A Bittersweet Senior Concerto

As the sun set on the first true spring day at Andover, students flocked across the Great Lawn to the Cochran Chapel, where three Seniors gave their farewell concertos. Catherine McManus ’09 and Emily Wei ’09 played the violin and Chelsea Carlson ’09 played the harp. Before the seniors took the stage, however, the nineteen-member Amadeus Ensemble, under the direction of Christina Landolt, performed the Pastorale and Rustic Dances from Ernest Bloch’s familiar Concerto Grosso, a lively way to begin a marvelous evening of music. Following Amadeus, the much larger Academy Chamber Orchestra took their seats and accompanied the violin soloist McManus in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major. Quieting when McManus’s played her solos, the orchestra relinquished the spotlight to the soloist. McManus exuded a clear control over her instrument, focusing intently on each note. The piece gave the soloist a cadenza, a moment to shine when the orchestra drops out. McManus played so expressively, it seemed almost like a dialogue between herself and the instrument. McManus also bowed exciting trills and rapid chromatic ascents. The piece appeared exhilarating because one never knows how Mozart will vary his melody. The audience is held in suspense until Mozart resolves the tension at the very end. McManus was overjoyed after her performance. “I thought it was awesome!” she said, “I was really pleased with how I played.” Carlson performed next, filling the chapel with the undeniable grace that only a harp offers. After she played three movements from Händel’s Concerto in B Flat Major for Harp and Orchestra, her winning skill was undoubted. Carlson effortlessly stroked the harp’s strings, creating a sound of breathtaking beauty, particularly during her breezy scales. The audience members thanked her with a vigorous standing ovation. “I really loved the harp. It’s so fast, but its sound is so enchanting and graceful,” said Madeleine McClintic ’12. The night’s final soloist, Wei, breathing heavily, crossed the stage with her violin and readied herself to perform Pablo de Sarasate’s famous Gypsy Airs, containing surely one of the hardest violin solos found in classical music. Immediately, Wei displayed her talent, pulling off exceptional runs and trills. Strongly supported by the rest of the orchestra, Wei transforming an otherwise simple melody into something highly stylized and respectful of its Eastern European influences. The piece had the feel of a quick jig that a musician might play informally on the fiddle to inspire dancing. Wei played intricate melodies and variations at a remarkably fast tempo, which made some students wonder how she could have memorized the unrelenting ten-minute solo. “That was intense,” said Theresa Faller ’11. “It made me really appreciate all that string players do under pressure,” said Emily Timm ’11. Towards the conclusion of the Gypsy Airs, Wei resonated a piercing high note, then joined the rest of the orchestra, driving away incessantly at her part until she bowed the piece’s final note. As she lowered her violin, Wei looked as if she would pass out from exhaustion, until she exhaled a large breath of relief amidst vociferous applause. “Emily Wei was really, really good,” said Emily Adler ’12. In the chapel’s basement following the concert, amongst numerous instrument cases, crumpled sheet music and strewn bouquets, the friends and family of the soloists flowered the three beaming girls with bittersweet congratulations for their achievement, knowing that it was their last solo performance at Andover.