Taking a Final Bow

Some of this year’s graduating musicians had the opportunity to demonstrate the height of their musical dedication and accomplishment at the Senior Concerto Concert in Cochran Chapel. Last Friday’s performances showcased a variety of characters, instruments, periods and composers, which all cumulated in a captivating and exhilarating concert. The first soloist was Ethan Schmertzler, who played the “Larghetto and Allegro Molto” from Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto No. 5 in D minor, one of close to 40 bassoon concertos written by Vivaldi. A bassoon concerto is not something one frequently hears, and for good reason, but Schmertzler managed to achieve a deep, mellow sound from his instrument, combating the slight natural tendency of the bassoon towards abrasiveness. The performance was clean and well-rehearsed and Schmertzler said of the experience, “It was a great pleasure to be able to play solo with the orchestra, and I feel it’s a fantastic way to end four wonderful years of music at Andover.” The next piece was Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei,” performed by Ken Watari on cello. “Kol Nidrei” is a Jewish prayer for the service on the evening of Yom Kippur, and the words themselves mean “all vows.” The piece was based on traditional Jewish melodies with which Bruch became familiar with through Jewish acquaintances during his time in Berlin. Typically of Bruch, the focus of the piece is on the lyrical melodic line, which Watari communicated very effectively. The strengths of Watari’s performance were that, despite a few technical loose ends, the piece was rich and soulful and expressed the intense emotion and conflict intended by the composer. Watari’s performance was followed by Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” for violin, viola and orchestra, played by Jim Larson on viola and music faculty member Judy Lee ’95 on violin. Larson described the piece as “a masterpiece of the classical literature.” It is quintessentially Mozart in its almost operatic nature. Indeed, the orchestral opening is reminiscent of one of Mozart’s great overtures, and the two solo instruments pass through the full range of lyrical, dramatic and comical moments. The soloists interacted constantly, passing motives back and forth in an almost conversational manner, and Larson’s extreme body language and facial expressions added to the effect. His rendition of the rising motive, first introduced by the violin in the third theme, was perfectly executed; light and playful with an upward slide at the climax performed almost with tongue-in-cheek. Lee said, “It was wonderful to perform again with William Thomas conducting. It was a pleasure to work with James Larson, who is an extremely talented young musician. He played so well! I was very proud of his performance!” The final performance of the evening was by Justin Chew, who played “Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody” on a Theme of Paganini. The piece consists of 24 variations on the theme from the last of Paganini’s 24 Caprices. It is a roller-coaster ride in terms of mood and character, and Chew certainly did it justice. The eighteenth variation, an inversion of Paganini’s theme, has one of the best known melodies in all of classical music, also considered by some to be the most beautiful. Chew’s build-up towards the end of the piece was very well done, particularly considering that several of the most challenging variations were cut from the end of the piece just the day before. His performance was technically flawless, and his execution of the more lyrical variations was beautiful, particularly when he was unrestrained by the orchestra. He also successfully conveyed and, it would seem, thoroughly enjoyed Rachmaninov’s sense of humor in some of the bolder, less reverent variations. Overall, the soloists performed extremely well, and the concert was thoroughly enjoyable for audience and performers alike. The remaining senior concertos will be performed on May 25 and, if last Friday’s concert is any indication, it will be another unforgettable event.