College symphony’s “lush orchestrations”
On Saturday, Dec. 3, the Colby Symphony Orchestra performed a plethora of British-oriented works in a concert part of the “Music at Colby” series. Entitled “The British Are Coming, The British Are Coming!,” the concert was advertised as a night of British composers and their “lush orchestrations” and “singable tunes.” Throughout the performance, the Colby Symphony Orchestra conveyed exactly those sentiments and more in a surprisingly diverse program ranging from traditional folk to marching songs to string serenades to symphonies. Associate Professor and Music Department Chair Jonathan Hallstrom described it as a “potpourri” of British works. He informed the audience of historical backgrounds before each piece, conveying the strong diversity between the British works themselves.
The concert commenced splendidly in a stately and powerful march by Gustav Holst’s “Marching Song, Op. 22B.” In a truly perfect piece that brightly began the night, Hallstrom conducted the orchestra through the crisp staccato marching stride that resonated brilliantly in the chapel. In the impressive conclusion of the piece, the audience was truly awestruck by the majestic sounds.
Violinist Graybert Beachman was welcomed to conduct a string ensemble in the next piece by Edward Elgar and Frank Martin, “Serenade for Strings.” Before the performance, Beachman voiced his pleasure with working on a “really great [piece] for strings” and its “absolutely gorgeous central movement.” Gorgeous is exactly what the audience then heard through the tender, expressive string textures in the dynamic piece of three movements.
In an amusing surprise, Hallstrom tickled the audience by conducting an additional piece not listed on the program, Frederich Delius’ “The Song Before Sunrise.” Prefacing the performance with a comical confession of his distaste for Delius because of the composer’s opulent style, Hallstrom made the audience laugh as he declared that “there will be no record” of his conducting a Delius piece. He then explained that Delius dictated the score of “Song Before Sunrise” to an apprentice during a time when Delius was both deaf and blind. After this preface of entertaining banter and historical information, Hallstorm then led the orchestra through a wonderful, luscious piece of dreamy, chromatic-harmonic swelling.
After intermission, Hallstrom led the strings accompaniment to a Handel aria, “Se Pieta de me non Senti,” featuring the soprano voice of Colby’s new faculty member, Vocal Music Associate Jennifer Bates. She mesmerized the audience with her crisp, powerful voice in her charmingly modest but elegantly masterful performance.
The program returned to more staple British composers with the “Simple Symphony” of Benjamin Britten. In this perky and light-hearted symphony, each movement had an alliterative title that perfectly described that section—1. Boisterous Bourée; 2. Playful Pizzicato; 3. Sentimental Sarabande; and 4. Frolicsome Finale. The orchestra captured the feelings of each movement terrifically (The audience rightfully laughed after the cute, mousey ending of string pluckings in “Playful Pizzicato”).
In the final piece, the program revealed more traditional British folk textures in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “English Folk Song Suite.” Through three contrasting movements, Hallstrom conducted the orchestra through its exciting, rich and dynamic movements, each rooted in a different British folk tune. The orchestra slowed in the magical, passionate movement 2. Intermezzo ‘My Bonnie Bay,’ for its expressive singing contrasted with bouncing folk sections. In the last movement 3. March ‘Folk Songs from Somerset,’ the orchestra captured the happy, bouncing sounds of a powerful march interwoven with another catchy folk melody. In the end, Hallstrom intentionally sped the tempo up during an upbeat, frequently repeated theme, which made the audience laugh after their final ending note. Thus, the concert ended with a gratifying chuckle shared by the musicians and audience members alike.
As the only grounds for connecting their program were based in British tradition, the Colby Symphony Orchestra’s concert “The British Are Coming, The British Are Coming!” resulted in an extremely enjoyable variety of works that somehow came together delightfully amidst much genre and period variation.