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ARCHIVE: University Orchestra (October 2014)

Originally published 10/7/2014

This afternoon I attended a university orchestra concert. The symphony by Mahler began with a solo trumpet playing sans conductor. It was a hopeful opening, idiomatic and secure in execution. Once the conductor was engaged, ensemble problems ensued, and decisive chords lacked cohesion. The rhythmic demands of this particular piece do not lend themselves to nondescript beats anymore than a work of fine art can express detail with a crayon. It was not for lack of trying on the student performers’ part, as hopeful looks were often directed towards the podium. Somewhat ragged ensemble, tonal insecurity, and lapses of intonation plagued each string section. Individual winds sounded fine, but consensus was not always achieved in the tuning of chords. Such issues must be addressed and solved in rehearsal, but apparently were not. The solo oboe, clarinet, flute, and bassoon added fine playing. The solo trumpet continued with extended excellent playing, joined by equally fine trombone and tuba playing. There were several courageous and outstanding French horn solos. The timpani were consistently too loud, with one crescendo overwhelming the whole orchestra. Having them placed in a corner of the stage amplified the volume, which apparently was not checked in the dress rehearsal. Moments of inspired playing emerged in the Adagietto and in the last movement. It was clear that the young musicians wanted to do their best, and found an outlet in those places where the sweep of the music propelled their performance.

I regret I cannot be more positive about this particular performance, but in order to successfully compete in the hugely competitive field of classical music, students need and deserve the best instruction and training on their instruments and in their large ensembles. Failure to do so at any level is a disservice to them and their art.

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