Review: University Symphony Orchestra Concert

It was a wonderful concert. It goes without saying that the University Symphony Orchestra performed beautifully last night, and I loved both sets of music. They began with Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, and the first thing I noticed was that when they began playing, the bows of the violin section all moved in unison. I don’t think I’ve often seen movements so crisp, which is a symbol of the orchestra’s caliber. I heard the same thing when in the same movement there occurred a series of grace notes, which due to their rapidity can be easy to miss or blur. Instead, the unity I heard was stellar. I’ve heard much of Mozart’s work, but “Jupiter” was something entirely different. In most of his other work I find a certain delicacy in his melodies, even in his more intense pieces. While that’s still true here, the balance in “Jupiter” is definitely tipped towards grandeur and not daintiness.

After the intermission, they played Holst’s “The Planets”. It was a fantastic performance. I’ve never heard such overwhelmingly powerful music before. Nor have I seen such instrumentation (this was the first time, I think, that I recall seeing an alto flute played in concert, and that wasn’t the only unusual instrument there). This was the highlight of the programme, as the entire suite has been set to a visual accompaniment by José Francisco Salgado, a UM alum, who came onstage to introduce the piece. The visuals were a montage of photographs, renderings, and videos, set to move as one with the music. I was not quite sure what to think of the film. Sometimes it seemed like just a montage of images, which I realize is a result of our limited capability to document these planets. I thought Mars was the most polished piece, and I believe that’s because there was more of a thread to follow there. We’ve also done the most research on Mars and therefore have plenty of videos and time-lapse imagery, which Salgado was able to time wonderfully with the music. On the other hand, the other movements were mostly photographs and artists’ renderings. The “Neptune” movement contained, I thought, less footage of Neptune than it did of the stars, which, while intentional and beautiful, eclipsed Neptune.

I also had some difficulty identifying the scientific concepts that Salgado intended to convey through the film. I wish I had been able to attend the panel discussion beforehand, because I think they would have discussed the science present in the footage and given me some things to look for. However, the programme made a close substitute, because for both “Jupiter” and “The Planets” there were detailed musical descriptions of each movement. I really appreciated the historical and musical context they provided. That said, I’m glad the film was there as an accompaniment. The film added color, which was valuable because, thanks to photography and digital renderings, we’ve always seen astronomical pictures in bright colors. Furthermore, the timing was done very well, which, in a musical piece, is an essential element. This combined with the forceful nature of Holst’s music made the entire thing simply awe-inspiring.

Neha Srinivasan

I'm a landscape architecture master's student who's doing her best not to loathe her design software. When I'm not designing (what a broad word), I'm probably reading, listening to music, dancing Brazilian Zouk, or talking to my houseplants.

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