Under new conductor, Colby Symphony takes audience on tour through Romanticism

This past Saturday night, Colby Symphony Orchestra (CSO) had their first performance of the year in Lorimer Chapel. While the beginning of the season is always a bit of a reintroduction to the orchestra as it adjusts to seasoned members graduating and new members joining, this was also the community’s first opportunity to see the new conductor, Jinwook Park. Enthusiastic and outgoing, Park has brought both energy and experience to Colby, and this was apparent on Saturday.

The program took the audience on a musical tour through the Romantic era, presenting three landmark works by Mendelssohn, Fauré, and Dvořák. Well-rehearsed and confidently executed, the concert was an impressive start to the season and gives a good idea of what can be expected from the CSO this year.

Colby filled the position for orchestra conductor and violin and viola teacher after a year of transition by violinist Jinwook Park. A native of South Korea, he was previously based in Boston, where he earned his Master’s and Doctorate at the Boston Conservatory and Boston University respectively. Park has taught and conducted in Boston and has performed across the United States and South Korea. He has also been the director of groups such as the Hwaum Boston Chamber Orchestra, the Boston Korean Chorus, and the Haffner Sinfonietta, which he founded, and also works to create social change by “bridging Korean and American communities.” Park has brought Colby’s orchestra to an impressive place considering the few weeks he has been here and the concert showcased that.

The program worked its way through a diverse set of music from early Romanticism to Impressionism that proves the true scope of 19th century music. The works all spanned from about 12 to 20 minutes, and each told a very different story in a unique style.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote his Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1826, when he was only 17 years old. Regarded as an incredible feat of musical maturity, this piece is still one of his most well-known works. It opens with an enchanting series of soft chords in the winds that nod to the romance and mystery of Shakespeare’s play. Mendelssohn then starts a section of fast but whispering notes in the upper strings, showing off the section’s precision and dexterity and building up excitement for the robust entrance of the famous theme.

As the piece progresses, Mendelssohn develops and then recapitulates those themes with some fugues and surprises thrown in that the CSO handled beautifully, seamlessly transitioning from the hearty to the delicate parts in a parallel to Shakespeare’s play. Lightly emotional and reassuringly delicate, the experience is reminiscent of meandering through the forest, encountering magical fairies and love, either shared or unrequited.

Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite was originally written to accompany the play in London in 1898. Consisting of four movements (Prélude, Fileuse, Sicilienne, and Mort de Mélisande), the piece accompanied a dramatic love story and retains a romantic narrative even in its own performance.

As one of the composers involved in French musical impressionism, Fauré’s work holds the peculiar quality that is distinctive to that movement. Muted and eternally peaceful on the surface, it nonetheless expresses extreme heights of emotion and stuns the audience in its own (seemingly) quiet way. This piece takes a delicate touch and careful attention to perform correctly, which the orchestra pulled off beautifully under Park.

The concert ended with a symphony-long finale of Dvořák’s famous “New World” Symphony.  His ninth, it was first performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1893 as part of his trip to America from his home in Czechoslovakia. Written to express his impressions of America, his journey, and his homecoming, the symphony is stunning from start to finish, from the high-octane drama of the first and last movements to the gentle but breathtaking slow movement. The piece is wildly dynamic and tumultuous, asking virtuosity and copious energy from all sections of the orchestra—and no small amount of sweat from the conductor.

Dvořák tempers this with moments that are beautifully evocative, calling to mind a ship leaving behind stormy seas for blue skies and safe ports, depicting the excitement and anticipation of voyage but also the satisfaction of returning home. The well-known melody of the second moment echos his longing for arriving home and his patriotic sentiments for his own country with heart-wrenching solos from the brass, winds, and strings. The “New World” Symphony put the Colby orchestra through the paces and the audience through an emotional rollercoaster, coming to an explosive finish and ending the concert with a long standing ovation for Park and the orchestra.

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