Orchestras Kick Off Season With a Bang
By Kathy McCardwell

Less than one month into the academic year Oberlin’s orchestras have already performed two high-quality concerts. Last Sunday in Warner Concert Hall the Chamber Orchestra played their debut concert of the season, followed by the Oberlin Orchestra performance in Finney on Wednesday. Both concerts were conducted by Music Director of the Oberlin Conservatory Orchestras Steven Smith.
The Oberlin Chamber Orchestra presented a concert broadcast live on Cleveland’s classical music station, WCLV 104.9 FM. The concert began with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543.” The Chamber Orchestra’s performance explored the entire scope of classical emotions. While Mozart’s music is often characterized by a restraint and balance that is mistaken by some as repetitiveness, here the orchestra discovered and demonstrated all the subtle nuances of variation and color, resulting in a vital and interesting interpretation of this late Mozart symphony. The third movement, Minuetto — Allegro was especially charming, with all the grace and surface simplicity of a Viennese music box.
After intermission, the program continued with Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37.” Performing on Oberlin new German Steinway, soloist Peter Takacs, Professor of Piano, displayed in his playing a love for Beethoven’s music. The first movement, Allegro con brio, was a tasteful rendering of the composer at his finest, with all his extremes of dark storminess and light airiness. The second movement, Largo, was perhaps the highlight of the concert. Takacs played wonderfully and his phrasing was flawless and unpretentious. The orchestra accompanied him very well, avoiding dead background roar and adding to the depth of feeling expressed in this pathos-filled movement. The Beethoven concerto concluded with a brilliant Rondo – Allegro, full of exuberance and enthusiasm, and again showing the concordance between soloist and orchestra. Takacs later complimented the orchestra on their accompaniment skills.
“They reacted very sensitively to what I was doing,” Takacs said.
The concert closed with Aaron Copland’s little-heard piece “Three Latin-American Sketches.” The orchestra seemed to enjoy this piece greatly, handling the technically difficult sections with ease to present a lovely aural portrait of Copland’s view of Latin America. The first and third movements, Estribillo and Danza de Jalisco, respectively, were energetic and rhythmically driven, and distinctly Copland. The middle movement, Paisage Mexicano, was more reserved and reminiscent of some of the slower sections of “Rodeo.” As with much of Copland’s writing, this piece called for many wind and brass soloists, all of whom performed admirably, effectively capturing the spirit of the work.
Three days later in Finney Chapel, the Oberlin Orchestra performed an equally ambitious concert featuring more recent composers, all of whom wrote during or after the late Romantic era. First on the concert was a piece by an obscure contemporary composer, Arvo Part. “Fratres,” for string orchestra and percussion, was written in the 1970s, with several newer editions and arrangements. Part’s “Fratres” has all the lyricism of Barber’s better-known work, “Adagio for Strings.” The Oberlin Orchestra’s string and percussion sections maintained this lyricism while creating intense sound, even in quiet sections.
The percussionists punctuated the smoothly changing chords, adding almost the only rhythmical touches to an otherwise unformed piece. Part fans in the audience found themselves somewhat unsettled, however, by the absence of a violin soloist, as is featured in one of the better-publicized editions of “Fratres.” Apparently the orchestra performed one of the lesser-known editions of this piece that dispenses with the soloist.
The brass and wind sections joined the strings and percussion onstage for the next work, Richard Strauss’s “Tod und Verklarung, Op. 24” (Death and Transfiguration), a piece which contrasted sharply with the minimalistic “Fratres.” A common interpretation of Tod und Verklarung explains it as the narrative of the death-struggle of an artist. The various sections of the piece are each associated with a particular incident: the artist preparing his soul for death, reflecting on the good he has tried to do, wracked with pains, recalling his childhood, dying and entering the afterlife. The orchestra responded sensitively to the piece’s many moods. The transitions between such sections were clean and precise and ensemble playing was excellent. Especially noteworthy was the fine work of the brass choir, which created an impressively rich and full sound.
After the intermission, the concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36,” a piece often interpreted as being somewhat autobiographical and probably not originally intended for publication. This is Tchaikovsky baring his soul; such a piece requires the most careful musicianship. The opening Andante Sostenuto again featured a superb brass choir and the violin sections played very well, evoking all the delicate colors in Tchaikovsky’s writing. The second movement, Andantino in modo di Canzona, featured several excellent soloists who insightfully lingered on just the right notes to express the full depth of Tchaikovsky’s emotions. The third movement was considerably lighter, with pizzicato strings and a melody that seemed almost like a French folk tune. The piece ended with an Allegro con fuoco, which the orchestra performed with definite fire and energy, especially noteworthy at the end of such a difficult concert.
Through fine performances of difficult works, both orchestras justified Oberlin’s reputation as a music school of the highest quality and showed promise of a highly successful 2002-2003 season.
“I was very pleased with both concerts,” music director Smith said. “Both concerts came up very quickly in the school year, but I think [the students] really rose to the challenge. For me, it was a great way to start.”

September 27
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