On Feb. 28, the Stony Brook University Department of Music hosted its annual one-hour family-friendly orchestra performance, featuring violinist Elvina Liu and conductor Susan Deaver, at the Staller Center. This year’s concert highlighted a range of orchestral sounds from delicate strings to percussion instruments with “musical surprises.”
The University Orchestra is composed of 75 undergraduates and graduate students of Stony Brook University. They hold two concerts each season and auditions are held two weeks prior to the start of the semester.
Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov’s “Procession of the Sardar” kicked off the festivities and warmed up the audience from the cold snowy weather.
The lively and rhythmic melodies evoked a sense of excitement and adventure as they passed between the different sections of the orchestra. The strings and woodwinds sang a gentle, lyrical melody which provided a moment of contrast with the suspenseful melodies of the lower brass instruments.
The performers swayed passionately with their instruments as the piece progressed towards “accelerato,” creating a dramatic impression on the audience as the song reached its exhilarating finish.
While introducing the next piece, “Thunder and Lightning Polka Op. 324,” Deaver explained that the orchestra would attempt to perform the piece the fastest that they ever had done before. The conductor’s engagement with the audience added to the enjoyment of the performance, as Deaver provided context behind each piece.
As the piece started, the tone was very different from the first song, and added an element of contrast that was unforgettable. The strings showcased a dignified yet dramatic sound, evoking the feeling of dancing in a thunderstorm. Although the strings took up most of the stage, the percussion instruments played a crucial role in the composition.
The surprising elements of the cymbals mimicking lightning and the bass drum as thunder added weight and drove the pace and intensity of the performance. It also created a sense of unease yet lively emotion in the audience as the musicians raced to the end.
When the song finished and silence washed over the audience, Liu walked on stage in a bright red dress, preparing for her solo performance of Mozart’s “Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K.218.”
Liu’s solo performance contrasted heavily with the buoyant melodies of the other instruments with a series of virtuosic runs and trills, showcasing her technical prowess and musical agility. She played every note with uncanny precision, filling the room with an almost otherworldly fervor. The hauntingly beautiful solo was accompanied by a delicate and restrained orchestra. The audience was in awe of Liu’s mastery and ability to convey such powerful emotion.
To end off, the orchestra played “Danse Bacchanale,” composed by Camille Saint-Saëns. Its pulsating rhythms and rich harmonies create a mood of celebration for the listener. The orchestra produced a range of textures throughout this song with contrasting notes. The strings provided a rich and lush foundation, while the winds and brass added bright and colorful accents.
As the orchestra built up to the dramatic, powerful end, they filled the hall with an exhilarating wall of sound.
Even though the orchestra played well-known classical songs, they highlighted their own flare within each of the pieces and showed their technical brilliance with their instruments. With their performance of pieces like “Danse Bacchanale,” the musicians displayed a remarkable sense of musicality and sensitivity. Somehow, they outshone their amazing fall 2022 Symphony Concert.
The orchestra’s mesmerizing performance was truly a masterful display of technical brilliance, artistic interpretation and the power that music has on people. They gave the audience memories that will last a lifetime.
The University Orchestra is not something to be missed. There will be a spring concert on May 2, which will feature the winner of the 2023 Undergraduate Concerto Competition.