An eclectic mix of sounds in Symphony Orchestra’s final show of the season

This weekend, the Colby Symphony Orchestra finished out its season with a packed program of a wide variety of pieces. Lead for the last time by guest conductor Janna Hymes of the Williamsburg Symphonia and the Maine Pro Musica Orchestra, they played concerts both Saturday and Sunday night for a crowded Lorimer Chapel, filled by community members, students, professors, and families. They were joined by the Colby Chorale and the Colby-Kennebec Choral Society for the closing piece, which was lead by Shannon Chase, director of both chorales. The concert also featured flutist Jacob Wall ’16, winner of the Music Department’s Concerto Competition. With everything from modernism and chorale music to romanticism and orchestral virtuosity, the concert showed off the group’s abilities to the fullest.

The orchestra opened with Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture,” which stands as one of his most well known works and a fundamental piece of orchestra repertoire. Opening on a grumpy note, the orchestra passes themes between instruments and sections in a bit of a rhythmic challenge, mimicking the muttering of arguing academics.

Brahms, a notorious joker, poked extra fun at the somber opening by drawing his themes from student drinking songs, while developing them with his usual extraordinary compositional technique. The mood gradually lightened, eventually swelling into brilliant and triumphant sweeping melodies that he contrasted with the return of the sober and ‘academic’ portions. Brahms’ characteristic orchestration handles the intricate counterpoint of the themes delightfully, and shows off all of the instruments’ musical capabilities. After bringing the orchestra to a gentle and heartwarming close, Brahms springs into an ending with an exultant climax on the famous “Gaudeamus igitur,” (a popular graduation song and student drinking song). Bolstered by thunderous brass and wind sections and an explosion of fast strings in the top of their ranges, the overture rushes to an impressive and exhilarating end.

Next, the orchestra was joined by Concerto Competition winner Wall, who played the flute solo part of Cecile Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute and Orchestra. Typically late romantic in composition, it features a high-soaring flute that Chaminade puts through the paces with virtuosic arpeggios and runs. Backed by a full orchestra that adds a lush accompaniment to the flute’s coloratura, the one-movement rondo alternates repetitions of the sweet and soaring theme with new and memorable melodies, exciting Presto sections, and a strenuous cadenza. Filled with dramatic and frequent changes in tempo and mood, Chaminade presents an exciting piece for the orchestra and the soloist.

The mood of the concert took an abrupt turn there, switching to two selections from Aaron Copland’s 1938 ballet Billy the Kid. The ballet depicts the adventures of notorious outlaw and killer Billy the Kid, and his eventual capture. A contemporary composer who tried many different compositional paradigms throughout his lifetime, Copland became immensely popular for his development of an ‘Americana’ style of music, combining folk songs and cowboy tunes with slow-changing harmonic movement and sustained notes to paint a picture of the idyllic American West. The selections chosen very much embody Copland’s Americana, though in contrasting ways; the first “Prairie Night” depicts a peaceful night’s card game, with lazy melodies in the winds and a whispery harmonic background in the strings. The second, “Celebration (after Billy’s Capture)” is riotous and sarcastic, featuring cowboy tunes in the brass and a full section of percussion.

Hymes’ last piece with the orchestra was the spirited Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov. Returning the audience to the late romantic period, this piece is an example of the absorption of Spanish music into Russian culture around the time. Comprised of several short movements based on stereotypically Spanish folk tunes, these dancelike sections run from exuberantly playful to dramatically grave, showing off many unique techniques in the orchestra all the while. The capriccio includes an extensive percussion section, a harp, trumpet fanfares, and guitar-like pizzicato, to name a few of its exotic charms. Starting with a short and festive movement, Rimsky-Korsakov quickly moves into a solemn but ultimately sweeping slow movement. This is followed by the return of the first dance—the theme—and then a new dance, broken up by short but impressive cadenzas by various solo instruments. Finally, the piece closes out with an incredibly fast return of the opening theme, accelerating into an explosive finale.

Finally, the chorales and Chase joined the orchestra for the second half of the program to perform Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass. A modern composer, Gjeilo is Norwegian-born and Juilliard-trained. His Sunrise Mass, written for chorus and strings, uses the Latin Mass text with English titles ascribed to the sections in order to connect them to the human experience. A very repetitive work, it has a fairly minimalistic feel to it, particularly in the drawn-out progression of its structure and the focus on the sound at a particular moment in lieu of focusing on harmonic movement. Hauntingly beautiful and movingly grounding in turns, this piece brought the concert to a close with a standing ovation from the audience.

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