The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra performed its spring concert last Friday night in Chapin Hall to a full house. The performance unveiled the world premiere of a piece by alum Laone Thekiso ’12, Kagisano. Along with Thekiso, the concert focused on showcasing the talents of the College with solo performances by Casey McLellan ’14 on percussion, Robert Yang ’15 on cello, Elaina Pullao ’15 singing mezzo-soprano and Patricia Ho ’16 on cello. The concert did a tremendous job of displaying the talented musicians of the College as well as the depth of the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra at large.
The concert opened with a piece by Edward Elgar that was added to the program in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred last Monday. The piece combined an undertone of sadness that quickly transitioned to a more joyful tone and eventually burst forth from the orchestra and filled Chapin Hall with the same spirit that has helped Boston to overcome the tragedies it has faced.
McLellan opened the program performing Joan Tower’s piece Strike Zones. The piece departed from the normal role of a percussionist and allowed McLellan to tell the audience a story through her tones. Her opening on the vibraphone created a dialogue between the percussion and the orchestra. McLellan continued to try to find the orchestra, switching among the drums, marimba, cymbals, snare drum and xylophone. The variety of percussion instruments demonstrated McLellan’s talent, as she effortlessly switched from one to the other. She ended the piece with a trio of castanets, and while McLellan remained on the stage, the two other castanets came from players stationed on the balcony adding to the sense of long distant discovery. While this piece broke from tradition, it was an excellent piece, especially with the control and talent of McLellan.
The second piece showcased Yang playing Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 IV. Allegro-Allegro ma non troppo. The cello conducted the sounds and direction of the orchestra. The fortepiano transitions added to the tension and the emotional depth that Yang translated to the audience. Yang showed tremendous talent and leadership in his solo.
Switching to a vocal performance, Pullao sang Gioacchino Rossini’s Una voce poco fa from “Il barbiere di Siviglia.” Pullao showed her extensive range in the piece, transitioning easily from high to low notes and lighting up the piece with her talent. Despite the audience’s language barrier, it was easy to feel Pullao’s emotion and understand the piece without knowing what the words meant. Pullao alternated from a joyous and near whimsical emotion to a beautiful melancholy piece.
The last piece featured Ho playing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, op. 107 I. Allegretto. Ho led the orchestra in the turbulent piece, which jumped from cello to orchestra in a tension building conversation. The ominous feelings in the piece allowed Ho to take control and dictate the movement. As a first-year, Ho truly mastered her role and kept the orchestra moving under her direction.
The world premiere of Thekiso’s Kagisano was a special moment of the night. A piece never before played for an audience, Kagisano mixed tension in the percussion section with a beautiful haunting quality in the orchestra. Thekiso wrote of his piece in the program that, “Kagisano is the result of a process of reconciliation required in facing the challenge of bringing together elements imported from three disparate musical traditions.” Combining classical, jazz and Zimbabwean marimba of the Shona tradition, Kagisano was a tremendous addition alongside the established artists of the other pieces.
The final piece of the night was a whimsical piece by Benjamin Britten titled The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Variations and Fugue on a scene of Purcell, Op. 34. The piece is an introduction to orchestra and incorporates a spoken dialogue to accompany the music. The dialogue explains the different parts of the orchestra from the winds section to the percussion. After the dialogue, the different sections played a robust tune that exemplified the power of the orchestra. The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra closed on an upbeat note with this very fun and educational piece.