The Bach Society Orchestra performed a selection of works paying tribute to Mozart, in honor of the composer’s 250th birthday in Paine Hall.
While one might expect the Bach Society Orchestra (BachSoc) to stick to
its namesake composer or to fall into the tendency to play only Mozart
during this celebratory year, its varied song selection made for a
refreshing concert this past Saturday in Paine Hall. One was, as
always, left with admiration for the achievements of the entirely
student-run chamber orchestra, currently led by Music Director Daniel
W. Chetel ’06 and concertmaster Alex Y. Shiozaki ’09.
The night began with Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Sinfonietta No. 1,”
a work that the composer dedicated to the memory of Mozart. Although
one probably cannot have enough Mozart, classical music during this
illustrious year—and in the wake of the Mozart Society Orchestra’s
(MSO) own tribute to Amadeus—has begun to seem as repetitive as carols
around Christmastime, and the Brazilian’s tribute was a nice variation.
The uncommon choice was a delightful one, beginning with a
beautiful, pulsating rhythm and finally ending with a fast, light, and
high melody. While there were a hesitant few notes from the back and
the orchestra was occasionally out-of-tune, the strong performance of
the strings and the clearly excellent conducting of Chetel, who gave a
large, relieved smile at the piece’s close, more than compensated.
The next selection, Felix Mendelssohn’s “Concerto for Violin
and Orchestra,” was dominated by the masterful performance of guest
violin soloist Jae Young “Ariel” Jeong ’07, co-concertmaster of the
Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO).
Perhaps such details are irrelevant, but her teal gown lent
her a statuesque air—and her playing was even more divine. Backed by
solid percussion and brass, Jeong carried the orchestra with her though
the speedy first movement. Her impossibly high notes, darting arpeggios
and dancing scales, juxtaposed to her still posture and closed eyes,
mesmerized the audience until the standing ovation.
The orchestra delivered a solid performance in what was
primarily a showcase for a violin player of great technical
expertise—at times, the other players seemed superfluous and somewhat
out-of-sync with Jeong.
One wonders if the choice of Mendelssohn was in the best
interests of BachSoc, especially considering that the piece is not,
beyond the first movement, strikingly melodic. There are composers
whose concertos highlight both soloist and back-up—Rachmaninoff
immediately comes to mind—but the selection of night seemed merely a
grandstanding opportunity for Jeong to showcase her talents.
Still, BachSoc positively shone during its rendition of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40.”
The familiar melody moved audience and orchestra alike,
reminding one why some pieces are memorable. As the program brochure
noted, the symphony is both a popular cell phone ring tone, as well as
a transcendent, evocative, and exuberant piece of music. The elegant
opening notes brought out the best in virtually every instrument, and
the performance remained steady throughout the piece and delivered a
strong, fast finish.
BachSoc improved at the end of the night, ultimately
inspired, no doubt, by the remarkable brilliance of Mozart. Rather than
intimidate performers, the Austrian master seemed to inspire the
orchestra, which delivered a passionate performance occasionally
hindered, but never ruined, by a lack of technical expertise.