New England String Ensemble Plays for School String Education

The New England String Ensemble hailed to the Cochran Chapel for a performance to promote string programs in public schools last Saturday. “This program is a little journey around the baroque style,” explained the ensemble’s music director and conductor, Federico Cortese. However, the New England String Ensemble not only went on a journey around the baroque style, but they also went on a journey to “old” England, as all but one of the pieces performed were by British composers. The first piece, “Concerto for Double String Orchestra” by Sir Michael Tippet, fulfilled the audience’s expectations with graceful melodies and great variation. The piece started and ended vivaciously, freshening the room. Sandwiched between was a serene and slower section played so emotionally that it stunned the whole audience into silence. “I liked it because it had a lot of variation in it…swapping between major and minor parts with so much motion,” said Christian Zhang ’12. The dynamics and sensation changed drastically throughout the piece, but every transition was smooth and flawless. It almost seemed like the conductor could control all sounds around him. “They played absolutely beautifully! I am excited to hear the rest of the baroque pieces. This first one I did not recognize, but it was excellent!.” said Christopher Walter, Instructor in Music. But then Abigail Nims, their mezzo-soprano stepped onto the stage. She was dressed in an elegant, black gown that matched the rest of the ensemble, but suddenly the chapel was transformed. Her first solo was “Stabat Mater, RV 621” by Antonio Vivaldi, the only non-British piece in the program. This piece is a hymn written for the commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Nims successfully created a mournful atmosphere to match the lyrics of the piece with her angelic voice that filled the chapel and mesmerized the audience. Following the Vivaldi was Henry Purcell’s short piece “When I am laid in Earth” from Act III of the opera “Dido and Aeneas.” Although not as long as the previous pieces, this song certainly revealed Nims true talent, showing off her fantastic vocal range and power. Next up was the most modern piece written by George Benjamin, “Upon Silence,” which sent chills down the audience members’ spines. The piece focuses on William Butler Yeats’ poem “Long Legged Fly,” which “portrays three momentous figures in history absorbed in silent contemplation: Julius Caesar, Helen of Troy and Michelangelo.” The high but soft eerie voice echoed against the wooden panels, while the violins screeched silently in the background. Each long, lonely note clutched onto the audience like the legs of the fly itself, draping a nightmare over the chapel. “It describes the poem well… a very interesting piece,” comments a younger audience member. Fortunately Cortese had organized the program so that it would end on a happy note and brought joy back to the atmosphere with their last piece, “Simple Symphony, Op. 4” by Benjamin Britten. Britten had separated the piece into four parts: Boisterous Bourée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande and Frolicsome Finale. The names of the parts matched the tunes flawlessly. The most memorable part was when all the musicians put down their shining bows and plucked the whole section. It was almost comical to see their serious and concentrated faces while hearing them play such a lighthearted piece. However, they were all smiles when the performance ended in triumph, and the crowd stood up to applause for them. Even the members agreed that the performance went well. “When you have something old like Vivaldi and something modern like the Benjamin piece and you fill in the gaps, you really get something amazing,” says Ara the violinists For some of the musicians this was their first time with the group and the entire ensemble had only been rehearsing for a week. “This is my first time, but I already love playing in this ensemble. It was fun to work with such great musicians and I will definitely join again if I can,” said Annie Rabat, a violinist. Despite their amazing performance, it was almost impossible to tell that the group had put this together in a week.