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: 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!

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

REVIEW: The Halloween Concert

The best end to Halloweekend was surely seeing the Halloween concert at Hill Auditorium. The majestic venue of the event, the fervour of the audience ranging from babies to people who had seen the concert over 10 times (!) and of course the concert itself was a truly fun experience. I had the pleasure of going there with a few people who had performed in orchestras before and they asserted that this was one of the best orchestra performances they had seen. Very few other orchestras can compare to seeing musicians dressed in bunny costumes and peanut-butter Jelly sandwich suits perform.

Right from the music pamphlet to the way the performers entered the stage, all was done according to the holiday theme and there were no dull moments. Timed at a short and sweet 1-hour duration, the concert moves at a refreshing pace and keeps the audience captivated. I liked the selection of pieces that were performed and the mastery of the performers. As a newcomer to classical music seeing such a huge orchestra perform was exciting. It was hard to believe that all the music I heard came from just the orchestra. The power of the music was extraordinary and the sheer skill of the performers was awe-inspiring. It was beautiful to see all the performers bringing their skills together in harmony to create an experience for the audience. The hard work, talent, and coordination of the performers were a marvel.

The show “ended” with Rhapsody in Maize and Blue in a passionate Wolverine way but then we got the special traditional ending that wowed everyone (there was a dance break involved!).

This was about the Halloween concert’s 47th year and the cheering proved what a classic feast it is for the locals here. I would recommend everyone who is in Ann Arbor during Halloween to at least go once to see the Halloween concert to get a taste of this local Ann Arbor/University of Michigan tradition.

PREVIEW: The Halloween Concert

Happening on the very day itself, the Halloween Concert a 40+ years long Umich tradition features graduate conducting students who lead more than 125 costumed (Yes costumed!) musicians for a fun-filled, spooktacular concert.

I have heard about the Halloween concert for the last 2 years and I am overjoyed to finally attend it. It will have music for everyone to enjoy whether you are an orchestra nerd or a newcomer to classical music. If you don’t like attending orchestra concerts because of how formal they seem with their tuxedos and bow ties then seeing musicians dressed all goofy and silly will take the edge off. It is the only SMTD ticketed production that is open to kids of all ages so you know it’s an all-age favorite. 

You can also dress up to your heart’s desire for this event so you can take this as an opportunity to show off your Halloween spirit. In previous years the concert had funny skits to introduce musical pieces so you won’t only get to enjoy music, play dress up, see others in funny costumes but also see a funny skit or two. Doesn’t that sound like the best version of an orchestra concert?

Word on the grapevine is that the concert’s tickets are running out quickly! So grab you and your friends a good seat before it’s too late at: https://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/5200