The Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Professor Octavio Más-Arocas, performed their first concert of the term in the chapel on April 12, 2014. The theme was “Fantastique!” and the evening of music truly justified this title.
Small brass ensembles performed short pieces composed by Lawrence students to commence each half of the concert. The first, Winter on Lake Michigan, was the world premiere of a fanfare for three trumpets written by Stephanie Sundberg, junior, and the piece played after intermission was another world premiere fanfare, this time for horns, by Lawton Hall, ’10.
After the first fanfare, Lawrence faculty and the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra, composed of a smaller group of the symphony musicians, performed Samuel Barber’s Capricorn Concerto,op. 21. Professors Erin Lesser, Howard Niblock and Jeffrey Stannard performed on flute, oboe and trumpet, respectively.
Seeing our teachers during the day and seeing them in the act of performing are two entirely different opportunities. We are privileged at Lawrence to experience them both, and the performance of this Barber concerto was a polished example of Lawrence’s strong faculty and student body.
Following the Capricorn Concerto, Lawrence’s own The Involuntary String Band performed Whisky Before Breakfast, arranged by Conni Ellisor, with the Chamber Orchestra. Martha McDonnell and Nick Allen, seniors, played fiddle and bass respectively, Davey Harrison, ’13, played mandolin, and Ilan Blanck, sophomore, played guitar.
The audience reciprocated the blatant joy this band felt while playing. Listeners gave a standing ovation full of hooting, hollering and stamping. It is very clear from the band members’ energy, their smiles and their skills why they have found such popularity at Lawrence.
After the intermission, and after the second brass fanfare of the concert, Más-Arocas introduced the musical beast of the evening: Hector Berlioz’s expressive and exhausting Symphonie Fantastique, op. 14. According to Berlioz, the story behind the symphony is that of a “young musician of an unhealthy sensitive nature and endowed with vivid imagination.”
This young man has taken opium in a “paroxysm of love-sick despair” and the hallucinations that follow comprise the five movements of the work. The first movement, Visions and Passions, is based upon the young man’s vacillating emotions regarding his love for a beloved.
The second, A Ball, connotes his having found his love again. The third movement, In the Country, expressed hearing two Swiss shepherds singing in a field when, as in all of the movements, the melody devoted to his beloved returns to torment him.
He dreams of killing his love in March to the Scaffold, the fourth movement. In fact, the orchestra shares a macabre theme that is meant to represent her head, guillotined, bouncing about the scaffold. The final, most dramatic movement, Dreams of Witches’ Sabbath, reveals his love having joined a league of horrible spirits. She is in the “infernal orgy”: his love is lost.
The second the orchestra finished the symphony, a student in front of me unrestrainedly shouted, “Bravo!” His exclamation perfectly represented the whole chapel’s enthusiasm; a moment later, the entire audience rose out of respect for the monumentality of the piece, the orchestra’s masterful performances throughout the evening and the conductor’s passion.
I have never seen so total or so quick a standing ovation at an orchestra concert. Such positive feedback is a validating reward for the amount of time and energy spent to prepare and perform such a moving concert.
The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to perform Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem, op. 45 (A German Requiem)with the Lawrence University Choirs on Friday, April 25 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel.