On (date), I attended a concert performed by the (name of orchestra). A program of contrasting pieces, the orchestra performed with great vigor, vibrance and enthusiasm. It was incredible to be able to watch musicians play with passion while simultaneously hearing sounds that resonated throughout the space, inspiring me to explore the world of classical music once the concert was over. During the program, they played Overture to Candide, Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, Symphony No. 2, Age of Anxiety, and Beethoven Symphony No. 7.
Usually during a longer orchestral program, a conductor will choose a short and lively piece to open up the concert. This ensures that the attention of the audience is captured and that the orchestra enters with a significant presence. Therefore, the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein was a perfect way to begin. Opening with powerful timpani notes, brass chords and then quick wind and string notes, this overture has a consistent running tempo throughout. It was evident that the orchestra was required to pay very close attention to the conductor or else they might have begun to rush and the piece might not have sounded as unified. Since it is an overture to an opera, that means it will include brief sections of each main theme from the larger work, all encompassed into one (Bernstein). There were contrasting sections which included a slower part in the middle and then a return to the opening theme, which suggests that the piece is in sonata form.
Next, the orchestra played Three Dance Episodes from On the Town. This is also a piece by Bernstein which fit with the program; however, it is written in a jazz style, different from the classical style of the overture. This proved that the orchestra was able to quickly shift from one style to the next without any issues. During these dances, it was evident that the piece is structured with a lot of swinging rhythms in order to make it more “groovy”. Underneath, there would usually be some kind of a snare on the off-beats to incorporate an element of syncopation that kept the melody moving forward. Moreover, it features more solo instruments, such as the clarinet at the very open. This allowed individual players of the orchestra to showcase their skills rather than play in unison with the entire orchestra. Overall, this piece was a nice transition between the opening piece and the longer pieces to come. At this time, I was very intrigued by what the orchestra was going to play next and recognized that so far, all of the players were doing a very good job listening to one another and watching the conductor. With a concert that is so versatile, it is always important to communicate with fellow players in order to convey the proper message and interpretation to the audience.
Symphony No. 2, Age of Anxiety is also another work by Bernstein, but one of his most ambitious pieces because it is much longer. What is very interesting about this piece is that it is much more modern, suggesting that Bernstein was thinking about contemporary styles when he was writing. In reference to the other pieces thus far, it is impressive that Bernstein was able to compose music in many different styles, drawn from previous classical composers and influences from his time. This is exactly why he is remembered as one of the greatest conductors of his time who was able to successfully lead the New York Philharmonic to play just about anything. The piece begins quietly, creating an element of suspense. This was different from the other two pieces in the concert so far because they developed almost immediately. This symphony, however, begins with a softer clarinet chorale where the two players harmonize until the rest of the winds section joins in with the harp. Then, the next section begins with a solo piano. It then became clear that Bernstein was following a specific pattern for each section: beginning with a solo interlude and then allowing the orchestra to join in after a certain point. This allows almost every instrument in the orchestra to be featured at one point or another. I thought this was very interesting, especially for people who are not very familiar with the less mainstream instruments, because it allowed them an opportunity to listen to everything. Overall, this piece was very reflective and was even reminiscent of works by Aaron Copland—someone with whom Bernstein had worked closely in the past. These two composers helped more strongly define American classical music during their time.
Finally, the orchestra concluded with a more traditional symphony: Beethoven Symphony No. 7. This piece came well before anything written by Bernstein, as it is from the late Classical, early Romantic period. It is structured in 4 movements, the first of which is very vibrant, featuring surprise chords in the strings while the first oboe plays a forlorn melody. Typically, in Beethoven music, he will work up to a climactic moment by developing the orchestral themes and incorporating a crescendo. This is very evident in the first movement by his use of ascending scales and the fact that the orchestral instruments often mirror/ answer each other. Ultimately, the orchestra develops into a running tempo, allowing the players to be very expressive. The second movement “Allegretto” is perhaps the most famous movement in this symphony because of its memorable melody and the fact that it is written in a canon.
Again, Beethoven opens with a strong chord and then allows the cello section to set the stage. Eventually, the orchestra begins to layer, adding the violas, second violins, first violins and then the winds/ brass. The third movement is incredibly lively and quick, adding another element of contrast and leading up to the final movement. The entire symphony ends with fortissimo dynamics and a very overall vibrant sound. I was inspired and impressed by the dynamic contrast throughout this piece because it provided the orchestra an opportunity to prove that its players can be very reflective while also playing very vibrantly. This orchestra concert was an absolute pleasure to attend and was very inspiring for music lovers alike.