CSO’s “From Russia with Love”

Last Saturday night, students, professors, and community members crowded into Lorimer Chapel for the first of two concerts this semester played by the Colby Symphony Orchestra (CSO).  They were led by guest conductor Janna Hymes, music director of the Williamsburg Symphonia and the Maine Pro Musica Orchestra, and former student of the conductor Leonard Bernstein. Hymes has been called “an exceptionally skilled conductor” by the Virginia Gazette, with a “robust [and] energetic sound” (Cincinnati Enquirer), and she led the CSO for the second time this weekend, after delivering a successful concert of Beethoven, Mozart, and Shostakovich late last fall.

On Saturday, the CSO delivered “From Russia With Love”, a concert comprised entirely of Russian music, which was billed full of the passion, intensity, and romanticism. They opened with the breathtakingly fast overture to Mikhail Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, a well-known audience thriller that contrasts quick runs in the string section with sweeping melodies from the strings, winds, and brass.  A prime example of Romantic era Italian opera, Glinka’s heroic opening nevertheless is unmistakably influenced by the Russian style of Glinka’s homeland, giving it a uniqueness that has helped it pass the test of time.

Glinka’s overture was immediately followed by a suite of dances by Aram Khachaturian, written as incidental music for Mikhail Lermontov’s play Masquerade.  These five dances consist of a moody and dramatic waltz, a sorrowful but sweet nocturne, and the playful mazurka and galop movements, separated by a soft but powerful Romance.  The nocturne featured a beautiful solo played flawlessly by the CSO’s concertmaster, Sascha Zaburdaeva Lorimer, from the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.  Khachaturian writes in a hyper-nationalistic, archetypical style here with the Russian musical identity that he spent his time as a composer working to develop, sometimes despite the efforts of the Soviet Union. Each of the short movements exhibits a different quality of this zeitgeist, presenting the audience with several delightful themes of varying characters that work well in concert. This piece concluded the first half of the concert to loud applause, followed by a short intermission for the audience to stretch, and for the musicians to recover from the fast and challenging music in preparation for the next half.

The second half of the program consisted of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s second Symphony, nicknamed “The Little Russian” for the use of Ukrainian folk songs in three of four movements.  The first movement starts out with a solemn horn solo on a folk melody, which gradually is joined by the orchestra, with the strings trading the chromatic runs that make Tchaikovsky’s music distinctive and lush. The movement then changes from the slow andante sostenuto to an energetic allegro vivo featuring a new theme that is masterfully developed and contrasted for the rest of the dramatic and exciting movement. The second movement, andantino marziale, quasi moderato, is one of the more famous of Tchaikovsky’s works, with a familiar stately but subtly playful theme that is taken up by strings, brass, and wind, as the other sections accompany it to great effect.

Following the second, the Scherzo third movement bursts in at an exceedingly fast allegro molto vivace, surprising the audience with unexpected accents, syncopations, and complex exchanges between sections. The movement’s harried pace is broken up by a more pastoral trio section featuring complex passages in the violins and flute, before it accelerates back into the original content for an explosive end.  The finale, moderato assai, opens with a heroic-sounding fanfare where the orchestra plays the theme in a slow unison. The well-known folk tune “The Crane” is then presented in a lively exchange between instruments as Tchaikovsky develops it into a bold and thrilling finale with memorable themes and high-octane instrumentation.

The concert ended with a standing ovation in the packed chapel, with audience members calling it “exciting” and “incredibly done.” During the concert, Hymes thanked the orchestra for putting together such an extensive and complicated program so early in the semester. “I was impressed by our ability to pull off such a hard program in such little time,” adds principal violist Greyson Butler ’17, “I was really proud of how everyone rose to the challenge, and surprised at how big an audience turnout there was, with a good mix of students and community members.”

The orchestra will perform again this spring on April 30 and May 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Lorimer Chapel. The orchestra will play Copland’s “Billy the Kid” concert suite, Brahms’ “Academic Festival” Overture, Chaminade’s Flute Concertino featuring Concerto Competition Winner Jacob Wall ’16, and Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass, featuring the Colby Chorale and the Colby-Kennebec Choral Society.  All performances are free to the public.

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