Last Friday marked yet another fine evening of music in the College’s Chapin Hall, as the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra held its illustrious Soloist Gala, the final concert of the season. This year, the gala concert, a favorite amongst students, faculty and community members, featured works from composers of all different styles and flair, from Rachmaninov to Bernstein. Led by Andrew Massey, conductor of the Middlebury Orchestra, the soloists and the Berkshire Symphony dazzled the audience with a collection of riveting music, theatrics and surprises.
The concert began with the captivating performance of Joyce Lee ’17 of the first movement of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor. Through the dexterity of her hands and the clarity of her playing, Lee was able demonstrate her virtuosic prowess over this concerto. The piano’s haunting introduction, with its series of bell-like tolls, intensified until Lee led the orchestra into the piece with the concerto’s famed theme. What followed next was a colorful display of Lee’s agile fingers, as she worked her way through a series of rapid, oscillating arpeggios and sweeping runs, punctuated by Rachmaninov’s signature heart-wrenching melodies. The increasing tension between agitation and romance culminated with a recapitulation of the theme in a march-like style. After a descending chromatic passage concluded with an eerie French horn solo, Lee finished the movement with an electrifying end.
Following the Rachmaninov was the world-premiere of orchestral composition Memorabilia by Sato Matsui ’14. What started off as a playful exchange within the orchestra, accompanied by sprite-like pizzicato and jaunty woodwind solos, soon became a turbulent storm of clashing themes with surging crescendos that built up to a jubilant ending reminiscent of the end of Modest Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev. Inspired by her inclination to implant her fond memories onto found, inanimate objects, Memorabilia carried a sense of nostalgia that seemed to channel many of the various memories Matsui had in mind when arranging this composition.
Third on the program was Romanian composer George Enescu’s Concertpiece for Viola and Orchestra, performed by Lysander Jaffe ’14. Jaffe’s performance of the underrated viola piece was bold and confident. The viola’s opening theme was one of considerable nobility; with its deep and rich tones, the exposition was almost bucolic in nature. The theme gradually grew with rhapsodic development and impassioned energy, replete with full-bodied double-stops. The piece soon became increasingly cadenza-like, with its escalating speed and technicalities. The turbulence ended shortly, however, and resolved in a fine coda that was both spirited and gratifying. The most impressive part of Enescu’s Concertpiece, however, was the constant amount of virtuosity the piece demanded of
the violist. Seldom did Jaffe ever stop to take a rest from his playing. In fact, the intensity of Jaffe’s playing caused his bridge to collapse. Unfazed by this surprise, Jaffe continued his performance by borrowing his fellow violist and teacher Ah Ling Neu’s instrument. “He played virtuosically and triumphed even though his instrument crumbled in his hands,” Massey said of the shocking event. Departing from the austerity of the former pieces, Claire Leyden ’16 provided a rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s “Glitter and Be Gay” from his opera Candide, bringing the delightful taste of whimsy and humor into Chapin Hall. Full of theatrics and comical gestures, Leyden’s portrayal of the pleasure-loving and pampered Cunégonde was both humorous and superb. She demonstrated complete control over her voice, reaching every stratospheric E-flat and smoothly executing the florid and meandering passages. Leyden’s natural stage presence and satirical theatricality, furthermore, allowed her to engage with her audience, convincing them that she truly was a vain and materialistic woman. Leyden’s performance was the perfect palette cleanser before Antonin Dvořák’s dense and exhilarating Symphony no. 7 in D minor.
The gala concluded with the Berkshire Symphony taking the stage to perform what many consider to be Dvořák’s finest symphony. His seventh symphony carries a style similar to Brahms or Schubert, as this was one of Dvořák’s first departures from his distinctive jaunty, folk theme-filled melodies. The symphony consists of themes that follow a more somber and tragic disposition. While the piece is mostly written in the tormented and dark key of D minor, the final movement ultimately ended in the exhilarating key of D major, lifting the audience to their feet. The Berkshire Symphony’s rendition of Dvořák’s seventh symphony, along with the preceding four performances, was gripping and passionate, displaying the wonderful technique and vitality of musical talent that the College has to offer.