REVIEW: Jader & Hilary Hahn with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Home to the fourth oldest orchestra in the United States, Orchestra Hall is truly a magnificent venue. December turned out to be the perfect time to visit, as the holiday-themed pine garlands and twinkling string lights in the lobbies paired beautifully with the red carpets and warm lighting to evoke the Christmas spirit. As a testament to Hilary Hahn’s influence and outreach work, I noticed that the audience had a notably larger proportion of younger attendees than what one would typically find at a symphony concert—including me and my four friends, of course. I found it funny when one friendly usher asked which one of us was “the violin player of the group,” and we all raised our hands. 

The DSO opened the concert with Bedrich Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride, a bright, vivacious piece full of moving notes and striking dynamic changes. Still groggy from the trip from Ann Arbor, I found the piece was a great opener to sit back, build excitement, and appreciate the crisp acoustics of the hall.

Next, Hilary Hahn took to the stage to perform the Dvorak Violin Concerto in A minor. Distinctly contrasting with the previous piece, the concerto featured a dramatic introduction that showcased Hahn’s virtuosity—namely some pitch-perfect runs climbing up the fingerboard and ending with her insanely powerful fourth finger vibrato. I was amazed by how clearly her sound projected over the orchestra to our seats in the balcony. The second movement took on a more somber tone, with a dark-yet-sweet melody echoed by the flutes. Meanwhile, the final movement was clean and bright, playing with a delicate, bell-like motif introduced by the soloist at its beginning. Cue the standing ovation. 

Going off the program, Hahn took some time to say a few heartfelt words about the recent tragedy at Oxford High School and dedicated a solo piece she often plays alone when thinking through things. In this new context, the unaccompanied Bach Sonata for Violin Solo No. 2 in A minor, Andante adopted a whole new depth of emotion. In that hushed room packed with hundreds of people, the longing, sustained melodic line sung over an underlying current of pulses, like a heartbeat. 

After intermission, the DSO performed what is probably Smetana’s well-known piece, The Moldau No. 2 from Má vlast. The piece took the audience on a journey along a great river of the same name running through Czechoslovakia, featuring flowing lines to illustrate the intermingling of hot and cold water over the natural landscape. 

To conclude the concert, the orchestra played Symphony No. 3 in C minor composed by Florence Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. Jader Bignamini, the conductor, noted the importance of playing such underrepresented works that deserve to stand amongst iconic orchestral repertoire. An exhilarating mixture of warm melodies, jazzy-ragtime rhythms, and big brassy sections, the piece was truly refreshing to listen to.  

As expected, Hilary Hahn and the DSO delivered an excellent performance. I look forward to future visits to Orchestra Hall while I’m at UMich!

REVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Fifty years ago, the cinematic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered. With its technological realism, scientifically accurate depiction of spaceflight, and innovative special effects, the 1968 science-fiction work became one of the most important artistic works of the 20th century. 2001: A Space Odyssey embodies the bold and creativity, serving as a spark of inspiration for many engineers, just as much today as fifty years ago. To celebrate the memorable anniversary of the movie, UMS teamed up with Michigan Engineering, Musica Sarca, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to bring a live multi-media presentation of this daring movie.

This was my first time watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I enjoyed watching this classic movie in the Hill Auditorium. However, just like most of the other people that came, we were there for the live accompaniment of the iconic soundtrack. The movie evokes the sublime on its own, but the live music of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra takes the experience to a whole new level. The sweeping classical music that the movie is characteristically know for filled the auditorium, and it brought the nonverbal experience of the movie to new heights.

From the majestic opening of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra to Johann Strauss II’s intricate The Blue Danube, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra set the mood in the Hill with every dramatic note and every spinning waltz. Maestro Robert Ziegler perfected the timing, ensuring that the soundtrack was brought to life alongside the movie.

Musica Sacra performed the sustained dissonant chords that slowly shifted over time during long space or slow action shots. Under the direction of music director Kent Tritle, the choral accompaniment added to the sense of wonder and suspense that enraptured your attention during the space scenes. With the chorus and the orchestra on the stage throughout the movie, everyone in the Hill Auditorium was able to experience this legendary movie in a breathtaking new light.

PREVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey

For the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the University Music Society along with Michigan Engineering are co-presenting the groundbreaking film in a special viewing. This free event will feature live orchestral and choral accompaniment by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for a one-of-a-kind experience at Hill Auditorium on Friday, September 21 st 8pm. Registration for the event is currently full, but general admission will open at 7:40pm to people without a ticket on a first come, first serve basis, so it’s not too late to attend this out-of-this-world showing of one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time.

REVIEW: Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays “Firebird”

On Saturday night, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra delivered an energetic program consisting of Strauss’s Don Juan, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Connession’s Cosmic Trilogy, and Stavinsky’s “Firebird” suite. Maestro Robert Treviño led the orchestra with much enthusiasm, and the audience was able to absorb that energy quite well.

Special shoutout goes to the violinist and concertmaster Yoonshin Song and the entire wind section. Ms. Song brought life to each and every phrase of Prokofiev’s tricky solo line. The orchestra supported her by accompanying her expressively and applauding after the performance, which attested to her leadership ability and trust she gains from the orchestra for her personality.

In addition to the concertmaster, this program highlighted the strength of the DSO’s wind section as a whole. As a wind player myself, I always experience the difficulty of working with such a large section to make one cohesive sound. Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite (1919) is a perfect piece to showcase their unity. “Firebird” features each principal player’s virtuosity as a solo player, but it also requires everyone in the section to create the “winds” sound — which they did very well.

But today, I also want to comment on something else that was on my mind during this performance.

I headed over to this concert after an entire day spent at the SphinxCon, the conference intended to spark conversations about inclusion and diversity in arts. For three days, participants like myself were able to listen to many empowering speakers and panelists that worked actively to disturb the dominant narratives and let the minorities’ voices be heard — whether it be race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, indigenous affiliation, (dis)ability status, or otherwise. Then, I looked at the stage in the Orchestra Hall. The majority of the orchestra is white, and the largest racial minority group represented is Asian. There are a couple of Black musicians on stage, but this makeup surely does not represent the population of Detroit.

I have heard of DSO’s efforts to actively include the Detroit community, through frequent live streaming, ticket promotions, and local, more affordable performances. As “a community-supported orchestra,” DSO puts a lot of work into inclusion. However, the reality is rough. Classical music, or any art for that matter, is very expensive to maintain and present, yet making the tickets more expensive would exclude many, many populations. Pursuing arts as a career often takes economic stability, which is not something that everyone has. How do you disrupt that? …That’s the question that looms over the minds of many artists, arts organizations, stakeholders, and leaders.

By coming to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s concert to conclude my busy Saturday, I was able to synthesize a lot of information that I absorbed from the SphinxCon. These thoughts are always work in progress. Maybe one day, we can see the same program performed with an orchestra and an audience that represents the population makeup of the community…