REVIEW: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah is undoubtedly one of the most well-known choral repertoires, and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and UMS Choral Union’s performance of it was very lovely. As Handel’s Messiah is a Christmas tradition, there was a bed of red and white flowers circling the stage that was a nice visual addition. It was packed with a large choir accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, which also had a harpsichord and organ.

I enjoyed listening to the harpsichord because it added a playful quality to the music. The harpsichord is the predecessor to the piano but has a string-like quality, so the sound stood out amongst the rest of the instruments. When the organ played it took me aback because of how loud it was, but I loved the heavier atmosphere it layered onto the orchestra. The strings did a really good job recreating the baroque sound, which is much more airy and uses trills to emphasize notes whereas romantic music uses lots of vibrato.

When Hallelujah played, the audience all stood up to sing along, and the singers around me were very talented, perfectly blending in with the choir on stage. My favorite part, though, was the 48th Air which featured a trumpet solo that traded off with the choir soloist. I don’t think I’ve heard a trumpet solo that was unaccompanied before. The trumpet had a very clear bell-like sound that traveled well through the large hall. I was also a big fan of the ending of the Messiah; it immediately captured my attention with the organ’s entrance and had a wonderful buildup that demanded the audience’s attention.

I’m not religious and wanted to attend this event purely for the music. I do think it’s more targeted towards vocalists than instrumentalists, but it was still fun to see a different side of the strings that had that baroque quality since many baroque pieces played now have adapted a more romantic style. It was a super long concert: almost 3 hours long, so I don’t think I’d attend another playing of Handel’s Messiah. However, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to see it live once.

REVIEW: Imogen Says Nothing

Imogen Says Nothing by Aditi Kapil is a spinoff story of the character Imogen in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. She’s a character some have interpreted as a typo because she says nothing. However, Kapil turns this character, who serves no purpose in the original, into the main character of a “revisionist comedy in verse and prose” that SMTD describes on their website as a “feminist hijacking of Shakespeare that investigates the voices that have long been absent from the theatrical canon and the consequences of cutting them.” It highlights how women have historically been only seen as an image and deprived of their words. The play not only puts a big emphasis on the power of speech but the power of writing too. 

The premise is a bit confusing: Imogen is a bear disguised as a woman and has been living as a woman for a few years. She travels outside of her small village to the bigger cities and along the way gets dragged onto the stage in the middle of a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. In Elizabethan England, all female characters were played by men because only men were allowed to act. As a result, Imogen has to pretend to be a man playing a woman, and that woman is Imogen herself. In other words, she’s a bear disguised as a woman who pretends to be a man acting out a woman.

It has heavy themes of violence and animal abuse and there are explicit drinking and sex scenes. Furthermore, Imogen is constantly degraded for being female and fat; she even says that her only talent is “whoring”. When she is praised, it’s for her ability to make others laugh but it’s usually because she’s mocked for her background and intelligence. 

Nevertheless, it’s still a comedy and masks the darker content with humor and fun character dynamics. My favorite character was Nicholas Tooley; in the beginning, others always teased him because he was so innocent and pure, but in the end, he was so sassy and dramatic. It was also really funny when there were modern versions of objects on set. For example, for the alcohol they used White Claw, and when checking their contact information they would pull out their cell phones. 

Overall, I highly recommend watching it. It’s a play that’s hard to grasp but fascinating, especially the ending which was the best part. It took a sudden abstract twist that circled back to the underlying message with a single chilling line directed at the audience: “Exit man.” 

REVIEW: Maxim Vengerov with Polina Osetinskaya

Sunday, November 26th, violinist Maxim Vengerov and pianist Polina Osetinskaya graced Hill Auditorium. It was a full house with a diverse audience, as both of them are world-renowned musicians in high demand. Maxim Vengerov is a Grammy award winner who began his career as a solo violinist when he was just five years old, also the age Polina Osetinskaya began her piano career. With repertoire from four different composers, the music expressed all kinds of emotion, a fitting ambiance for Sunday being the first day of snow and the last day of break.

They opened with Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22, a bittersweet melody that the piano weaved together and the violin brought to life with a strong vibrato on every note. Vengerov and Osetinskaya balanced each other well by taking turns crescendoing or decrescendoing, neither ever overwhelming the other: it was literally the dynamic of a tug-of-war in love.

The next few pieces, in contrast, were striking and sprightful. Whenever there was pizzicato, a technique where the player strums the strings with their fingers, Vengerov would use his whole arm with flare. With every musical line, he played with a full bow that led to a few passionately broken bow hairs. In general, I was enamored by the skill he handles his bow. A lot of the pieces have spiccato, which is a technique where the bow bounces off of the string, and Vengerov transitions seamlessly between the spiccato and legato. The piano creates a similar dialogue by interchanging staccato (a technique of playing notes short but is fundamentally different from spiccato) and legato too.

Since it was only the two playing, the usually cramped stage looked bizarrely empty. People often talk about stage presence when it comes to dancers and singers, but this pair’s stage presence was enough to fill up the whole space. It’s always exciting whenever famous musicians come to town, and this was my second time seeing Vengerov at Hill Auditorium.

This was their concert program:

Clara Schumann
Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22

Johannes Brahms
F-A-E Sonata (Scherzo excerpt)

Robert Schumann
Violin Sonata No. 3 in a minor, WoO27

Sergei Prokofiev
Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Op. 35bis
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94bis

 In addition, they included three encore pieces. 

It was a wonderful show and definitely something I recommend classical music lovers attend!

REVIEW: Complete Solo Violin Sonatas of Eugene Ysaÿe Presented by SMTD Violinists

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for the violin, 13 students studying under Professors Danielle Belen, Aaron Berofsky, David Halen, and Fabiola Kim gave an outstanding performance of the complete set on Monday, November 20th in the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus.

The violin is most commonly seen in an orchestra or accompanied by a pianist. Ysaÿe’s sonatas, however, only showcase the violin. His work highlights the raw beauty and power a talented musician can bring out of such a small instrument. The music made full use of what the violin has to offer through double stops, chords, harmonics, and more, all techniques difficult to master because the slightest tilt of the bow or millimeter difference between the fingers can taint the sound. When Professor Belen and Professor Kim opened the event, they said this was a rare performance only made possible because of the talent that SMTD has.

It was my first time listening to Ysaÿe’s sonatas except for a brief video clip I saw of Maxim Vengerov playing a passage in Sonata No. 3 in D minor, “Ballade,” op.27. It’s a gorgeous movement that has a consistent melodic theme with different variations, but unlike Vengerov’s fierce interpretation, the student soloist Yuchen Cao had a much more gentle and relaxed approach, almost as if he were stroking the strings with his bow.

Sonata No. 2 in A minor, op. 27 had a few elements that pleasantly surprised me. In the II movement, Malinconia, the soloist uses a mute, a tool that string players put on the bridge of their instrument to create a fuzzier sound. Similarly, the III movement, Danse des Ombres, began with pizzicato, a technique where the player strums the strings with their fingers. Both were fun and interesting additions that contrasted the heavier or brighter music that violinists tend to emphasize in solo works.

The last act performed by Tianyu Lin simply blew me away. His technique, the vibrato, the intonation, and the tone, were perfect, making his double stops and chords beautifully ring and synchronize. The precision he had when scaling the fingerboard from its lowest to the highest range was flawless. I honestly feel like I was more enamored by his skill and talent than the music.

Symphonies and concertos are all lovely, but it was a nice change of pace to listen to a collection of Sonatas live. I’ve always been aware that the music department at UofM is top-tier, but this event let the individuals who make up the department shine.

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s Music from Video Games

On Saturday, November 17th at the Michigan Theater, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra held a concert called Music from Video Games, which was the opening night of their 2023-2024 Pops season of performances. They played various arrangements and medleys of the original soundtracks of Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Halo: Reach, and more. I love playing video games and I’ve always enjoyed concerts more when I was familiar with the music, but even for the music from games I haven’t played before like Metroid or Mega Man, I still had a good time. 

In addition to having music unique to each specific game, video game franchises such as Pokémon, Mario, Zelda, etc. all have iconic tunes for various occasions: healing, leveling up, losing a life, opening a chest, and many more. It’s similar to how McDonald’s has their famous jingle “I’m Lovin’ It”. The music is a core part of the game; listening to it is enough to embody the experience of playing it. The arrangements and medleys created a fun blend of familiarity and anticipation that made it super exciting whenever my favorite melodies came up.

The best part of the night for me was the concertmaster’s solo which was a bittersweet rendition of The Legend of Zelda’s main theme. The entire medley included OSTs from some throwback games like Spirit Tracks (2009) to the more recent Breath of the Wild (2017). It took me a bit to even realize the music was from Spirit Tracks until I heard the percussion using instruments to replicate the sounds of a train traveling on railroad tracks. My only wish is that there was a bigger feature of Zelda’s theme, perhaps with another violin solo or even better, a harp solo.

Music truly has such a big impact on the gaming experience and is actually something I listen to in my free time. For people who don’t have much experience with video games, it may seem bizarre, but I highly recommend listening to some tunes from Zelda as a start. It was genuinely a great event and I’d love to come back again next year.

 

REVIEW: The Inspired Show

Every fall semester, Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. hosts the Inspired Show; this year it was on Saturday, November 11th from 4-6 PM at the Ross Robertson Auditorium. On Instagram (@umichkpl), the sorority said this event “seeks to showcase a variety of cultural performances, mixing modern and traditional elements to bring Michigan exposure to various Asian performing arts,” which it certainly did.

There were 8 performances. In order they were:

Female Gayo (@femalegayo)

Photonix (@umphotonix)

Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. (@umichkpl)

DB3 (@db3_umich)

Seoul Juice (@seouljuice.umich)

VeryUs (@veryus.umich)

Revolution (@revolutionyoyo)

Moli (@moli.umich)

K-Motion (@kmotion)

I’ve watched and reviewed the majority of these groups before, many of which performed at Celebrasia. However, although the Inspired Show was only a week later, Female Gayo had a completely new set that ended with an original choreography they made to the song Money by Lisa from Blackpink and had the fun addition of shooting dollar bills into the air at the end.

Photonix is a crowd favorite and I wish I got to see more of them. They use glow-in-the-dark items to create rhythmic visual art by manipulating neon lights to music in pitch blackness. Much of the choreography involves teamwork, which is super impressive since the team must work together without being able to see. My favorite parts are when they hit the floor to change colors on a beat drop. Unfortunately, I couldn’t capture their performance well enough on camera, so take the chance to see them in person if you can!

I saw the sisters of Kappa Phi Lambda perform at the Yardshow, but they prepared two additional choreographies for their event: hip-hop and cultural. Their cultural dance is pictured above and it was the highlight of the show for me. Many groups use fans or umbrellas as props, but it was the first time I’ve seen the beautiful white and red long sleeves they wore. In addition, the music they used was purely instrumental, which was a nice contrast to the other music throughout the show. It truly felt like a cultural dance rather than a dance that just uses cultural props.

The Ross Robertson Auditorium is a nice venue; the only thing I wish is that the lighting had a spotlight on the stage to give it a more immersive atmosphere. Nevertheless, it was nice being in a new and comfortable environment.

Although there are a lot of parallels to Celebrasia, I recommend attending the Inspired Show. It’s a good opportunity to see different performers, such as Photonix and Moli, and new choreographies like Female Gayo’s. All proceeds are donated to the Ann Arbor Community Center, so you can make a difference and have fun at the same time.