LSO concert introduces new conductor, sets bar high

By Anastasia Skliarova

The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra played its first concert of the year on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014 in the chapel. A rather brief concert with no intermission, the orchestra performed a number of nineteenth century Russian classics: Mikhail Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla Overture,” Peter Ilitch Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture” and Alexander Borodin’s “Symphony No. 2.”

This concert marked the orchestra’s debut of not only its new personnel and repertoire, but also of its new music director and conductor, Dr. Andrew Mast, one of Lawrence University’s very own. Dr. Mast—who has also served as the Director of Bands since 2004—looked very upbeat and proud from the beginning of the concert to the end.

Orchestra members who have been involved for at least three years have experienced the conducting styles and direction from Maestros David Becker, Octavio Más-Arocas and most recently, Andrew Mast.

When asked about working with Mast, fifth-year and principal violist Dana DeBofsky said, “Dr. Mast is doing a great job of building the orchestra up, especially considering the fact that he is working with the orchestra as its director for the first time. I think that the rehearsal changes he has implemented show his respect for our time as students and musicians.”

“He came in at a transitional period and, in spite of the challenges that a new situation can present, his energy and positivity make everyone look forward to working together. I felt our whole orchestra had a lot of fun during the concert and that was a good indicator of what’s to come,” DeBofsky added.

In addition to Mast’s leadership, the orchestra showcased its talent and independent strength within its musicians. In fact, for the first piece of the concert, the orchestra played the “Russlan and Ludmilla Overture” without a conductor.

Such an opener was rather bold, but also very clearly demonstrated the trust Mast has placed in his orchestra: the overture was played with great gusto and clarity. The overture is from an opera based on a fairy tale poem that follows the rescue of Ludmilla, a prince’s daughter, by her gallant knight, Russlan, from an evil wizard. The performance seemed to suit the overture’s epic origins.

The next piece was the “Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy-Overture,” which Mast conducted. This piece is known not only for its layers in instrumentation, but also the complexity of emotion that it is said to convey and inspire.

Not unlike William Shakespeare’s iconic masterpiece “Romeo and Juliet,” the inspiration for this orchestral piece, the “Fantasy-Overture” vacillates between some of the lushest, most romantic lines ever written for an orchestra and sections that build a foreboding foundation of anxiety. The orchestra played it so beautifully that within seconds, an audience member next to me shuddered and whispered that she had goose bumps.

After the Tchaikovsky, Mast took a few minutes to jokingly apologize for being late and for having made the orchestra start without him, which garnered hearty chuckles from the packed house. He thanked the students’ parents—many of whom were in the audience for Fall Festival– for their support and contributions to their children’s musical lives.

The Borodin symphony rounded out the concert. The longest piece of the evening, its recurring theme underscored an aggressive, forward-moving energy present throughout much of the work. The looks of intense focus on stage matched the grand sweep of this symphony. Once it was finished, the orchestra received a well-deserved standing ovation, which marked a very successful beginning of their performances this academic year.

The Lawrence University Symphony Orchestra will perform again in their next concert on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. This upcoming concert will feature a musical performance from Professors Catherine Kautsky and Anthony Padilla, two members of the Conservatory’s piano faculty.