Chamber Music Concert a lesson in contrasts

The orchestra’s chamber music concert, performed on February 14 in the Black Box at 7:30 p.m., was marked by contrasts.

The chamber music format, which involved small, conductorless groups of performers performing one piece per group, seemed the opposite of the closely conducted, large-group, many-piece style distinctive to orchestras.

According to Orchestra Director Susan Bill, the relative lack of basses in chamber music creates a quandary for the bassists in the orchestra. They found several solutions: For instance, junior Katharine Silva found a piece that involved a bass and integrated her group members’ instruments.

Contrasts appeared not only in the format of the concert, but also in and among the pieces themselves, which alternated between unified tones and sharp contrasts, pairing higher-pitched instruments, like violin, with the lower-pitched ones, such as cello and bass.

In many sections of their rendition of Moderato from Viotti’s Trio No. 1 in A Major junior Pearl Choi’s cello performance created a pointillistic contrast to seniors Andrea Kim and Jack Ruske’s  flowing violins. Choi’s stacatto notes were the antithesis of Kim’s and Ruske’s fast legato, yet they blended together well in a varied and engaging piece.

In Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s String Quarter No. 1 in D Major, Opus 11, sophomores Ashley Lee, Katie Hong, Jeremy Spiro and junior Ariella Katz, respectively playing the violin, the violin, the cello and the viola, sounded first lamentful and then joy-filled. They always, however, like Ruske, Kim and Choi, fused their collective sound into a crisp product.

Sometimes they did this by playing similar-sounding stretches, but at other times, the pizzicato, or plucking of their strings, by some group members supported the flowing legato of the others.

The last three pieces played were some of the strongest. Contrary to the program’s declaration that they would play Overture and Galliard from Primo Ballo della Notte d’Amore by Allegri, the third-to-last group performed an instrumental Taylor Swift medley that contained a few spoken words. Songs included “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “Love Story.”

During the latter, senior Colby Ko walked into the semicircle made by the performers and dropped to his knees, deftly playing the whole time on his violin, to the audience’s laughter and awe.

In “Love Story,” senior Ben Hoff, playing the cello, and senior Kevin Choi, on classical guitar, each placed their palm a few inches away from the other’s and walked in a partial circle around each other, reminiscent of how Taylor Swift and the actor playing her love interest danced in the song’s music video.

The next piece, a standing-ovation-winning string quintet, “Moderato,” written by senior August Ramos, who played the bass in it, was as dramatic as its predecessor was humorous. Having both a cello and a bass added a low and fear-inducing background to the frenzy made by the group.

In the previous piece, Ko’s frenzy was amusing, even comical, whereas the screeching frenzy found in “Moderato” was chilling and frightening.

The night’s last offering was of Samuel Barber’s setting to music of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” sung by junior Fred Metzger, a baritone. Metzger sang masterfully, vibrating with the force of his vocal instrument. The musicians in the piece did an exquisite job in their part of supporting and elaborating his singing.

Overall, in all of its contrasts, the concert demonstrated its performers’  immense skill. Only a few undesirable things occurred: the seven-minutes-late starting time and the onset request of a performer to Bill for assistance with preparing her instrument were a few that came to mind.

The performers showed their prowess to captivate the audience, who overwhelmingly voted in favor of removing the intermission.

Emmanuel D’Agostino can be contacted at [email protected]