University Philharmonia Orchestra to infuse Hill with mystery, intrigue in newest production

By Gillian Jakab, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 9, 2013

The bassoon is perhaps the most exotic of the traditional orchestra’s instruments, with its double-reed delicacy and deep breadth. An unfinished symphony is surely the most mysterious of compositions. Mystery and intrigue, added to a classic, century-old, comic opera performed with instruments only, yield an exciting program at the University Philharmonia Orchestra’s semester-closing concert Monday night at Hill Auditorium.

University Philharmonia Orchestra

Monday at 8 p.m.
Hill Auditorium

“(Monday’s program has) lots of hummable melodies; lots of rapturously gorgeous orchestration and color, and so it’s in some ways the best way to end the semester because it features everybody on the stage creating so many really beautiful moments of great music,” said Christopher James Lees, the conductor of the UPO.

The UPO is made up of 85 students this semester ranging from freshman to second-year masters students. They will be playing three different compositions Monday night: Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished,” Gioachino Rossini’s Concerto for Bassoon & Orchestra “Concerto da Esperimento” and Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier Suite.”

An unfinished symphony? Stories, explanations and attempts to finish Schubert’s 8th have abounded in the wake of the glory of incompletion.

“There’s always that question of, if he had finished it, what would it sound like?” Lees said. “And the music that he did leave is so kind of profound that it bears being played even without the rest of it.”

It’s common to go to an orchestral performance and hear a featured violin or piano, but bassoon? Not so much. Associate Professor of Bassoon, Jeffrey Lyman, will be featured on the mellifluous woodwind, often likened to a baritone singing voice. The UPO gets to work with different featured professors for each concert who shake up the dynamic and bring something new to the orchestra.

“Jeffrey Lyman is (a) fantastic musician, a consummate artist, incredibly funny and a heck of a nice guy,” Lee said.

The last piece is a suite from Richard Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier” — or the “Rose Knight.” It’s a comedic story named after a character who delivers a silver rose from a man to his fiancé, but upon delivering the rose, falls in love with the man’s fiancé himself. The tying thread of Monday’s concert is lyricism.

“(Strauss’s piece) came from an opera. Rossini was an opera composer. Schubert was a song composer,” Lees said. “And yet we’re doing pieces that involve no voices whatsoever.”

They’ve been doing a lot of singing in their rehearsals in an effort to translate the melodic quality of the vocals through their instruments.

The music is sure to be beautiful, but will compositions from hundreds of years ago resonate with the audience today? When works of art last for so long, it’s usually because they capture some universal human sentiment that is timeless in its relevance. As for its freshness, leave that to the UPO.

“One of the things I like to say about the creation of music,” Lees said, “is that we should strive to make new music sound old and old music sound new. So if it’s fresh it sounds tried, and true and vetted. And if it’s old that it sounds alive and like you’re creating it for the first time during the performance. And that’s the quality of performance we go after.”

Just like the student body of the University, the musicians of the UPO come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. When they play together on the stage of a Hill Auditorium — a venue with a hundred years of history that has seen some of the greatest artists in the world — the whole is more than a sum of its parts. Under the direction of Lees, the UPO is at once presenting the history of western music, and its future, while making it their own in the moment.