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: 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:

REVIEW: Jader & Hilary Hahn with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Home to the fourth oldest orchestra in the United States, Orchestra Hall is truly a magnificent venue. December turned out to be the perfect time to visit, as the holiday-themed pine garlands and twinkling string lights in the lobbies paired beautifully with the red carpets and warm lighting to evoke the Christmas spirit. As a testament to Hilary Hahn’s influence and outreach work, I noticed that the audience had a notably larger proportion of younger attendees than what one would typically find at a symphony concert—including me and my four friends, of course. I found it funny when one friendly usher asked which one of us was “the violin player of the group,” and we all raised our hands. 

The DSO opened the concert with Bedrich Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride, a bright, vivacious piece full of moving notes and striking dynamic changes. Still groggy from the trip from Ann Arbor, I found the piece was a great opener to sit back, build excitement, and appreciate the crisp acoustics of the hall.

Next, Hilary Hahn took to the stage to perform the Dvorak Violin Concerto in A minor. Distinctly contrasting with the previous piece, the concerto featured a dramatic introduction that showcased Hahn’s virtuosity—namely some pitch-perfect runs climbing up the fingerboard and ending with her insanely powerful fourth finger vibrato. I was amazed by how clearly her sound projected over the orchestra to our seats in the balcony. The second movement took on a more somber tone, with a dark-yet-sweet melody echoed by the flutes. Meanwhile, the final movement was clean and bright, playing with a delicate, bell-like motif introduced by the soloist at its beginning. Cue the standing ovation. 

Going off the program, Hahn took some time to say a few heartfelt words about the recent tragedy at Oxford High School and dedicated a solo piece she often plays alone when thinking through things. In this new context, the unaccompanied Bach Sonata for Violin Solo No. 2 in A minor, Andante adopted a whole new depth of emotion. In that hushed room packed with hundreds of people, the longing, sustained melodic line sung over an underlying current of pulses, like a heartbeat. 

After intermission, the DSO performed what is probably Smetana’s well-known piece, The Moldau No. 2 from Má vlast. The piece took the audience on a journey along a great river of the same name running through Czechoslovakia, featuring flowing lines to illustrate the intermingling of hot and cold water over the natural landscape. 

To conclude the concert, the orchestra played Symphony No. 3 in C minor composed by Florence Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. Jader Bignamini, the conductor, noted the importance of playing such underrepresented works that deserve to stand amongst iconic orchestral repertoire. An exhilarating mixture of warm melodies, jazzy-ragtime rhythms, and big brassy sections, the piece was truly refreshing to listen to.  

As expected, Hilary Hahn and the DSO delivered an excellent performance. I look forward to future visits to Orchestra Hall while I’m at UMich!

PREVIEW: Takács Quartet with Julien Labro

Having performed with UMS since 1984, the Takács Quartet returns once again with bandoneón virtuoso Julien Labro to bring sensational new sounds to Rackham Auditorium. The program is truly a culmination of musical experimentation and collaboration in the face of the pandemic, featuring world premieres of UMS-commissioned pieces through the Music Accord by Clarice Assad and Bryce Dessner, Ravel’s String Quartet, and a solo set by Labro. 

Violinist Harumi Rhodes shares in the UMS Connect video series: “I think it’s kind of cool how a program can have so many different sides to it, like a kaleidoscope. There’s so many twists and turns and beautiful gems in there, and it’s that kind of holistic approach that makes this kind of programming fun.”

Personally, I find the opportunity to witness the expansion of modern repertoire to be incredibly special一the world of music is an ever-changing environment that is very much alive and growing, despite the emphasis on older works. Additionally, I am very excited to see Labro as a soloist and how he merges with the ensemble. While I have listened to bandoneón recordings while studying works by Piazzolla (an iconic Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player) arranged for piano and violin, this will be my first time hearing the beautiful instrument live.

Come see the Takács Quartet with Julien Labro this Friday, December 3rd at 8 PM at the Rackham Auditorium!

REVIEW: Campus Symphony Orchestra & Campus Philharmonia Orchestra

Amid the stresses of midterm season一because, let’s be real, it’s never truly confined within a “midterm week”一I did not anticipate the restorative effects of spending a couple of hours in the cushy seats of Hill Auditorium, bathed in ringing live music and the warm glow of stage lights. The Campus Symphony and Campus Philharmonia Orchestras, made up of non-music major students, performed a delightful fall concert last Sunday night. Despite it being my first orchestral concert here, having friends scattered around in the audience and on stage gave the performance a very welcoming, intimate feel. 

The Campus Philharmonia Orchestra opened the concert with a bold, contemporary piece by Chad “Sir Wick” Hughes. Visions of a Renaissance featured many quirky textural elements, blurry meter changes, and grand melodic lines that came together to paint quick snapshots of a chaotic bustling city. As a first-time listen, the piece is shocking and confusing. However, I find that the charm of contemporary music is that you fall more in love with each piece with every listen.

Next, we were rewarded with the familiar haunting introduction to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 2nd movement. The lower strings did an excellent job of establishing the rumbling warm, ominous motif for the violins to glide over. However, playing such a widely known piece also comes with high expectations一I couldn’t help but wish for some more delicate phrasing in the exposed melody. 

CPO’s third piece, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances Op. 46, No. 2, was dark, lively, and distinctly nationalistic. Ensemble-wise, the performance was very cohesive and had a lovely push-and-pull of tempo and dynamics throughout.

The final piece, Edward German’s Three Dances from Henry VIII, was a refreshing conclusion to follow the richness of the previous pieces. Morris Dance featured a march-like drum with a crisp melody weaving through the beats, while Shepherd’s Dance felt more playful with light bass drum pulses throughout. The final movement, Torch Dance, was busy, intense, and filled with tension.

After a brief intermission, the Campus Symphony Orchestra took to the stage with the silky cinematic tones of “Overture” from The Song of Hiawatha. The piece opened with a beautiful harp solo accompanied by soft strings and transitioned into a plush, longing motif that traveled around the orchestra. From my view from the audience, I immediately noticed how every single violinist swayed together to the music.

Following this was Pietro Mascagni’s “Intermezzo” from Cavalleria Rusticana一another pretty piece showing off the ensemble’s lavish tone and phrasing. The introduction was soft, delicate, and purely strings. Soon enough, the woodwinds snuck in echoing the violins, and the low rumble of the basses blended in very nicely. 

Finally, we arrived at the part of the concert I was most excited about: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor. A feat of musical stamina, the four-movement work was excellently executed and a sound to behold. Some of my favorite highlights were the soaring violin melody in the first movement and the bold, triumphant fourth movement. If you are unfamiliar with the piece, you should definitely give it a listen during your next study session. I also have to commend the soloist for the famous horn solo at the beginning of the second movement. After the final note, the audience immediately launched into a well-deserved standing ovation一though I wished they allowed some time for the last sound to ring!

Again, I’d like to congratulate all the soloists and musicians for their wonderful performance on Sunday. I recommend everyone to come to support them at next semester’s concert!