From Mendelssohn to Poulenc: Student Ensembles Perform in Academy Chamber Music Society Concert

With a collective breath, violinists Yuji Chan ’18 and Chloe Lee ’17 lifted their bows and used sharp bow strokes to create a sense of urgency in the fourth movement of Maurice Ravel’s “String Quartet in F Major.” Cindy Koh ’17, a violinist, and Claire Lee ’19, a cellist, joined Chan and Chloe Lee as the song built up to a dissonant melody before softening to a sweeter tune. The soothing harmony of the instruments only lasted for a few seconds before the song moved into a playful, rapid series of notes, concluding in a resounding chord.

“String Quartet in F Major” was one of the twelve pieces performed at the Academy Chamber Music Society Concert last Saturday in the Timken Room. The Chamber concert provided students with an opportunity to showcase their talent as they performed in two-to-seven member groups.

One of the string ensembles, composed of Chan, Koh, Chloe Lee, Claire Lee, Aditi Kannan ’18, Will Wang ’17, and Daniel Yen ’18, performed the fourth movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20.” From the beginning of the piece, the musicians worked tirelessly to make quick finger shifts as the volume of the fast-paced song rose and fell. Towards the middle of the piece, the song calmed and softened as the violins played a sequence of rapid notes. Then, in a flurry of movement, the violinists’ bow strokes sped up until the song ended with three powerful notes.

“My favorite part is when everyone comes in unison. In the Mendelssohn octet, everyone has varying parts so when the whole group is playing really intensely and in unison, an extremely powerful sound and feeling is delivered,” said Chan.

A wind and brass quintet featuring Michelle Chao ’18, Hannah Garth ’18, Ebin Hirschman ’17, Susan Lee ’19, and Harrison Ringel ’19 performed Francis Poulenc’s “Novelette No. 1 in C Major.” Played with a flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon, the song had an uplifting, bright feeling with differently paced notes, beginning slowly then gradually speeding up. After a slight pause, the musicians slowed into a more ominous melody before reaching a higher, lighter melody.

“Performing in a small ensemble is really different from playing in a big ensemble or playing solo. You have to listen to each other and you can tell when people are slowing down to accommodate other people and it’s really cool when everyone works to make their parts fit together and you can hear it coming together. Our piece was the only arranged piece within the whole repertoire and also our piece was written for the piano. I feel like we had to think about a lot of the dynamics and how all of our parts came together,” said Susan Lee.

Jenni Lawson ’19, Herbie Turner ’18, Victoria Zhang ’20, and Yixuan Zhao ’18 performed as a quartet, playing the first movement of “Quintet in B-flat Major, Op. posthumous” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The melody, interjected with the flute’s high notes and the lower sounds of the French horn, brought a bright and jovial feel to the song. As the piece reached its climax, all four members of the ensemble played a series of notes in unison before concluding with a reverberant note.

“I think the most challenging part was getting the balance right. It’s hard to be able to hear who’s playing loud or soft comparatively in a chamber group because you can’t send someone out into the audience to listen for you when you’re rehearsing. Some of the entrances were hard on tempo changes or when the clarinet of bassoon had to come in after one beat of piano. We had a funny slip-up where one of Herbie’s pages in the piano part was upside down, but other than that the performance went really well,” said Zhao.