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!

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:

REVIEW: Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood

A strange image came to me on Saturday night, while I was watching Joshua Bell walk out across the stage of Hill Auditorium for the first time. The vast auditorium was packed with people — some college-age, many adults — and a sweeping wave of applause rolled across the many rows and balconies at the sight of him coming out. I had been to Hill Auditorium once before, to see the Avett Brothers my freshman year. For some reason, the thought occurred to me of how different it was, watching Joshua Bell walk onto the stage versus watching the Avett Brothers — or any musical group in the popular sphere with a large following — do the same thing. There were no whoops or hollers or screams of, “I love you, Joshua!” He walked slowly and professionally, violin in hand. The thought struck me out of nowhere and seemed like a funny one.

Yet in the world of classical music, Joshua Bell is the equivalent of a rock star. He’s been one of the most famous violinists in the world for years, and has played at numerous enviable venues around the globe. So while they weren’t leaping out of their seats or holding up signs with his name on them, the audience members did burst collectively into a roaring applause when they saw him.

And he didn’t disappoint. The first item on the program was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-flat Major, K. 454,” which starts out very calmly. I was surprised at the soft, understated nature of the performance, but the piece soon picked up in excitement and speed. And no matter what the mood, Bell and Sam Haywood, renowned pianist and Bell’s fellow performer, were able to handle it with deftness and grace. The violin sonata was at turns playful and dreamy, energetic and tender. It was splendidly interesting to watch as Bell and Haywood appeared to trade phrases of the piece off between the two of them; one moment Bell’s playing would be more pronounced, with Haywood’s piano muted softly in the background, and the next, it would be the other way around.

This pattern continued throughout the rest of the concert. The next piece they played was Richard Strauss’s “Violin Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18,” which they approached with the same level of attentiveness, care, and passion. Bell moved around the stage a great deal, seeming to feel the music physically during particularly enlivened moments. Bell and Haywood, who have played together on many occasions during the past, continued to blend their respective sounds together seamlessly, responding to one another in volume and time as if they were having a genuine conversation through their music.

The third piece on the program, and the final listed prior to the concert, was Franz Schubert’s “Fantasie for Violin and Piano in C Major, D. 934.” This piece showcased the same skill and emotion, and it was an added pleasure when, following an encore, Bell announced two additional pieces from the stage. Much like a rock star, he closed out the night with encores and wild applause. When all was said and done, the auditorium was as alive with excitement as it had been waiting for him to come out for the first time a couple of hours earlier. He might not play rock music particularly, but the man is unquestionably a star.

PREVIEW: Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood

This weekend, Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood will be performing live at Hill Auditorium. Bell is an incredibly famous and successful violinist, and Haywood is a well-known pianist who has toured extensively in the United States and in Europe, performing in many major concert halls along the way. The two have worked together as a duo several times in the past.

I’m personally very excited to see Joshua Bell, because his name has been familiar to me for years. My parents are both musicians, and I’ve heard a lot about him from them; he also grew up in my hometown and attended my high school! (He’s pretty much the only famous person who has, so his name is thrown around a lot there.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in concert myself, though, so I’m very excited to finally get to see him perform live. I’m also looking forward to seeing Sam Haywood, with whose work I’m less familiar but who also has a glowing reputation.

Bell and Haywood will be performing this Saturday at 8:00 PM at the Hill Auditorium. The program will feature works of Mozart, Schubert, and Richard Strauss.

REVIEW: Listen Closely: Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and the Past, Present and Future of Classical Music

“Magical” would not be too strong a word for this event. Knowing that Mahler’s Ninth Symphony was written during the final years of the composer’s life, I had a preconceived idea that I would be spending the better part of two hours listening to a portentous, reaper-haunted piece—which would still have been enjoyable, in its own way. Instead, I found myself listening to a joyous, yet mature and meditative musical celebration of life. I don’t think I could have picked a better piece of music to listen to for my first symphonic concert.

This symphony doesn’t open with a bang but with a whisper; to hear all the various instruments of the San Francisco Symphony quietly emerge out of the silence during the first few minutes was both exhilarating and relaxing at the same time. I was sitting in the balcony, but the incredible sound of Hill Auditorium made every single noise audible with incredible clarity. When the strings floated a high pianissimo note, it sounded like they were sitting only a few feet in front of me; when the brass blasted a powerful fortissimo chord, I felt as though I had fallen into a tuba.

A symphony is an unusual kind of artwork: through the voices of many instruments, one person speaks. Mahler once said that he only composed because he could not express his experiences in words. Of course, the difficulty with an abstract art form like music is that sometimes it is hard to tell exactly what the composer is trying to say. During the first movement, I sometimes found myself concentrating very intensely on the meaning of the piece—“what is Mahler trying to SAY with this melody? WHY did the key change so suddenly?”—but eventually, my left brain settled down and I allowed myself to engage with the music on a less cerebral level.

Naturally, after the final notes of the first movement died away, there was no applause between movements. I understand the reasoning behind this solemn decree: a symphony is a continuous work of art that is meant to be listened to in its entirety, and to applaud between movements would disrupt the continuity of the piece. Basically, clapping between movements “breaks the spell.” Still, at all the operas I’ve attended, people applauded at the end of arias and acts, yet no one would argue that an opera isn’t a continuous work of art. At this concert, instead of applause after every section, I heard the sounds of squeaking seats, fortissimo coughs and tuning violinists, which I thought somewhat distracting as well. Still, maybe keeping all that applause pent up inside was for the best—after the concert finished, the applause went on for so long that conductor Michael Tilson Thomas had to take approximately thirty-seven bows (I’m guesstimating here) before the audience had finished.

The second movement was in the form of a ländler, a type of Austrian folk dance that Mahler would have undoubtedly heard as a kid, growing up as the son of a brewer in a small Austrian village. I loved the numerous instrumental trills during this section, suggesting the yodeling that apparently sometimes accompanies ländler dancing. One of the things that was so cool about this section was how Mahler took what some might consider to be a frivolous dance tune and integrated it into a supposedly “highbrow” classical composition without a second thought. It’s a terrific little mashup that reveals the imaginary line between “classical” music and “pop” music to be very thin—or nonexistent.

The third movement was significantly more aggressive and edgy, with multiple discords piling on top of each other. The mounting tension was briefly broken by a beautiful trumpet melody, before the reverie was shattered by another cavalcade of pointed dissonances and irregular rhythms. This particular movement demonstrated perfectly that classical music can contain astounding noise as well as refined melody. When one looks up “classical music” on YouTube, the first page or so of results is invariably a bunch of videos with titles along the lines of “Relaxing Chillout CLASSICAL MUSIC For Study And Sleep.” I can’t help but think of some hapless student vainly trying to cram for midterms with this feverish and unpredictable piece of music blaring in the background.

The final movement sounded like a slowly-fading farewell from another time. As the strings repeated the final melody over and over again, it also seemed to evoke an unearthly feeling of permanence and contentment. Doing a bit of research on Mahler after the concert, I learned that while he was writing his Ninth Symphony, Mahler was living comfortably in Gilded-Age New York City, having just accepted a job as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. It was a rare time of satisfaction and comfort for the man who once described himself as “always an intruder, never welcomed.” Only a couple of years after the posthumous premiere of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, the Archduke of Mahler’s homeland would be assassinated, starting a war that would shatter the era of relative peace and prosperity in which Mahler spent his final days. In the aftermath of the Great War, a new American style of music would begin to gain popularity in a way that rivaled the European classical tradition. With its emphasis on spontaneous improvisation, danceable rhythms, and individual expression, jazz seemed to redefine what music could be—or maybe it was a throwback to the days when Renaissance court musicians would throw a band of random musicians together to play for royal dances, embellishing on the melodies and improvising entire solos off the top of their heads. Nevertheless, while many fantastic new genres of music flourished during the twentieth century, classical music started to get pushed to the side, slowly fading out of earshot like the final endless chords of this symphony. If you listen closely, it’s still playing; you just have to listen a lot harder nowadays.

I got into classical music a couple of years ago. When I first started delving into the history of this music and reading articles about the financial misfortunes that are afflicting orchestras and composers across the world, I started to fear that I had arrived about a century too late. On that Saturday night, however, I looked around at the spectacle of a sold-out Hill Auditorium, full of everybody from casual music lovers to aspiring composers from the School of Music, and the serene contentment of the Ninth overcame me. As long as there are people out there who still believe that they can express themselves through the symphony orchestra—this strange, impractical, arbitrary hodgepodge of oboes, trombones, violas and other assorted instruments—there will be an audience for this music.

And now, I would like to ask a humble favor. Since you’ve read through this colossally overwritten half-review-half-essay in its entirety, you clearly have a lot of time on your hands. If you could please take a few seconds out of your day to write something about music in the comments below, it would be so awesome. It can be an anecdote about the role music plays in your life, a fun fact about Hector Berlioz, a story about that one time you met André 3000, another review of the same concert I just reviewed, a treatise on the sociopolitical ramifications of the MP3—anything at all. [art]seen exists to promote discussion about cultural events on campus, yet too often it seems as though we [art]seen bloggers are writing in a vacuum, with no feedback from our fellow students. All it takes to get a conversation started is one comment. Thanks for reading!