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!

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!

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 :: New Music and the UM rendition

University of Michigan’s own Contemporary Directions Ensemble, otherwise known as CDE, is a group dedicated to playing contemporary music. What the hell is that? Steve Reich, a highly-praised, NYC based composer said, “…the essential difference between ‘classical music’ and ‘popular music.’ And that essential difference is: one is notated, and the other is not notated.”

Contemporary music a.k.a “New music” is a genre of notated music that appeals to a modern aesthetic. Similar to the way in which Beethoven was a revolutionary of his time, composers alive today like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Cage, Iannis Xenkis, David Lang, John Luther Adams, and a cast of others, are revolutionizing our ears and our minds. New concepts and definitions of sound and music are being realized almost daily. These composers have been classical trained but have moved so far past the archaic term, “classical” which no longer comes close to describing what they do.

Modern art – music meant for the art galleries and the coffee shops, the intimate venues and the outdoors, the art goers of today and the musicians of tomorrow. This is 21 century shit.


Conducted by Christopher James Lees, and made up of graduate students, CDE is a small group – about 20 large. This past Thursday night, their show entitled Fathers and Sons let them all rip it. They played driving music like the Son of Chambers Symphony, paired with the sound explorations of John Cage, paired with the 20 minute long bassoon solo, paired with the in-house piece by Kuster, dedicated to her father now past. Incredible textures, wild combinations, and innovative sounds. A buffet for the ears

The gorgeous program ~

Here, Leaving by Kristin Kuster, premier by U-M composition faculty member

How we got here (4th edition) by Luciano Berio, bassoon solo complete with circular breathing

But what about the noise of crumpling
paper which he used to do in order to
paint the series of “Papiers froisses” or
tearing up paper to make “Papiers
dechires?” Arp was stimulated by water
(sea, lake, and flowing waters like rivers

by John Cage. Yes, all one piece. Simply Beautiful

Son of Chambers Symphony by David T. Little

I would describe everything in detail but as a friend told me once, “it’s like when someone tells you a joke is funny before you hear it decide for yourself.” In light of that, I would love to hear your thoughts. Listen to a couple of these, Catch a John Cage concert it’s his 100 birthday this year (if he was still alive) and I’m nutty about it. If you don’t hear of any, just get in touch.

Hunter Chee