REVIEW: A MoodSwing Reunion

I believe this is the first time I have been to a live jazz performance. It was AMAZING.

The jazz ride the MoodSwing took the audience at the hill auditorium was a one with graceful arches, twists and turns. The night’s performance starred Joshua Redman on Saxophones, Christian McBride on bass, Brian Blade on drums, and Sullivan Fortner on the piano. These four amazingly talented musicians did not let one theme restrict them for the 90-minute show. Each piece had different moods: the vibe of the music went from cheerful, dramatic, beautiful, to playful. I used to think that jazz has a lively, humorous vibe in the background as a default. However, tonight I heard a piece that was so graceful and beautiful that it felt as though the stars were shimmering down and a one that was really serious, dramatic, and heroic. It was a discovery of jazz’s diversity and now I’m eager to dive more into the genre. If you turn the most unpronounceable, subtle emotions to music, that would be jazz. It was amazing how the musicians expressed such different shades of atmosphere with the same instruments.

I also really loved how the leading role switched from Saxophones, drums, and pianos, to the bass. I really appreciated the moment when the bass was leading, because that does not happens a lot in modern pop or rock music. Christian McBride amazed the crowd with some playful but precise shreds(with the bass! yes!). While he was at it, Sullivan at the piano was observing him and chimed in with a few notes at the curves that supported the bass sound beautifully to make the music even fuller. It was so interesting to see how the musicians were interacting and compromising while the tune is going – the risk and impulse coming from the fact that the interaction was happening live definitely made the performance thrilling and attention-grabbing. Seeing the live chemistry between the musicians definitely made the 90-minute running time feel short. If you want to explore music without the lyrics but classic does not draw your attention just yet, try going to a jazz concert. Because the emotion in the performance is more dramatic and clearly spelled out in jazz compared to classic concerts, and also because you can easily notice the different phases of music with the shift of leadership and roles between the instruments, jazz will be an easier starting point to the love for instrumental music.

PREVIEW: A Moodswing Reunion

Do You like Jazz? I do. I liked it even before I watched Disney-Pixar’s lovely appraisal for it.

I like jazz, first of its sound. It has playful, jolly, yet emotional edges and curves in its tunes. Also, the harmony between the drum, saxophone, piano, and guitar just seems to be enough. They compliment each other so well. If I think one step down the musical appreciation, I love jazz because of its freedom. Its impromptu-ness makes the musicians take the risk and discover the sound that is only present on stage. It’s always a magical, thrilling ride to see how things could go in harmony.

If there are any more jazz lovers out there, you are in luck-a interesting, the reunited crew is coming to Hill auditorium, Ann Arbor this Thursday(April 21st, 7:30 pm). It will be starring:

Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone
Brad Mehldau, piano
Christian McBride, bass
Brian Blade, drums

This group that released its album, MoodSwing, back in 1994 is reuniting again after the change of the century. This will be a great goodbye to this semester!

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: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

One of the best parts of living in Ann Arbor is its many performance venues, which draw performers and artists from around the world. I’ve been a fan of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since high school when I myself played in jazz bands, and it’s been a treat to be a student with such easy access to concerts such as JLCO’s nearly annual appearances. This Sunday, I took my seat in the packed Hill Auditorium and waited with anticipation for this year’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra experience.

Holiday music, at least the popularized songs I always heard on the radio as a kid, are rooted in the big band and swing style, evoking a certain kind of nostalgia when hearing familiar tunes. But that’s exactly what jazz happens to be, a musical oral history passed down from those who came before. Trumpet player and co-director Wynton Marsalis embodied this with his in-between-song banter, telling stories of the legendary jazz musicians and the rich histories of the popular songs we often take for granted.

JLCO was joined by jazz vocalist Alita Moses, who dazzled the audience with her smooth, warm vocals and joyful stage presence. Moses led the band in the spiritual “Mary Had a Baby,” showcasing her beautiful, crystal-clear voice and also giving the band a chance to sing some, too. I thoroughly enjoyed a Coltrane-inspired arrangement of “My Favorite Things,” where a saxophone section completely comprised of soprano saxes each took a whirl at solos, and a killer piano solo had me laughing in my seat. Near the end of the performance, a more emotional moment came when the band debuted a new piece composed by co-director Marcus Printup titled “I’m Still Here This Christmas,” written in memory of those we have lost in the past few years in the pandemic.

With true Michigan spirit, Wynton Marsalis opened the performance with talking about the OSU game, and ended it by quoting “The Victors” in a solo during an arrangement of “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” One of the things I love most about jazz is the beautiful spontaneity of it, creating moments like that which carry and twist lines of music like a private joke.

I left feeling happy, warm, and in the holiday spirit, cheered by the energetic, danceable swing of their Big Band Holidays music.

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!

PREVIEW: Campus Symphony Orchestra & Campus Philharmonia Orchestra

As a self-proclaimed music nerd and lover of free things, I did not require much convincing to carve a space for the Campus Symphony Orchestra & Campus Philharmonia Orchestra’s end of the semester performance in my calendar. Plus, I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my lonely Wednesday nights一the times my roommate is all the way in North Campus for CSO rehearsals. 

The performance will feature two full-length concert programs played by each of the ensembles back to back. In my opinion, some of the pieces to look out for are the Campus Philharmonia Orchestra’s Beethoven Symphony No. 7, mvt. 2, and the Campus Symphony Orchestra’s finale Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor. However, the concert will also incorporate many pieces by less familiar composers such as Chad “Sir Wick” Hughes, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Pietro Mascagni that are bound to be refreshing to listen to.

Come to the Hill Auditorium this Sunday, Nov. 14, at 8:00 pm to experience two great concert programs一all for the price of none! 

Event info: https://smtd.umich.edu/performances-events/events/event/?id=13942