LSO performs with aplomb

The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra concert on Friday, Jan. 31, started off with a booming phrase. At 8 p.m., the first piece of the evening was Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dance” No. 8, Op. 46. The appeal of this piece was that it was interspersed with layers and layers of texture, from the lighter trickling notes to the percussion that grounded it. The Memorial Chapel housed a full upper section with a decent smattering of people below as well. Around 20 of the orchestra’s players were missing from the concert, as they are in the rehearsal process for the mainstage opera in March, but the sound was not lacking. The orchestra has had a busy term between preparing for both the opera and their upcoming Presto tour, wherein students have the opportunity to visit high schools in the Twin Cities, work with community organizations and perform a one-night-only concert. 

The next piece was presented, a Madetoja piece called “Tanssi-Näky” (Dance Vision), Op. 11/2, described to be a “whimsical symphonic poem” with “orchestral colors” that are reminiscent of French impressionist palettes. The pluck of the harp with the higher string, woodwind and brass instruments was joined after a moment by the lower stringed instruments; the whole orchestra seemed to surge inward and outward with the music. Some areas of the song brought a frantic energy, while others built into an airier melodic section. 

At the close of the piece, the piano was opened and sophomore Ben Johnson was introduced. As the winner of the LSO Concerto Competition, he was asked to accompany the orchestra at the piano on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor, op. 1, I. Vivace. He came out in a long suitcoat, sat down and began to lead the orchestra in a piece that was furious and jaw-dropping. Though the volume of the orchestra was large, it did not take away from the spotlight of his fingers moving at a dizzying pace across the keys. The whole piece was accompanied by some palpable sense of yearning and emotion that ultimately led to a standing ovation and almost actual cheers from the crowd before the director had a chance to lower his hands. One person in the bottom section could even be seen pumping both fists in the air. 

Assistant Professor of Music Anne Ellsworth accompanied the next song, Sheila Silver’s “Being in Life,” II on the horn. This song additionally featured Tibetan singing bowls. These are traditionally used in Tibetan Buddhist rituals and meditation by “striking” and “singing” the bowls using corresponding hitting and sliding motions with a stick. Though the piece was written to be joyful, it held a weight to it through the basses and a level of depth that was achieved through conversation with the bowls, the horn and short interludes by sophomore Zoe Boston. 

Where the song before felt expansive, this one felt self-contained and reflective. It was met with yet another standing ovation from the crowd, this time delayed by the sound of the bowls fading out. Moving into the last piece, Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (“The Dance in the Village Inn”), S110/2 by Liszt, the orchestra’s sound expanded outward again to a level of comfortable cacophony that the student introducing the piece had promised it would deliver, wherein individual instrumental sections jostled for attention before fading back into the general din. 

A short and sweet concert, at around an hour and ten minutes, each piece played by the orchestra was made more captivating by the talent and expressiveness of the students involved.