Kaleidoscope kicks off the year right for music ensembles

Justin Jones

Kaleidoscope was massive. It was rambunctious. It was downright chaotic. Yet, teetering on the brink of mass confusion, it still managed to maintain the perfect blend of professionalism and sheer joy that I’d expected from such a concert.
Now in its third incarnation, the show lived up to its weighty promise of highlighting almost every Lawrence ensemble in less than 70 minutes, and the performers did so with ease and grace. With over 300 musicians, eight conductors and compositions from around the world, Kaleidoscope was an event that can only be described as spectacular.
The evening began with a performance from Gamelan Cahaya Asri, the Balinese Gamelan group on campus. To begin with a style so foreign to a Western audience was risky, and I spoke to some who found the piece inaccessible.
Yet, for others, Gamelan was a perfect opener – eerie and anticipatory. Their performance also highlighted Lawrence’s global music awareness, as did the non-programmed improvisation from Dean of the Conservatory of Music Brian Pertl on didgeridoo that followed.
A string quintet played next, and though the Dvorák “Scherzo” was beautiful, it didn’t match its predecessors in terms of volume, as it was performed from one of the stage left boxes. The piece seemed to be a transitional number.
Concert Choir’s slower but still energetic “Svete tihiy” was followed a bit prematurely by the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. Though Professor of Music and Director of Orchestral Studies David Becker jumped the gun a bit and cut off Concert Choir in their last few bars, his excitement was well founded considering the feverish pace of the piece he was conducting, Copland’s “Hoe-Down.”
The next work, though not as accessible as others, was definitely thought-provoking. Titled “Layaanjali,” meaning “full of rhythm” or an “offering of rhythm,” the composition was full of references to the music of South India where Assistant Professor of Music Asha Srinivasan, who wrote the piece, was raised.
The piece’s striking modernity was followed by a performance of a fairly well-known duet from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.” With beautiful singing from tenor Justin Berkowitz and baritone Evan Bravos, “Au fond du temple saint” was just gorgeous.
Next up were the Sambistas. They too were definitely a crowd favorite with their delightfully raucous beats and informal approach. Associate Professor of Music and Associate Director of Choral Studies Phillip Swan was reportedly dancing to their rhythm backstage before going on to conduct Sondheim’s “It Takes Two.” The piece comes from the upcoming Lawrence musical production “Into the Woods,” and was sung as a quartet by Amanda Ketchpaw, Chelsea Melamed, Evan Bravos and Alex Wilson.
Surprisingly, the Sondheim piece was followed by another musical theatre piece, an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” for piano trio. Pianists Dario LaPoma, Sunghun Cho and David Keep gave the piece the orchestral dynamism it deserved, while somehow managing to stay out of each other’s way on their one piano.
Next came the premiere of “Arclight Alley,” composed by David Werfelmann ’06. Performed by the Wind Ensemble, the piece began as a sort of cinematic landscape and quickly became very modernistic and foreboding.
Cantala then changed the tone entirely with “The Roses,” a piece by Joan Szymko. Instructor in Music Lee Tomboulian accompanied the choir on accordion. It was an interesting pairing that came off quaint and whimsical, especially in comparison to Jazz Ensemble’s “Signal Fires,” a whirlwind composition by Director of Jazz and Improvisational Music Fred Sturm.
That composition rounded out the show before President Jill Beck took up the baton. Beck closed things out with a somewhat cheesy adaptation of Holst’s “Jupiter,” performed by everyone, including the audience.
As I left the auditorium, dazed, I heard parents and students alike saying things like “amazing,” “what a show” and simply “wow.” Kaleidoscope was certainly a memorable experience and it acted as the best kind of jumpstart for a new year of music making at the Con.