PREVIEW: The Halloween Concert

Happening on the very day itself, the Halloween Concert a 40+ years long Umich tradition features graduate conducting students who lead more than 125 costumed (Yes costumed!) musicians for a fun-filled, spooktacular concert.

I have heard about the Halloween concert for the last 2 years and I am overjoyed to finally attend it. It will have music for everyone to enjoy whether you are an orchestra nerd or a newcomer to classical music. If you don’t like attending orchestra concerts because of how formal they seem with their tuxedos and bow ties then seeing musicians dressed all goofy and silly will take the edge off. It is the only SMTD ticketed production that is open to kids of all ages so you know it’s an all-age favorite. 

You can also dress up to your heart’s desire for this event so you can take this as an opportunity to show off your Halloween spirit. In previous years the concert had funny skits to introduce musical pieces so you won’t only get to enjoy music, play dress up, see others in funny costumes but also see a funny skit or two. Doesn’t that sound like the best version of an orchestra concert?

Word on the grapevine is that the concert’s tickets are running out quickly! So grab you and your friends a good seat before it’s too late at:

REVIEW: Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal

Last night, Hill Auditorium hosted the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal with singer Joyce DiDonato.  The concert started out with the overture to Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.  They performed this work with a smaller orchestra that only took up about half the stage.  The instrumentation consisted of strings, a few winds, a couple trumpets, and timpani.  Once Ms. DiDonato joined the orchestra, the trumpets and timpanist left and a clarinetist made their way to the front of the stage to be featured alongside her.  I had heard of Ms. DiDonato many times, but I had never actually heard her sing live.  She was incredible.  Her voice sounded exactly like you would expect an opera singer’s to sound.  This is likely because she has set a standard in singing that others strive to match.  The interplay between her and the clarinetist was fascinating the watch as they alternated similar phrases.  She was able to perfectly match the articulation and timbre of the clarinet using just her voice.  In addition, she mimicked the other winds flawlessly, especially in the first aria.  There was a moment where she had a run of doubled notes that the flute played at a different time where she embodied the character of a flautist to a T.  As an encore, she joined the orchestra for a rendition of “Voi che sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro.  She used an iPad for the arias from La Clemenza, but she had this one memorized.  It was clear she had performed it many times.  She really took control of the stage by incorporating some acting into her performance and having some fun with Maestro Nézet-Séguin and the assistant principal first violinist.  Overall, the first half of the concert was great, especially for those who are big fans of opera.  On the second half, the orchestra played Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony.  Bruckner’s music is best known for it’s epic, massive moments and this symphony had plenty of them.  The size of the orchestra seemingly doubled between the first and second halves with a full brass section, a timpanist, and about half a string section joining the chamber orchestra from the first half.  I thought the orchestra performed the piece very well, overall.  There were some questionable moments where the horns might have had an off night or the timpani might have been too loud for my liking, but mistakes happen in performances and everyone has their own opinion as to what sounds best.  The piece seemed to follow a structure of peaks and valleys which, honestly, gets pretty old in a symphony that’s over an hour long.  We’d hear a couple minutes of really loud, awesome music, followed by some softer, prettier stuff.  I feel like most great symphonies have a few moments that are really special and people immediately think of them when they think of that symphony.  This one had so many big moments that I can’t remember any of them because, even though they were awesome when I heard them, they all blended together.  None of this is the fault of the orchestra, of course.  They played it in a very convincing manner and Maestro Nézet-Séguin commanded the podium with an incredible energy.  They closed the night with a really cool encore by Violet Archer, a composer I had never heard of.  I really enjoyed the piece and was grateful that Maestro Nézet-Séguin exposed the audience to it.  I have seen him perform twice at Hill now, and he has been fantastic both times.  I will surely be going back if I see his name on the UMS schedule again next year!

REVIEW: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons / Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed

Without a doubt, I can honestly say that the Zurich Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed was one of the top five performances I’ve ever been to in my life. Their musicianship was incredible, but it was also clear to everyone in the audience that the performers were enjoying playing the music as much as the audience was listening to it!

I’ve listened to The Four Seasons, which is a set of four violin concerti, many times, but I had never heard it performed live prior to this concert. That said, I noticed all kinds of details about the music in person that I never would have noticed on the recording. I especially enjoyed watching the lute player, since this is not an instrument usually found in modern orchestras. The concerti comprising The Four Seasons were performed in succession prior to intermission.

After the intermission, the stage lights were dimmed, with blue lights and a pattern projected on the back of the stage behind the performers. This set the mood for Max Richter’s recomposition of the piece that preceded the intermission (you may be familiar with Max Richter through his work composing film scores, including Arrival, Mary Queen of Scots, and Ad Astra). In fact, during the introduction of the piece, I learned that Max Richter composed Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons specifically for violin soloist Daniel Hope – music director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and the very soloist for the concert! According to Mr. Hope, Max Richter’s problem with the original is not with the music, but with our treatment of it. “We are subjected to it in supermarkets, elevators, or when a caller puts you on hold,” he explains in the program notes. Furthermore, “Mr. Richter’s reworking meant listening again to what is constantly new in a piece we think we are hearing when, really we just blank it out.” To me, this reasoning for recomposing The Four Seasons makes a lot of sense to me (if I may, it struck a chord…). In fact, only a few weeks ago I made a phone call where the hold music was … you guessed it, The Four Seasons.  Listening to Max Richter’s adaption, however, forces audiences to hear the centuries-old piece that it is based on with new ears. It expands and contracts recognizable segments of the original work, while simultaneously blending new elements. The composition, which challenges listeners at every turn, is truly a work of art.

To close an evening of exceptional music, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra played four encores! Even after the encores, however, I wasn’t ready for the concert to end. I would have been happy to stay in my seat and listen to them play beautiful music for several more hours. The first encore was from a Vivaldi double concerto for two violins, but the ensemble completely switched gears for the next two, showcasing their versatility with George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm and Kurt Weill’s September Song. Finally, after countless standing ovations, Mr. Hope returned the stage to play an unaccompanied rendition of Brahms’s Lullaby, to laughter from the audience. At the piece’s conclusion, he walked off the stage, still playing while doing so, and then waving. As the audience filtered out of the auditorium, the performers still onstage exchanged hugs with each other, an expression of the joy that their music brought!

REVIEW: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons / Max Richter’s Vivaldi Recomposed

Musically directed by the award-winning British violinist Daniel Hope, the Zurich Symphony Orchestra brought the Hill Auditorium to life in a stunning performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and the UMS premiere of Max Richter’s Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons.

Without a conductor, I was stunned to see the synchronization of this ensemble as the passages of the music would swell and subside. I observed the seamless communication of the ensemble members and the dynamics that flew to the auditorium ceiling and rolled like a broken wave to the very farthest row of the top balcony, captivating us with every note.

Upon the opening of Vivaldi: Recomposed, Daniel Hope encouraged the audience to enter in, saying “Mr. Richter’s reworking meant listening again to what is constantly new in a piece we think we are hearing when, really, we just blank it out.” From stage he shared the hopes that Richter had shared with him back in 2012: since Vivaldi’s music can be so oversaturated, he dreadfully wanted to reclaim its majesty through a new and awe-inspiring frame.

With a dreamy splash of lighting on the stage, Richter’s creative imagining of Vivaldi’s work cascaded into the audience. I caught myself almost laughing for joy in a state of sheer wonder-struck incredulity. This music lifts one up from themselves and draws them into something deep and grand. While Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was played with only one pause for applause, Richter’s Vivaldi: Composed was swept through without one. In the moments of break in between movements, you could hear thick anticipation hanging in the air.

The evening concluded with multiple standing ovations, so many, in fact, that Daniel Hope led the orchestra through three encore pieces that delighted the audience. We were given the ending of a movement from Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, George Gershwin’s I’ve Got Rhythm, and a warming piece from Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday. Each time an encore piece was finished, Hope would walk off stage, only to return with a shrug and a smile. Finally, amidst the grand applause, Daniel Hope played a charming solo rendition of Brahm’s Lullaby, delicately nudging the audience to take a hint and go home. This was a heart-warming moment, however, as each audience member began to gently hum the tune back, filling the auditorium with a wholesome glow.

As I was leaving the auditorium, I overheard an audience member beckon another to exit first as he jokingly remarked, “That’s what Vivaldi does to me.” This nearly imperceivable moment demonstrates exactly how the beauty of music strengthens the benevolence of our souls and encourages the virtues of the heart. My spirit was absolutely lifted by the music of Vivaldi and Richter, reminding me of exactly what a showcase of the arts should be about.


PREVIEW: Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal

On Wednesday November 20th at 7:30, Hill Auditorium will play host to the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, featuring Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and superstar Mezzo-Soprano, Joyce DiDonato.  This is not the first appearance at Hill for either Nézet-Séguin or DiDonato.  They performed a collaborative recital last year with Maestro Nézet-Séguin accompanying Ms. DiDonato on piano.  Maestro Nézet-Séguin is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and he conducted them here last fall.  On this concert, Ms. DiDonato will perform arias from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, one of the last operas he ever worked on.  They will follow the Mozart up with Anton Bruckner’s 4th symphony in E flat Major.  Bruckner’s works have become more widely recorded as of late.  Maestro Nézet-Séguin and this orchestra actually released a recording of his 4th symphony in 2011.  This concert promises to be a great night of serious music making with some of the best musicians in the business right now.  Tickets are still available and can be purchased on the UMS website or from the ticket office in the League.

REVIEW: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was commissioned for the re-consecration of Britain’s Coventry Cathedral, a beautiful church tragically destroyed in a World War II bombing. Britten himself was a staunch pacifist who had registered as a conscientious objector during the war, and the unique combination of these two elements gave birth to a piece that cuts through the gloss of glorified war stories into the more complex, tragic truth of the raw destruction of war. The text of the 80-minute choral piece is assembled from the Latin Mass for the Dead and the poems of Wilfred Owen, a World War I soldier who was killed just a week before the armistice at the young age of 25. Owen’s poetry is plainly anti-war, and the first of his lines in the piece is the chilling “What passing bells for these who die as cattle?”.


The requiem was presented as the collaboration between the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, the UMS Choral Union, the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale, as well as three vocal soloists. The addition of the children’s chorale as specified by the original work adds a uniquely haunting aspect to the piece, a reminder that war ultimately results in a great deal of innocence lost, and the sacrifice of young lives with full futures ahead. Britten alternates between dissonant chanting mixed with layers of percussion and smooth, lyrical passages as the piece glides from movement to movement. Yet throughout the entire piece, the atmosphere is solemn, almost haunting. Britten refuses to let the audience forget why the piece was conceived, as a response to a tragedy brought about by the senselessness of war. It is impossible to hear the words of Owen echo through the auditorium in the rich tenor of soloist Anthony Dean Griffey without feeling an acute sense of what we have lost to the cruelty of war. Owen himself was a poet who garnered an abundance of post-humous acclaim despite his short career and the few poems he wrote; his career was brought to an abrupt end by a premature death on the battlefield.


Owen is merely one of many young talents, or simply young people, or people in general, whose lives were stolen from them by the merciless combat between sides. War Requiemserves as a haunting reminder that war is not a necessary evil, nor is it one we can afford to distance ourselves from. In the United States, it is perilously easy to turn a blind eye to those suffering from wartime brutality in other countries and in the modern age it is perilously easy to designate war as a “necessary evil”, a tragic yet inevitable byproduct of civilization. Yet as Britten wants us to remember, in a society as advanced as ours, the fact that we have accepted senseless violence over superficial causes as the price of civilization ought to haunt us, and we ought to remember that we have more power over our fates than we like to admit.