Berkshire Symphony Orchestra celebrates 100 years of Chapin Hall

The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra (BSO), led by Artist in Residence and Director of Instrumental Activities Ronald Feldman, presented its first concert of the year on Friday in front of a full house in Chapin Hall. This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the dedication of Chapin Hall, which is the longtime home of the BSO; for the occasion, the ensemble presented a varied program of five pieces, spanning three centuries in time.

The first piece, Every Day Blues, was written by Clay Artist in Residence and Director of Jazz Activities Andy Jaffe. Jaffe wrote the piece to honor the memory of the late Ernest Brown, who was a music professor at the College for many years. Brown founded Kusika and the Zambezi Marimba Band at the College and played a huge role in bringing world music and particularly African music to the College and the Berkshire area. The department will honor his memory throughout the upcoming year with the Ernest Brown World Music Concert Series, which begins on Nov. 18 with a concert by Gamelan Galak Tika. It seemed fitting for the BSO to start its season by honoring the memory of such an influential colleague, as Jaffe constructed the piece around Brown’s initials, EDB, and used them for the title.

The second piece was also a world premiere by a living composer, as the orchestra presented Robert Kyr’s Double Concerto: Winds of Change for flute and clarinet. Kyr is a prolific composer and professor at the University of Oregon, and his works focus on peacemaking and the environment. The concerto featured two longtime soloists and faculty members at the College: Artist Associate Floyd Hebert on flute and Artist Associate Susan Martula on clarinet. The theme of peace was evident both visually and aurally, as the first movement of the concerto paired each soloist with half the orchestra. Hebert stood to Feldman’s left and was supported by the higher orchestral instruments, while Martula stood to Feldman’s right with the lower instruments. The soloists rarely played together, as the music kept switching between the mini-ensembles. The effect was that of a slightly disjointed argument between two groups, as would be expected from a movement titled “Dialogue of Opposition.” The subsequent two movements, “Dialogue of Discovery” and “Dialogue of Understanding” brought the orchestra back together, although the soloists remained separated. The unified ensemble represented an onstage reconciliation which culminated  in an uplifting, full final cadence.

The second half of the concert began with John Cage’s 4’33”. Cage was an avant-garde composer known for his contributions to chance music, prepared piano and new harmonic techniques, and 4’33” is perhaps his most famous composition. It consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence and can be performed by an ensemble of any size. The “music” consists of the ambient noise the audience creates during the performance, so no two performances are alike. This performance was marked by numerous chirps from digital watches throughout the audience, most likely from overeager first-time audience members. The piece has been controversial from its first performance, and its status as “music” has been widely debated. The orchestra sat still for the duration of the piece, with cues from Feldman marking the start of each of the three movements (which are timed at 30 seconds, two minutes and 23 seconds and one minute and 40 seconds).

The orchestra then played a march from Carl Maria von Weber’s incidental music for “Turandot,” a short piece designed to give context for the final piece of the evening, Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria Von Weber. The second movement drew on the march, while the other three movements took themes from Weber’s four-hand piano music. Hindemith did not think that the material he chose represented Weber’s best work, and so he altered it freely to work for his own purposes. Thus, his work truly represented a significant metamorphosis, and the “themes” are less immediately apparent than they could be. The work opens with a vigorous “Allegro,” which transitions to the “Turandot” and then to an “Andantino” in six-eight time (for which Feldman conducted without baton). The piece ends with a powerful “March,” which provided a satisfying conclusion to the concert.

The BSO is off until March, when they will play Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in collaboration with the theater and dance departments. They will play again in April for the annual student soloist competition.

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