REVIEW: The Philadelphia Orchestra

Call me biased, but one of the best parts of being a violinist has to be the concertos. They’re iconic, flashy, and for the musician playing, career-defining. The Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, in particular, has a special place in my heart, so I was delighted to hear that concertmaster David Kim would be performing it alongside the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Hill Auditorium in concert last Saturday evening. A quintessential staple of violin repertoire, the piece truly comes alive with the many different interpretations by its players.

Opening the concert, however, was a more avant-garde piece by contemporary composer Missy Mazzoli. The Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) sneaks in with a distinctly soft, grainy texture provided by violin and harmonica before expanding to bellowing slides in the lower strings. A mixture of serene and ominous, the composition gives off the impression of irregular, interfering sound waves to convey the vastness of space. Due to its unique instrumentation, they had to take some time to switch out quite a few instruments before the following concerto!

If I were to give one word to describe each movement of the Bruch, I would say intense, longing, and triumphant. However, what makes the concerto so compelling is the complexity of emotion that lies within each category. The violin enters the first movement with a subtle, unassuming G, before erupting into crisp double stops and finger gymnastics. The orchestral passages here, a textbook example of tension-building, are somehow just as attractive as the solo. David Kim’s version had an unmistakably sweet quality, which particularly shined when he got to the slower second movement. From the balcony, I had a great view of his precise bow control which allowed for both a timid, “held back” sound and an unhindered singing voice above the orchestra. In contrast, Kim’s third movement was light, clean, and playful despite the heaviness of all the chords. It was a pleasure to be able to hear in person.

Concluding the concert was Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major. I had never heard it before, but a particular amusing comment written by Doyle Armbrust of the Spektral Quartet in the program guided my listening: “Franz Schubert wanted to be an opera composer with all the desperation of a hollow-eyed film school grad shopping a script from his garden-level studio in Burbank. My take on him is that he would have been a lot like that one friend — you know, the one who appears to have taken up permanent residence on your couch, but is somehow redeemed by his charisma in conversation?”

The symphony interestingly begins with just horns. A lighthearted melody gets passed around the orchestra like a breath of fresh air—this is later bolstered by bass drum and big, operatic tuttis. Nathalie Stutzmann conducts with an infectious swagger, which I enjoyed watching here. My favorite movement was probably the second one, opening with a plucky oboe solo over a quirky, mysterious, tiptoeing base of strings and interrupted with sudden outbursts of emotion.

Overall, the concert program brought forth a lovely combination of familiar and unfamiliar sounds. As expected, the Philadelphia Orchestra did justice to these works!

REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof in Concert

Confession: I had never seen Fiddler on the Roof prior to attending what UMS called a “lightly-staged concert performance” of the iconic Broadway-musical-made film over the weekend. 

However, I quickly wished I did–the production was so clearly made with a communal love and passion that I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of easter eggs and small artistic decisions that I felt I was missing out on. Even from a newcomer’s perspective, I found the story to be easily relatable, the music heart-pumping and familiar, and the actors and dancers to be absolutely phenomenal.

As a violinist, I was immediately drawn in by the opening scene: a solo violinist leisurely traveling across the stage, a single dancer with outstretched arms following along with disjunct flowy movements, the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra nestled comfortably in the background. John Williams’ opening cadenza is plucky, sweet, and edgy, with an almost improvised quality. The violinist played it with the practiced ease of both a street performer and virtuoso, leaning into the music’s gratuitous slides and stringy texture.

Additionally, it was a pleasure to see SMTD students share the stage with Broadway singers Chuck Cooper and Loretta Ables Sayre. Ella Olesen, Kate Cummings, and Kelly Lomonte as Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava were charming and relatable as we got to watch them grow as characters. Chuck Cooper/Tevye’s interactions with his daughters were precious and sincere, while other times he easily commanded the stage with his character’s charisma and humorous asides. Furthermore, Diego Rodriguez and Christopher Tamayo as Motel Kamzoil and Perchik gave memorable performances as we were prompted to celebrate and sympathize with them throughout the story.

A highlight of the show I didn’t anticipate was the dancing. Only working with the sliver of stage available in front of the orchestra, the dancers launched themselves in tight spins and sharp, electrifying moves. A particular moment that stood out to me was the bottle dance during the wedding scene where the dancers linked arms and slid forward on their knees in giant, synchronized lunges whilst balancing bottles on their hats. It was ridiculously exciting. 

A beautiful collaboration between UM students and decorated professionals, Fiddler on the Roof in Concert was the production I didn’t know I needed to see. After this, I definitely plan to keep my eye out for future student theater productions!

REVIEW: Candlelight Concert

One perk of living on campus that I’ve often taken for granted is its sheer proximity to so many great music events. As a freshman living in the dorms, this proximity was made especially apparent when I was able to simply hop over next door to the Michigan Union last Saturday evening to check out the Candelight Concert—which to me, felt like a nice personal win. 

The concert featured 15 SMTD undergraduate piano students in what was a charming blend between a professional studio recital and a laid-back show-and-tell among friends. Each piece was prefaced with a quick blurb by the performer, introducing themselves with a hand-held mic and highlighting what bits of contextualization they felt were most pertinent to experiencing the music. To add to this casual intimacy, candles piled on top of the grand piano cast a warm glow on the performers’ faces as they played while even more candles lined the rows of chairs. Warm lighting typically helps to shrink the size of a room, but in combination with the extra tall ceilings of the Rogel Ballroom, created a stripped-back bubble of space. There was also a sizeable turnout—the majority of which was notably fellow students (something you don’t often see at classical concerts), which added to the welcoming atmosphere.

The program itself was designed to feel accessible to the general public, showcasing iconic classical pieces while mixing in a few less familiar ones. From a musician’s perspective, playing these widely recognized pieces is definitely a double-edged sword—they are much easier to scrutinize, and so many interpretations already exist that it is a daunting task to bring something new up to the table. However, I was pleasantly delighted by the performances of the night. Lesley Sung’s Moonlight Sonata opening was thoughtful and breathtaking, keeping the right hand triplets solid but not overpowering and leaning into the phrasing of the top melody line. Additionally, Aleks Shameti’s Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 no 2 exuded a graceful effortlessness—his dynamic control allowed for a pillow-soft left hand and a beautiful push and pull throughout the piece. Jacob Wang’s Tchaikovsky Andante Maestoso was complex and majestic, concluding the concert with huge waves of sound. 

Out of the pieces I wasn’t already familiar with, I truly enjoyed Sua Lee’s Schumann-Liszt Widmung. Her playing was bold and emotional with audible breaths between phrases, distinctly echoing the snippet of her personality I got through her introduction to the piece. Moving over to the jazz pieces, I felt that Eric Yu’s The Man I Love fit nicely into the atmosphere with rolling chords that filled the room like a warm bubble. I also loved Robert Yan’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow arrangement, which incorporated wispy, delicate Debussy-esque passages.

Overall, I thought the concert was a lovely experience. I’d like to congratulate all the performers and thank them for sharing their music!

PREVIEW: Candlelight Concert

As the weather continues to treat us with frigid temperatures and icy gray slush, warm yourself up at the Candlelight Concert this Saturday at 8:00 PM in the Michigan Union Rogel Ballroom!

An entirely student-led event, the concert will feature 15 undergraduate pianists performing iconic classical and jazz music. According to organizer Jacob Wang, they have amassed around 750 LED candles that will decorate the piano and aisles to bring guests a cozy visual experience. Additionally, any extra profits from the event will go towards the piano department for scholarships, maintenance, and projects.

With a special focus on making the concert accessible to students and the general public, the program will incorporate a variety of genres and well-known pieces. I always get excited when I see Romantic composers on the list, but I also look forward to hearing Gershwin’s The Man I Love and I’ve Got a Crush on You, as well as Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Plus, tickets are free for UM students! What are you waiting for?

Event info: https://events.umich.edu/event/91755

REVIEW: Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back by Pure Dance

Apparently, the dancers at Pure Dance had been busy last semester.

Their annual showcase took place last Sunday evening and featured nine stunning student-made choreographies complete with all the twirls, body rolls, and hair whips you could ask for. Furthermore, we were treated to a diverse range of guest performances by Salto, Gimble, FunKtion, Groove, Blue Bop Jazz, DB3, and Flowdom. Sitting in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, the energy of the crowd was close-knit and infectious–people were not shy about loudly cheering for their friends on stage. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the showcase’s theme coming in, but I found that they were able to present a really interesting curation of dances embodying “resurgence”… and dare I say sexiness?

My favorite number had to be Illusion of Bliss, which was impressively performed in black high heel boots. The contrast between the slow hard beats of the beginning section with these incredibly sensual movements backed by Alicia Keys’ soulful raspy voice and the ending section with the imagery of the dancers sinking to their knees in prayer as she sings “I don’t wanna be a fallen angel” told a compelling story. Meanwhile, Mad at You and War of Hearts approached the concept from a more modern/contemporary angle, with flowing cascades of movement. Like a Boy seemed to pull from old-school hip hop influences with sharp jutting elbows while Toxic had a high-energy hard rock edge such that the dancers were practically throwing themselves into poses.

I also thought the guest performers did an incredible job. Hip hop dance practice videos on Instagram are probably one of my guilty pleasures, so I loved FunKtion’s tight transitions and incorporation of humor as well as Flowdom’s clean hits and charisma. Plus, it was nice to see Blue Bop Jazz’s saxophones hyping each other up during their solos!

The final choreography was Bride, which created some beautiful visuals out of the entire ensemble. The dancers wore a pretty pastel/neutral color palette and had a continual flow of synchronized bodies passing on and off stage, which paired well with the bubbly hopeful music. As a goofy ending note, the showcase fittingly concluded with everyone dancing to Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack for the curtain call.

Congratulations to all the performers who were a part of the event! I look forward to seeing what Pure Dance will bring next.

PREVIEW: Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back by Pure Dance

I don’t typically frequent dance events, but with a name like “Resurgence: We’re Bringing Sexy Back,” I had to check this one out. 

Pure Dance is a student-run organization at the University of Michigan that welcomes dancers with a broad range of backgrounds. They will be hosting their annual showcase this Sunday, featuring member-choreographed dances and guest performances from an exciting mix of a capella, instrumental, and other dance groups.

Although I have long buried my childhood ballerina days, I am excited to see some of my friends perform on stage. Additionally, I look forward to getting to know some of the other performance groups on campus. While Pure Dance is known for doing contemporary and jazz dance styles, I have also been told to look out for ballet, hip hop, and K-pop!

Come support Pure Dance on Sunday, January 23rd at 6:00 pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater! Free tickets are available through this month’s Passport to the Arts.

Event info: myumi.ch/488My