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: 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!

PREVIEW: San Francisco Symphony

On Saturday the 16th of November at 8 PM, the San Francisco Symphony will be bringing its rendition of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony to Hill Auditorium, and I will be attending my first ever totally symphonic concert!

The Ninth Symphony is the last completed musical work written by Gustav Mahler. It was composed from 1908 to 1909, but it was first performed in 1912, after his early death from a congenital heart condition at the age of fifty. In the classical music world, Mahler is a legendary figure: he is the man who made the cowbell an instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. As if that wasn’t enough to secure his place in history forevermore, he was also one of the last big Romantic composers, a guy from a small town in Austria who managed to take all his life experiences—childhood memories, love affairs, an immeasurable amount of personal tragedies—and somehow turned those experiences into little dots scribbled on paper.

I’ve been listening to a few pieces by Mahler in preparation for this concert. Judging from what I’ve heard, Mahler’s music is extremely dynamic and unpredictable, using a huge orchestra to alternate between music of stunning beauty and equally stunning pain. His compositions are rich with melodies that often cascade on top of one another, as though the composer has too many melodies running through his mind and can’t wait to put them all on paper. Mahler once said that “the symphony must be like the world—it must embrace everything.” I cannot wait to get lost in Mahler’s world this Saturday.

More information about the performance can be found here: http://ums.org/performances/1314-san-francisco-symphony $10 student rush tickets are on sale now.

In the meantime, enjoy a bit of Mahler via YouTube:

Mahler’s 7th Symphony, Movement II, Part I

Mahler’s 7th Symphony, Movement II, Part II