Monday, May 9, 2011

MYA's Spring Concert: Be Heroic

Last Sunday, MYA’s youth orchestras all performed at Pick-Staiger at Northwestern University. At the first concert, which took place in the afternoon, the Reading, Cadet, Concertino, Philharmonia and Concert Orchestras played. The evening concert featured the Symphony Orchestra, which played a Concerto with Mathieu Dufour, the principal flutist of the CSO, and a performance of Strauss' Ein Heldenlaben. It was the last concert of the year.

I played in the first concert, because I'm in the Concert Orchestra. During this program, the younger orchestras in MYA performed. Concert performed the entire Dvorak 8th Symphony, which they've been working on for much of the year. I really enjoyed playing with all my friends in Concert. They're a great group of kids. All of the orchestras did a fabulous job, and they all showed a lot of improvement from the fall. Concertino's winds really stood out this time and sounded really great. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see some of the performances, because I was backstage. I was especially disappointed to miss the Concerto played by Natalie Clarke with Philharmonia, but I hear it was wonderful. I was also sad to miss the chance to listen to Philharmonia's excellent brass section. All in all, this concert was a great way to end the year.

At 6:00pm, the Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Alan Dennis (aka Dr. D) took the stage. The first piece they played was a flute concerto by Jacques Ibert , a composer I really like. This concerto featured Mathieu Dufour, principal flutist of one of the best orchestras in the world. It was a marvelous performance. While Mr. Dufour was playing he had such expressive movement. Also he danced through the technical parts with apparent ease. His phrasing was phenomenal! During the fast parts, his playing was quite beautiful, but during the slow parts his expression was so emotional, it seemed to stop time. I was completely entranced. One thing that really stood out while he playing were his eyebrows. How can a person's eyebrows be expressive? It seems extraordinary, but it was almost as if he had extra muscles in his eyebrows that normal humans don't possess, and it really added to his playing. The Symphony Orchestra, played an exceptional accompaniment to Mr. Dufour. Sam Mattenson, principal clarinetist, really stood out with his many solos, and he played exceptionally well in this piece.

After Mathieu Dufour’s inspiring performance, the Symphony Orchestra played Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). Ein Heldenleben is a tone poem, a continuous piece of music with no separate movements that illustrates a story or picture, with six parts -- at least in this case there are six parts. The first part is called Der Held (The Hero) and is a short, heroic beginning which Symphony performed with incredible grandeur.

The second part is called Der Helden Widersacher (The Heroe's Adversaries). This features the winds and brass at their most annoying as they mock the hero. The flutes really stood out in this movement, biting and harrassing the leitmotif.

The third part is Des Helden Gefahrtin (The Hero's Companion). This movement begins with the hero’s theme and then moves on to a new theme, the companion's theme. The companion's song was played by principal violinist, Amy Pikler. She navigated the many expressive and difficult sections with heart-breaking beauty. Symphony accompanied her so smoothly and sweetly that you couldn't guess what would happen next.

The fourth section, Des Helden Walstatt (The Hero at Battle) is a flurry of sounds. It is a very hard section to master because everything is wild and out of control. It really sounds like a battle! It must have taken a lot of work by symphony to conquer, but they did so heroically. It started with a trumpet call from the balcony. After the trumpet call the three trumpet players who played it hurried out of the balcony, and soon after they appeared on stage and rushed to the safety of the back of the orchestra. After the confusion cleared , the hero’s theme returned at the end of the section.

The fifth movement, Des Helden Friedenswerke (The Hero’s Works of Peace) is an emotionally beautiful section. Symphony could not have done it better with their expression and phrasing, which were right on target. They played it so angelically that I wanted to cry.

The sixth and last part, Des Helden Weltflucht and Vollendung (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation), is sublime. Near the end, Amy Pikler comes in playing the companion again and is joined by Zachery Popp, the principal horn. Together they set the stage gorgeously for the brass to finish off this grand tone poem.

Throughout the whole work of music, James was on the balcony, directly over the Symphony Orchestra, flipping the pages of a big Flip Thing. After the concert, he said that the giant pad of paper was really unstable, and he feared it would fall on the percussion. Fortunately, due to the heroic efforts of our own chamber music master, the percussion was spared a horrible fate.

This was another fabulous concert to end another fantastic year at Midwest Young Artists.

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