Despite the on-stage heat that orchestra members described as brutal, the Bach Society Orchestra (Bach Soc) gave an energetic performance in Paine Hall, one of the only slutty bunny-free venues on campus Saturday night.
Unsurprisingly, Bach Soc kicked off their 2006-7 season with Bach’s Suite for Orchestra No. 1. With a program that also included Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”), the orchestra demonstrated their facility with a range of musical styles. Music Director Aram V. Demirjian ’08 proved himself to be an excellent conductor, beyond his archetypal shock of hair—think Seji Ozawa—with his confident and expressive leadership.
Flanked by a full string section, two oboes and a bassoon, the harpsichord—unusual at Harvard concerts—added elegant color to the Bach Suite. From the Overture to the final Passepied, the orchestra kept the texture light and true to the music’s roots in dance forms. Difficult passages in the inner movements were rendered impressively by the three wind players, with especially tasteful work by the bassoonist Kara A. LaMoure ’10.
Audience members less familiar with classical music perked up upon hearing the opening bars of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, popularized by the movie “Platoon.” Due perhaps to the tough psychological leap from Bach to Barber or the fact that the tempo was a bit too upbeat, the Barber Adagio was the least successful of the three pieces.
Originally written as the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet op. 11, the Adagio is often performed by a full string section rather than just four players, which can muddy the sound and dilute the piece’s emotional impact. Bach Soc did encounter some of these problems by using all of their strings, and only reached a true pianissimo at the poignant end of the piece.
The other count against the performance of the Adagio was no fault of the orchestra’s, but rather that of a moronic concertgoer, whose vibrating phone ruined the impact of the climactic grand pause. However, listening to the Adagio for Strings is always a moving experience, and the melody was articulated convincingly by the orchestra’s strong viola section.
From the first funereal strains of the Mendelssohn symphony, it was clear that the orchestra—filled out with full brass, wind, and timpani—had reached the part of the concert for which it was best prepared. It is hard to go wrong with Mendelssohn’s winsome opening melody, and the orchestra passed it from one section to another with skill. The ornamented scherzo section of the first movement was bright and charming, and grew into an exciting frenzy.
A difficult clarinet solo which opens the second movement was rendered with seeming ease by Andrew P. Lowy ’09, a great asset to the orchestra’s wind section. The slow third movement was highlighted by the healthy sound created by the first violins, in partnership with the principal flute Jonathan G. Sherman ’07. Demirjian seemed in his element as he guided the orchestra to an graceful and unified closing of the movement—something that is beyond the reach of many student orchestras.
The final Allegro was undoubtedly the favorite of the brass section, who nevertheless resisted the urge to overblow the exciting theme. The strings and winds played the technical sections leading up to the final crescendo with a clarity that bespoke good rehearsing habits. After the symphony ended with a bang, the audience got on their feet for enthusiastic and well-deserved applause.