Safety in Numbers? Not for an Adept BSO
BACH SOCIETY ORCHESTRA Conducted by Eric Tipler '99 Soloist Jonathan Russell '00 Paine Hall March 14
Whoever said that strength comes with numbers would have been completely wrong about the Bach Society Orchestra (BSO). Although small in number, Bach Soc proved to be a valiant orchestra with its rich tones reverberating throughout Paine Hall last Saturday. Along with guest soloist Jonathan Russell '00, the chamber orchestra treated the audience to a delightful performance.
The first piece on the program was the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A Major, featuring the winner of the orchestra's concerto competition, Jonathan Russell '00. The orchestra jumped right into the traditional long intro to Mozart's Concerto while Russell--a dark figure--was silhouetted against the stage lights. After he awaited the long introduction, with one swaying motion Russell presented himself clearly with the unique and melodious tone of the clarinet. Sixteenth-note runs effortlessly double-tongued in this Allegro, Russell had complete control over his instrument, fingers moving rapidly yet delicately on the keys. Sixteenth run after sixteenth run, Russell set up the orchestra for a colorful and vivid interlude as he quickly tried to get rid of water stuck in his key.
Eric Tipler '99, conductor of the BSO, communicated with the orchestra and Russell so skillfully that not only was Russell presented as a guest soloist, but during the interludes, the Bach Soc seemed a soloist by itself. Ever so delicately, Russell and the orchestra started the Adagio, the orchestra gently backing up Russell's beautifully fragile tone. A soul's love song, the Adagio, became Russell's song, putting heartfelt emotion into each note as he rocked gently back and forth to the music. What was most beautiful about this movement was the way in which Russell sustained the upper register notes, almost "sighing" over to the next measure and continuing on with his song. Because of Tipler's control over the orchestra, Russell was free to take liberties here and there while the orchestra safely caught him at the end of the phrases.
A bright contrast to that soulful lullaby, the Rondo-Allegro showed the range of Russell's capabilities. From the orchestra's liveliness to Russell's pulsing shoulders, the body movements alone showed the enjoyment that the ensemble had in performing this. Fun-filled, not only did the orchestra have a great time performing this lively end to a great concert, but the audience had an equally pleasing experience watching such energetic faces and talented musicians. Loud cheers and an enthusiastic orchestra complemented Russell as he came out for a second curtain call. Happily, Russell slightly tripped over the harp on the way back to the front of the stage, only to fumble with his clarinet while trying to receive a multitude of bouquets. With a third curtain call, Russell went backstage with a wild cheer resonating in his ears from the audience, passers-by declaring their membership to the "Jonathan Russell Fan Club."
However, the night was only a third over. The orchestra, seemingly nervous for the Variaciones Concertantes by Alberto Ginastera returned for this piece that treated different parts of the orchestra as soloists. A cello and harp started the piece, Tipler not even lifting his conducting stick for this performance. A surreal beginning with the resonance of the chords, this duet between the two instruments was a mysterious love song, only to be interrupted by a loud explosion from cello soloist Chris Thornton `01 that cunningly brought in the rest of the orchestra.
The second variation wasn't lying when it was introduced as Interludio per Corde, for that's all it was--intense chords adding gradually to the strange aura of the music, chords that take their origins from unknown places that only the orchestra seemed to know. However, Joe Levin `98, changed the mood by performing a fast and striking flute solo with the orchestra providing major dynamic contrast. Playing off Levin's solo was a long clarinet scherzo, shrieking through technically challenging runs in some kind of frantic war dance, stopping for moments to provide a melodious peace, only to gradually build up more tension into crazy clarinet runs, successfully demonstrated by Dan Schneider `98.
Each of the twelve variations featured one part of the orchestra as a soloist in this creative piece, such as a powerfully emotional viola solo by Sarah Darling `01, vibrant with chords and trills that built up tension. More solos came along throughout variations including a morning song by the oboe and bassoon, while the noticeable act of taking off the string mutes presented a disturbing trumpet and trombone variation, and led off to others such as the solo violinist, hornists and the return of the cello and harp. A lively end with a piccolo solo created a warlike effect with the bows of the string players acting as threatening weapons, ending in an aggressive performance of this enjoyable piece.
After intermission, the Mendelssohn's Third Symphony greeted the audience with bright colorful chords. With force, the orchestra traded the theme throughout the orchestra, the violinists' hands becoming nothing but a blur from the rapid bowing. The orchestra members' faces crinkled by concentration, the rapid succession of each measure reached a point of chromatic suspended progression, only to return back to the frantic rapidity, ending in a clever pizzicato ending.
A generally bright piece, the Vivace non troppo also started cheerfully with the frolicking melodies of the winds. The orchestra had a way to create an intense yet light tone, filled with their effortless performances of the difficult sections. The piece had a cute ending: three light short notes passed from the winds to strings in a playful way. The most noticeable aspect of the orchestra's performance however, was in the Adagio movement when the buildup of dynamic fortissimos provided a symphonic boom that one would expect only from an orchestra of a much larger scale. Yet, the sound of this small chamber orchestra echoed off the walls and filled the audience's ears till sound waves would spill out of the building and into the air outside. Of course, their efforts were noticeable, as the brass musicians' faces were turning bright red, sweat beads were forming on the faces of the string players, and Tipler was jumping around, leaning left, leaning right, trying to urge the orchestra on as a coach, asking for more force. Quite humorously, in the last movement's finale, a page turn set up the last section into a grand timpani role and a horn declaration joined with the strings to end a great concert.
Shivers creeping up the spines of the audience, they stood up in loud applause. Meanwhile, the orchestra, happy at pleasing the audience, sighed in relief at finishing this difficult piece by loosening collars, wiping foreheads and smiling at one another for accomplishing this feat. Had the originator of the quote "Strength comes in numbers" been in the audience that night, the quote might not have existed today.