Recently I went to a concert and heard the most beautiful sound known to man. No, it was not the sound of money falling into my hands. It was the sound of individual instruments blending their unique sound in the most harmonious way that you feel as if your insides are melting together in one big sigh. If there is a more marvelous sound than that, I have yet to hear it.
The composers whose works were performed that night included; Antonin Dvorak; Giovanni Bottesini with arrangement by Norman Ludwin; Felix Mendelssohn; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Of the four composers the latter three were child prodigies. Dvorak, while interested in music at a young age, did not start composing until he was about thirty-two. The finishing of his third and fourth symphonies brought him to the attention of Brahms who encouraged him greatly throughout his career.
When I hear the words, ‘Philharmonic orchestra’ I immediately think of classical music.
That is, classical partly in the sense of music that was written long ago, and partly music written during the Classical era. Unbeknownst to me was the fact that three of these composers were actually Romantic composers. Mozart was the only one who composed in the Classical period, though Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia No. 1 in C Major did have a very classical structure with its fast-slow-fast movements.
The conductor, Dr. Christopher Teichler, is also a gifted composer and has received awards from Wheaton College, the Elmhurst Jazz Festival, WFMT 98.7 FM Chicago, and the National Band Association’s Young Composer Mentor Project. He earned a B.M. degree from Wheaton College, and M.M. and D.Mus. degrees from Northwestern University. Joshua Harrison, double bassist for the Double Bass Concerto no. 2 in B minor, was the 2010-11 Concerto Competition Winner.
Beforehand there was an optional pre-concert lecture, “The Incredibles: Boy Wonders of Music.” This lecture was given by Dr. Allison Alcorn. The discussion’s focus was not on the music that was going to be performed that night, but on the lives of the composers who wrote the music. For those who attended, it started the night off with valuable insight surrounding the four composers during their lifetime. It provided an excellent opportunity for the curious mind which longed to know more about these famous men.
The Trinity Community Philharmonic Orchestra is, as the name suggests, comprised of musicians within the community, though most of them were students of the college. Therefore, many of the attending listeners were either related or friends of the performers. Or they may have been there for the learning experience, or maybe they were there just to appreciate the grandeur and magnificence of music.
It all started with one performer warming up on their instrument. A violin, then a cello joined, next a flute and trumpet, then the percussionist. Soon there is a cacophony of noises. Despite the chaotic sound, this is one of my favorite parts of the whole production. It never ceases to amaze me that something so dissonant one moment can be so complementary the next.
The song, Carnival Overture, op. 92 by Antonin Dvorak, they started with truly was an excellent choice for the beginning. It was full of energy and did a great job of grabbing your attention and filling you with excitement for what was to come. Early program notes (authorized by Antonin Dvorak) describe the story behind the music as “a lonely, contemplative wanderer reaching at twilight a city where a festival is in full swing. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of the people giving vent to their feelings in songs and dances.” Throughout the jovial atmosphere begins a more pastoral section with a clarinet, flute, and an English horn. The last two instruments symbolize a “pair of straying lovers” while the clarinet theme, which appears in all three of Dvorak’s overtures, signifies nature, “marking the reflections of a humble individual who observes and is moved by the manifold signs of the unchangeable laws of the universe.” The overture, in sonata form, comes to a brilliant conclusion with the return of the opening festival music. This representation of nonmusical ideas classifies it as program music. Originally this song was entitled ‘A Czech Carnival’ and was the middle piece of a programmatic trilogy. I love how this song utilized the brass section, and was disappointed when this was the only piece using the brass.
The Carnival Overture reminded me of ‘The Moldau’ from the cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast (My Country) composed by Bedrich Smetana. Though one is a symphonic poem, and the other is program music, both songs are highly nationalistic in their depiction of Russian things; a Czech carnival and the great Bohemian river Moldau. The Moldau celebrates the beauty and magnificence of the country, tracing a path through Russia and musically depicting what is happening near the river. The Carnival Overture is an actual celebration of life and love filled with Slavic rhythms, vibrant percussion, and sweet pastoral themes for which Dvorak was known for in his time. Both of these styles were considered large works within the Romantic Era.
For this song they had a student conductor; Rebecca Parvin. Maybe it was the energy of the song or maybe her young age, but she was much more energetic then their regular conductor, Dr. Christopher Teichler. You would think that her enthusiastically swinging arms would have been a distraction, but it really added to the excitement, her exuberance truly was infectious.
The Double Bass Concerto no. 2 in B minor by Giovanni Bottesini was played next. The deep and rich tone of the double bass resonated through the hall. The song was masterfully done and amazingly expressive with a great use of dynamics. Bottesini was particularly inspired by the bel canto opera style with its emphasis on beautiful melodies; indeed this song contained brilliant melodies. The middle slow movement of this piece is in essence a deep, expressive aria for a double bass. Even in the two remaining faster movements the flowing melody dominates both the solo and ensemble sections. The cadenza did a wonderful job showcasing the performer’s ability. You could see the passion on the double bassist’s face as he rocked back and forth, flying up and down the fingerboard. The piece invoked thoughts about my own future; will I ever be the virtuoso performer of a violin concerto? It requires such phenomenal skill that one day I hope to possess.
I would like to compare this song with Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. This song was also composed in the Romantic era. Each song uses a fairly small accompanying orchestra. In each song the cadenza comes close to the end of the first movement. There is There is the obvious difference that one is a violin concerto and the other is for double bass. The double bass concerto does not follow the double-exposition sonata form. In the violin concerto the solo violinist plays throughout the whole song while the double bassist part has occasional rests.
One flaw I noticed in the Sinfonia No. 1 in C Major by Felix Mendelssohn was that when it came time to play the sixteenth notes the performers struggled to stay together. The minor error was particularly noticeable in the string section. While frequently the mistake went undetected to the ear, you could really see it in the bowing for it was not synchronized.
After a brief intermission, Symphony No. 38, K. 504 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began. This was also titled “Prague” because he loved that city so much. Since there are only three movements in this song it was considered a ‘low symphony’. This song was composed in sonata allegro form. The first movement, containing an astonishing six themes, was the one that I found most enjoyable because one of the themes sounded familiar to me. With each movement lasting close to twelve minutes each, and the sweet music floating about the room, I found my eyelids drooping closed. I understand the appeal of ending with a song composed by Mozart, especially one as beautiful as this, but it felt quite long and stretched out the end of the concert.
It is almost unbelievable to me that in the past going to a concert such as this was one of the only ways to hear music. Today music is so accessible and heard almost everywhere. In my opinion the lack of music circulation was not all bad for there is nothing like experiencing music performed live. It brings such awareness as to the various instruments being utilized that might go unnoticed to the inattentive ear. Whether you attend a live concert or listen to music on a CD or elsewhere, classical music is an art that needs to be appreciated.
The Trinity Community Philharmonic Orchestra worked hard and prepared much for this concert and astonished the audience with their amazing talent. Saying I enjoyed this concert would be similar to saying I like chocolate. I love chocolate and this performance was one that went beyond enjoyment. The music that night was spectacular. It was like a work of art, but for the ears to hear instead of for the eyes to see. It was an experience that enriched my life and, I believe, the lives of the other attendees.
All the performers should be commended on a job well done. Special congratulations to Joshua Harrison for his marvelous performance on the double bass. Also, Rebecca Parvin, student conductor, for starting out the night with her energy. I would also extend my compliments to Dr. Christopher Teichler for conducting the rest of the evening. And thank you to Dr. Allison Alcorn for giving the pre-concert lecture. It greatly deepened my understanding of the composers’ lives and added a whole new level of enjoyment while listening to the songs being performed. “Well done and thank you” I say to all who participated and made this evening possible.