LSO concert features powerful world premiere of “Doubt

Kristi Ruff

The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra once again pulled off a program of amazing strength and beauty last Saturday, Feb. 27. Led by guest conductor Keong Syung, the orchestra opened with Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony.” Prokofiev’s memories of conducting Haydn symphonies inspired him to write the work, although, as violinist Tamiko Terada put it, the piece is “a beagle in a sweater” compared to his other works.
The first movement “Allegro” masterfully expressed Prokofiev’s juxtaposition between loud and soft dynamics. The difference was a matter of going from “whispering to shouting,” said Terada.
The “Larghetto” featured a bouncy woodwind solo that was traded between instruments, leading into the dance-like “Gavotte.” This movement and the finale were fairly typical of a standard symphony, culminating in the cliché cowboy-esque fanfare.
Thankfully, the enthusiasm and talent of the orchestra as well as the wonderful flute and clarinet solos played by Amanda Barrow and Peter Kennedy kept the piece lively and interesting.
However well-performed the Prokofiev was, it stood no chance to match up to the world premiere of composition professor Asha Srinivasan’s piece “Doubt,” a musical exploration of the acutely controversial issue of capital punishment.
The piece is written for orchestra and narrator, with the speaker delivering lines in a “simple and unemotional” manner while the orchestra comments on these messages with music relating to the emotional upheaval that the issue triggers.
The piece opened with a dramatic, intensely chordal and dissonant brass line. It seemed to be Srinivasan’s wake-up call to the rest of us, supporting the alarming nature of the debate surrounding the death penalty.
Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows, the narrator, began by reading text from the Book of Luke, chapter 23: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.”
This passage was punctuated by flute and percussion rejoining the strings and building into a profound silence while Burrows continued reading about the crucifixion, pausing before a terribly dissonant, fear-inducing chord.
Srinivasan’s brilliance in keeping the chord from resolving produced an overwhelming sense of anxiety in the audience as Burrows recited Jesus’s famous quote: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
This set-up, invoking the story of the terror of the crucifixion, produced a nervous apprehension in the audience, which built as the narrator began reading again: “Convicted: 1979, Executed 1989.”
This list continued to include those that had been convicted but exonerated, either before or tragically after their execution. The musical disquiet gathered as Srinivasan’s text returned to the Bible with the question of why Jesus should be crucified.
The parallels that Srinivasan drew between the events of the crucifixion and capital punishment today were breathtaking in their simple brilliance. This text, coupled with the questioning, anxiously foreboding music of the orchestra provided an exceptional ending to the first half of the concert.
The orchestra closed the concert with Beethoven’s third symphony, “Eroica,” a brilliant piece dedicated to “the memory of a great man,” leaving the hero unnamed so that the audience members can interpret it for themselves.
The piece follows the hero through trials and tribulations in which the “heroic spirit may not be enough,” said Caitlin Andrew. The orchestra finished beautifully, however, conveying the hero’s triumphant return from the depths with epic intensity.
While the emotionally draining, brilliant opening of Srinivasan’s piece stole the show, the focus required to perform the long works by Prokofiev and Beethoven was truly impressive. Professor Srinivasan and the LSO certainly earned their standing ovation that night.