University Philharmonia Orchestra to fill Hill with classical music

By Jonathan Odden, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 31, 2012

“The basic idea behind the concert is one of two halves,” said Christopher Lees, lecturer of conducting and associate director of orchestras. “Rather than an overarching umbrella that thematically defines the concert, we are presenting three incredibly engaging pieces, which when split, complement each other.”

University Philharmonia Orchestra

Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Hill Auditorium

Lees explained that the first half of tomorrow night’s University Philharmonia Orchestra concert references music from the stage, opening with Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus.” The upbeat, ever-popular Viennese overture should bring lighthearted character to the concert’s start with its ludicrous plot and bubbly musical character.

Known as “The Waltz King” for his work in bringing the dance style to prominence in 19th century Vienna, Johann Strauss II composed some of the most iconic dance and operetta music in the light classical canon. “Die Fledermaus,” or “The Bat,” tells the story of intoxication, a formal ball, disguise, revenge and prison.

“It’s difficult enough to conduct an operetta with dancers,” Lees said. “Since you need the right flow and perfect tempo to be natural to their movements. But if there are no dancers — as in this performance — then it becomes the responsibility of the orchestra and the musician to evoke the dancer.”

To transfer every sublime cabriole and pirouette from the visual into the aural presents a challenge, which Lee explained requires the conductor to have a honed set of intricate skills. Those chops will be put to the test as three graduate students — Matthew Dell, Anthony Do Hoon Kim and Christopher Whittaker — conduct a suite from Tchaikovsky’s “Spyashchaya krasavitsa,” better known as “The Sleeping Beauty Ballet.”

“The Tchaikovsky is a rousingly fun piece, both to hear and to conduct,” Lees said. “And pedagogically, it’s great for this orchestra because it requires them to turn on a dime. The intensity of the rhythmic alternations is taxing, but the students have done masterful work with it, which reflects the effort and talent that they all share.”

After a brief intermission, the orchestra will return to play Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. Perhaps less known than his No. 9 “New World” Symphony, No. 8 shares the same musical voice and Czech folk heritage that makes any Dvorak work instantly recognizable.

“The work unfolds from an old man’s perspective,” Lees said. “Unlike the buoyant music of the first half, the opening movement is very contemplative with a quasi-nostalgic air.”

The first movement flows with a compelling cello, bassoon and horn melody that repeats within the section. Interspersed between these clamatorial moments of rumination are rousing music in deep rhythm.

“Then, in the second movement, the music lies between light and shadow,” Lees said. “Which is to say that it’s hard to tell whether we’re hearing a hymn or a funeral dirge. There are somber organs spliced with chirping birds. The crafting is precise and flowing, which leaves you feeling as though you’ve existed on the precipice throughout.”

On reaching the third movement, the violins lead in with a gypsy folk tune. Its music is buoyant and rolling without the anxiety of the earlier movements.

“What makes this section so special is actually the coda, which is often mistakenly confused for the start of the fourth movement,” Lees said. “Each measure becomes compressed as the activity and speed grow exponentially.”

With the coda propelling the symphony into the final movement, the orchestra breaks into fanfare heralding a dance. The instruments follow a simple triadic melody underpinning the movement. Eventually, the entire orchestra — even the timpani — bound out in fortissimo as the symphony reaches its conclusion.

“All of the music on this show is magnificent in different ways and I promise that this is a program that you will come out humming tunes to,” Lees said. “This music and the experience of being part of the collaborative process and acoustic of the orchestra will stay with you for a long time.”