for the  College’s Jazz Band. The second movement was definitely more experimental, while the third movement marked a return to the more traditional techniques seen in the opening. The last movement also featured three long solo improvisation sections, on which Pasternak showcased the full extent of his ability on the Bösendorfer.
The next piece was a sextet from Mozart’s well-known opera Don Giovanni. It featured student soloists Lucas Bruton ’11, Doug Ballanco ’13 and Lee along with Voice Studio Instructor Erin Nafziger, Maki Matsui ’10 and Gwen Tunnicliffe, a first-year at Bennington College. The piece was a departure from the previous selections in that most of the attention was focused on the singers, which was refreshing and a good way to mark the halfway point of the concert. All six soloists played their parts convincingly, and the students more than held their own.
No SymphWinds concert is complete without some Louis Andriessen, but on this occasion it was the Student Symphony that performed his Hymne on the memory of Darius Milhaud. Milhaud was a French composer who was part of “Les Six,” an influential group of six composers working out of Paris in the mid-1900s. The piece was written for the Orkest de Volharding, an ensemble founded by Andriessen in 1971, an “anti-orchestra” that, according to Walls’ program notes, “did away with conductors and brought down the divisions between the composing, performing and consumption of music.” Ironically, the Student Symphony performed an orchestral arrangement of this piece, conducted by Walls. Although it was not how the composer originally envisioned it, the ensemble did not disappoint.
SymphWinds took the stage next, performing Arid Landsi, a piece by Laone Thekiso ’12. It is the fourth in a series of works commissioned by the late Steven Bodner to be written by a junior in the ensemble for seniors in the ensemble. The piece featured the string quartet of Joshua Rim ’11 and Brown on violin, Fields on viola and Adam Lee ’11 on cello. The slightly unconventional juxtaposition of wind ensemble and string quartet worked well, allowing for a variety of textures, and Thekiso’s desire to “bring forth images of the desert” was certainly realized.
The last piece on the program was written by American composer Warren Benson and was titled “Dawn’s Early Light.” SymphWinds had performed this piece five years ago, shortly after the composer’s death, in a program titled Meditations on Death and Life: in darkness, there is light. A portion of Bodner’s program notes from that concert were reprinted to go along with Lee’s notes, and in the aftermath of our recent loss, Bodner’s words resonated even more. The piece told the story of a traditional New Orleans funeral where the funeral march is followed by lighthearted jazz as mourners leave, encouraging people to “cast off their sadness” and once again be happy. The piece itself started with a tentative swing that grew into a chorus and a climax leading into the dirge. The recessional then came out of nowhere, erupting into a wall of sound that filled the hall. The attitude of finding joy again after a death resonated particularly strongly in the wake of our recent loss, and it was a thought-provoking, introspective end to the concert.
After the final note was played, Lee and Walls carried on the tradition of recognizing seniors in the ensemble, presenting each with a personalized CD from Bodner’s collection. It was a pleasure to hear these ensembles for their final concert of the year, and both groups showed great promise for the future.