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Fromm Players Reignite The Power of the Individual

Fromm Concert
Fromm Concert featuring Prince Myshkins

On Mar. 31, the Fromm Players performed an eclectic assortment of pieces ranging from folk songs to contemporary concert music. Combining the talents of orchestral players and vocalists, the concert, entitled “Resistance and Hope,” evoked the joy and despair felt by those who wish to express themselves in a homogenized society. The concert brought together diverse music genres with ease while successfully maintaining the richness and quality of its musicians’ interpretations.

Opening the concert with “algún sonido de la vida,” a duet written by Uruguayan composer Graciela Paraskevaidis, oboists Elizabeth England and Ben Fox wove unexpectedly palpable emotion into their instrumental exchange. Despite consisting of only a few notes, the piece was rife with rhythmic nuances which England and Fox effectively conveyed through disconcerting pauses, mellifluous sustained notes, and bouncy repetition. Mirroring and, even more often, overriding and contesting each other’s phrases, the oboists elevated the piece to the point where it became not just a musical composition, but a realistic dialogue between two individuals.

Following the oboe duet, The Prince Myshkins, a satirical songwriting and performing duo, marched on stage wearing decidedly casual attire. After giving a brief introduction, Rick Burkhardt began playing the accordion as his partner, Andy Gricevich, sang the “Ministry of Oil.” Coupled with the duo’s scruffy appearance, the mock-heroic melody of the song lent an atmosphere of deceptively carefree ease. Upon closer listening, the song’s lyrics revealed a more cynical outlook on the war on terrorism.

Burkhardt and Gricevich matched the irony of their first performance in their next performances, which featured similarly politically and socially charged songs. In a particularly hilarious performance, Gricevich strummed folksy tunes on his guitar as Burkhardt assumed the role of an overly intellectual waiter whose knowledge of the disgusting nature of modern-day restaurant food scares away potential customers. Burkhardt’s raw and guttural voice gave him the air of a laid-back country singer, which contrasted humorously with the slightly neurotic persona he was embodying in his song.

This lightheartedness soon disappeared when pianist Stephen Drury and violinist Gabriela Diaz stepped on stage to perform Ustvolskaya’s 1964 duet. The piece immediately had listeners on the edge of their seats with its soft, squeaky violin notes reminiscent of fingernails scratching across a chalkboard. Drury and Diaz’s mutual attentiveness largely contributed to the success of their performance. Situated behind Diaz, Drury was able to multitask, glancing up multiple times to read Diaz’s cue while focusing on his own piano part. As a result of their skillful collaboration, the two musicians captured the ominous quality of the piece with their precise timing of suspenseful rests and harsh, motor-like bursts of notes.

In the next performance, the Kepler Quartet played “String Quartet No.5, Lonesome Valley,” written by Ben Johnston. Violinists Sharan Leventhal and Eric Segnitz, violist Brek Renselman, and cellist Karl Lavine added emotional depth to an already psychologically complex composition with their hauntingly ethereal rendition of Johnston’s fantasia. The players adeptly traversed through the tonal labyrinth while imparting a sense of woeful meandering. Throughout the piece, all four instruments were almost constantly active, demanding an exceptional level of listening and communication that the players were able to demonstrate through their smooth textural interplay.

The concert concluded with a dramatic performance of Ulstvolskaya’s “Symphony No. 2: True and Eternal Bliss!” While the orchestral players propelled the piece forward with their admirably unfaltering energy, pianist Stephen Drury’s thunderous pounds on the keyboard shone the brightest, as well as vocalist Ryne Cherry’s sentimental proclamation to the heavens: “Oh, Lord… True, true, merciful, merciful, eternity, eternity.” Drury’s well-spaced trills and chords added fervor to the increasingly rhythmic intensity of the piece, while Cherry’s recitations broke its severity with believable fear and anguish.

While probing and insightful, the performances were also refreshingly simple and candid in their portrayal of modern society. The concert’s diverse selection of contemporary music didn’t fall short on its ambition to capture the spirit of resistance and hope within the individual—it more than bolstered the sense of self through its cathartic repertoire.

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