LSO challenges, indulges Memorial Chapel crowd

Jessica Vogt

The familiar sounds of the “William Tell Overture” began the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra concert Sunday evening in Memorial Chapel. The work by Rossini, one of the great orchestral classics of all time, was followed by a violin concerto by the 20th-century composer Henri Dutilleux, “L’arbre des songes,” and the classic Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor.
Conductor David E. Becker said that in picking the pieces he wanted to provide the Conservatory performance students with a “balanced nutrition of repertoire.” He went on to say that in every concert this year, students will be exposed to the great and well-known classic works for orchestra.
“It’s a little like reading the great literary classics for an English class,” said Becker. Performance majors need to know these pieces, Becker went on, and the other members of the ensemble can still have fun playing them.
In addition to the great classics of Brahms and Rossini, Becker also programmed the Dutilleux concerto, whose title means “The Tree of Dreams” in French. “I’m making an attempt to do a 20th-century piece in every concert,” Becker commented.
In addition, the students had the incredible opportunity to perform with world-renowned violinist and Conservatory professor Stphane Tran Ngoc. Becker picked the Dutilleux work on the recommendation of Tran Ngoc, who knows and has worked with the composer in Paris. Tran Ngoc noted that, although the work premiered in 1985, this was one of few performances in the Midwest and the first in Wisconsin.
“L’arbre des songes” was quite a departure from the rest of the program. Alternating between fast cascading lines and quick pizzicati, Tran Ngoc’s solo part was aggressive and, at times, seemed as if he was almost attacking the instrument. The orchestral background was ethereal and full of glissandi, high pitches, dissonance and awkward intervals.
When asked what effect such a new and different piece will have on an audience, Becker replied that it is “always controversial. There are always going to be people who don’t like [this type of music]. But on a college campus we have the chance to experiment and take more risks.” He contrasted the work of a college symphony orchestra to that of a professional one, saying “professional symphonies may not do this type of piece when they have to sell tickets.” He stressed the importance of exposure to works that allow students to employ different sounds and techniques on their instruments.
And so audiences can expect to hear unusual sounds coming from the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra in at least one piece each concert throughout this year. It will keep us all on our toes with our ears alert.