Colby Symphony Orchestra concludes concert season with wintry finale

The Colby Symphony Orchestra finished its fall season this weekend with a stunning program of wintry fantasy. A fitting theme for a Colby ensemble at this time of year, the concert took the audience on a journey through the music of northern composers, from Norway to Russia.  Despite the snow that threatened to fall earlier in the day, Lorimer Chapel was packed with audience members from Colby and its surrounding community, who came to see the CSO’s last concert of the season.

The orchestra was led by new conductor Jinwook Park, who presented his notable first concert with them this October. It was apparent in Saturday’s concert that Park has settled into his new position, showcasing a more confident and nuanced orchestra with their next set of repertoire. Spanning more than an hour without an intermission, they worked hard to play the music of Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Rimsky-Korsakov with panache, earning a standing ovation and performing an encore from
Bizet’s ‘Carmen.’

The concert opened with a strings-only piece, the famous ‘Holberg’ Suite by Edvard Grieg. Grieg wrote the piece in honor of eighteenth-century Norwegian writer and philosopher Ludvig Holberg, seeking to emulate the style of music from Holberg’s time two centuries earlier. With Classical-period aesthetics but a Romantic-era spirit, this work is an experience to any listener as it blends the two vastly different styles. The suite is a contradiction of heartwarming lyricism and sacred fancy, reassuringly familiar and often energetic. The orchestra swept through the five contrasting movements with grace. From the well-known theme of the first movement to the fast-paced solos of the last, the strings brought enthusiasm, care, and ensemble skills to ‘Holberg’ as they opened the concert.

Following the Grieg, the rest of the orchestra joined the strings as they traveled farther east, from Norway to Russia. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Overture on Russian Themes’ contains many elements of Russian music in its sprawling exploration of various melodies borrowed from his countrymen. Rimsky-Korsakov was part of a group of five Russian composers dedicated to developing a musical tradition for their country, and he uses this overture to showcase various tunes that embody these characteristics.

The piece begins with a grave presentation of a Russian hymn in the winds and brass, lulling the audience with an airy delicacy as it gradually grows to include the full orchestra in a sweeping moment that is sincere and stately. Drawing back from the hymn, Rimsky-Korsakov turns to a theme from Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812’ Overture, which he intersperses with another folk-tune as he develops them both in a purely Russian style. The orchestra dealt confidently with the intricate fugue passages, complex meter, and unique rhythms the piece presented as it vacillated between moods, switching from playful animation to broad magnificence on a half a measure.

Finally, the orchestra took on the ultimate audience favorite from Russia, the beloved ‘Swan Lake’ Suite by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky. The stunning concert suite comprised of a collection of dances selected from the ballet, ranging from the practically obscure to melodies known throughout the entire Western world. For a memorable opening, the orchestra crafted the image of a swan gliding through glassy water, with a lustrous oboe solo of the ‘swan’ theme and the characteristic rippling tremolos in the violins. The theme soon swelled to epic proportions with sweeping strings and booming brass, closing the movement with dramatic intensity. Tchaikovsky showcases the incredible versatility of his theme here, capable of evoking vastly different moods depending on the orchestration even within a single short movement.

Lightening up immensely, the orchestra next took on a joyfully elegant waltz, also an audience favorite from the ballet. Another well-known ‘swan’ waltz followed—more withdrawn than the previous, but full of character as it draws to mind light-footed ballerinas doing turns and relevés. Spinning through some of the less-played movements, the orchestra brought life to the charming and exotic dances. After colorful melodies and outstanding solos, the orchestra finally brought the suite to a close in an intense reprise of the original theme, with powerful brass and winds, high-octane tremolos in the strings, and soaring melodic lines.

After a standing ovation and bows, Park led the orchestra in an encore performance of the enchanting Entr’acte from Georges Bizet’s opera ‘Carmen.’ Park explained to the audience that since the concert had presented so much drama and energy, he wanted to send them home with a lullaby instead. Featuring enthralling solos in the winds and a sweeping melody, the orchestra ended the concert, and the season, on a gentle note.