The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra played their first concert of the year last Saturday, Oct. 8, in the Memorial Chapel.
The concert was primarily homage to the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, as the orchestra performed Howard Hanson’s “Symphony No. 2” first, and ended the evening with an excerpt from the same piece. Eighty years earlier, Hanson conducted the first Interlochen performance of his second symphony.
Hanson’s piece starts with a simple three-note theme, with foreboding close harmonies. As Professor of Music and Director of Orchestral Studies David Becker conjured up the energy from his musicians, the piece gradually swelled in volume.
Hanson explores a remarkable number of harmonies around his three-note theme, evoking in the listener a plethora of emotions. The piece builds, driven by the robust rumbling of the timpani. The peak of the piece contains a lengthy solo from the horn section, which was beautifully executed by the LSO horn section.
The second movement showed off the capabilities of the orchestra’s string section, performing Hanson’s lush, flowing, romantic melodies with much emotion.
The third movement seemed to bring the first two movements together. Piercing violins were answered by a full brass sound, and the two timbres worked together to form this movement. The brass and string sections exchanged melodies and accompaniment with ease, rounding out the sound of the orchestra to its full potential.
There was a bit of over-anticipation near the end of the piece, with an early and flat entrance, but the last note was so resonant, putting out any memory of error. My favorite part of the concert was when the silence of the hall captured the vibration of that final note.
Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” “Symphony No. 8” followed the Hanson. Sophomore and Co-Concertmaster Lauren Pulcipher led the chamber orchestra. It says a lot about Becker and the LSO for Becker to be able to give up the stage to his students to perform a magnificent piece such as this one.
It is no doubt that this was a hard piece to conduct, with Schubert’s many “interruptions” between phrases and some lengthy pauses between some sections and around cadence points. To address this challenge, the orchestra breathed together — a very useful tool to stay unified, but at the price of the smallest detraction in listening pleasure.
Pulcipher’s cues were very clear and thoughtful, keeping the character of the piece intact, but Becker’s absence did not go unnoticed. He pulls so much energy out of his players — this energy was lacking in certain sections of the piece.
Bassists Brian Courage and Zach Suechting provided a great performance. They were in sync, and their tones blended for a rich, warm sound that filled out the low end that was so crucial to the piece.
On a larger scale, there was great unity in the horns, brass and flutes in the recapitulation, which highlighted the interesting harmonies going on at that point. The last note was swelled and shaped tastefully, and it brought the entire piece to a wonderful close.
The last piece on the LSO program was “Four Dances” from the Ballet “Estancia,” by Alberto Ginastera, performed again by the full symphony.
The first movement was rhythmic, driven by the syncopations in the tambourine and other percussion. This was coupled with a very percussive pizzicato texture coming from the cellos. The cross rhythms that developed propelled the momentum forward.
The second movement contrasted with the first, starting with a drone. From there, Ginastera’s harmonies were rich, flowing and jazzy. The next movement showed off the tightness of the group, as there was a lot of full ensemble unison.
The final movement of the piece echoed the first, and it was great fun to watch the players having so much fun up on stage. The piece was energetic, driven primarily by Tristan Renfrow’s outstanding performance on the xylophone.
At one point, Renfrow did a stylish 360 spin, never missing a beat. The horns also stood up and did a little shimmying in the back row. The conclusion of the Ginastera brought the crowd to a cacophonous standing ovation.
A brief encore was to follow. The “Interlochen Theme,” an excerpt from Hanson’s second, was led by Louis Steptoe, student assistant conductor, presenting the final homage to Interlochen for the evening.