This past weekend, the Colby Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Hallstrom played a delightful concert of Classical music. If you have been paying attention to previous concerts, the theme this year for the orchestra is "a journey through music history." Having touched on the Romantic and Baroque periods last semester, we have made our way to the Classical period.
The concert began with Eine Kleine Nacht Musik by that most representative classical composer W.A. Mozart. Everyone knows Eine Kleine--it has been used in so many commercials and movies. However, I think the mark of artistry means that no matter how many times a piece is used and abused, it never becomes clichéd when heard in the correct context. This also is incumbent on the group performing to take special care so that its interpretation does not sound hackneyed. And thankfully with the Colby Orchestra, the performance was certified fresh.
Although tentative sounding at some points, the articulation was crisp and did justice to Mozart's elegant writing. The balance between the string sections was extremely good. As a cellist, I am slightly biased and will give a shout out to my section and the basses for their excellent playing. Yeah, the parts are mostly tonic-dominant harmonic grounding, but it was as if the cellos and basses were one instrument: matching in articulation, style and intonation.
I thought the orchestra did an excellent job of bringing out the drama of the piece. I have heard Eine Kleine many times, but "dramatic" never occurred to me as the adjective to describe the music's affect. Yet in Hallstrom's mind and in the hands of the Colby Orchestra, the music had definite flair, and made for a fresh interpretation.
After Eine Kleine, principal cellist Steve Witkin dazzled the audience with the technical virtuosity required of Boccherini's Cello Concerto in B flat Major. When Mr. Witkin played through a passage of double stops in thumb position, I almost died. It is unimaginably difficult to play that (I know from many years of failure) and Mr. Witkin made it look absolutely effortless, as he was able to play the incredibly demanding passages with finesse and clarity.
While lacking in the shirt-ripping passion of concerti written for cello in the Romantic period, the sheer level of technical competence that Mr. Witkin possesses and had the opportunity to display in the Boccherini was a treat to behold. Sometimes, you think unbelievably talented people only exist in huge cities. Mr. Witkin was a reminder to us that they just might be sitting next to you.
Finally, the orchestra ended with Haydn's Symphony 103, "The Drum Roll." I will admit it now, Haydn is my least favorite composer. He wrote the same symphony 104 times. I kid, but not by much. Having put my cards on the table, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by this symphony. The last movement was especially rousing.
This is a huge generalization and a purely subjective feeling, but Classical music (as in music from the Classcial period) just does not do it for me. Life starts with Beethoven's middle period and the Romantics--I could listen to that music forever and be completely satisfied. But, I tip my hat to Hallstrom and the Colby Orchestra for finding the dramatic flair in these pieces.
In our tour through music history, the selections from the classical period as performed by the Colby Orchestra made for an excellent sampling, mixing the familiar with the virtuosic. However, despite my prejudices coming in, I was engaged through out and impressed, as always, with the level of accomplishment this orchestra and its individual members possess.