Street » Review
In Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, Michael Pratt conducts the Princeton University Orchestra in its first concert of the season. Indicative of its modern slant, the orchestra eschews the traditional arrangement of seating cellos on the far right, choosing to place the viola section there instead. The preference for this modern layout mirrors the orchestra’s approach to music as well, manifesting itself in the orchestra’s performance of “Line and Shadow,” a contemporary piece by Princeton music professor Paul Lansky, as well as its interpretations of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, “The Planets.”
“Line and Shadow” opens the concert with strong melodies in the string section. This piece has a thoroughly contemporary feel, similar to many of Lansky’s other compositions — Lansky has included digital computer music, the sounds of human voices and kitchen utensils in some of his other works. “Line and Shadow” marks a return to orchestral arrangements, but the influence of his earlier works shines through in the uniquely abstract form of this piece. Like its name, “Line and Shadow” emphasizes the basic building blocks of music rather than concrete melodies themselves. For instance, runs of notes in the violin section experiment with various combinations of speed and loudness.
The program takes on a more classical flavor with the next piece on the program, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major. Composed in 1775, this piece is typical of Mozart’s orchestral music. The first movement, marked in a brisk allegro pace, starts with a strong melody established by the strings. The melody and its variations recur throughout this first movement. The soloist, Nick Apter-Vidler ’14, takes advantage of the solo violin’s more relaxed tempo to draw out his melody. In passages where the solo violin and the orchestra play together, all sections balance the dynamics well. The string accompaniment never drowns out Apter-Vidler, whose melody rings out clearly over the swell of the orchestra. Then, when Apter-Vidler’s part rests, Pratt deftly brings the orchestra to a rapid crescendo to fill the auditorium with Mozart’s sonorous rhythms. Pratt artfully balances the soloist and accompaniment, allowing the spotlight to shine alternately on Apter-Vidler and the whole orchestra at the appropriate times.
The concert closes with Gustav Holst’s powerfully moving suite, “The Planets,” composed in the early twentieth century. Inspired by then-popular astrological notions of the effects of the planets on human nature, each movement of the suite is named after a planet and emphasizes the traits associated with that planet. For example, “Mars” features a roaring forte section with a floor-shaking beat evocative of war drums and battle. On the other hand, the next movement, “Venus,” brings peace with sweet, calming melodies on harp, woodwinds, solo violin and solo cello. The tenor tones of the cello work especially well here to create the movement’s mellow mood. The final movement, “Neptune,” features a women’s choir singing from an adjoining room out of the audience’s sight. Pratt guides the choir through the delicate task of matching the rest of the orchestra in pitch and tempo, made more difficult due to the choir’s placement so far from the instrumentalists. However, this placement is necessary to create “Neptune’s” most memorable effect — a gradual fade-out of sound as the choir sings in progressively softer tones and slowly closes the door connecting it to the orchestra. When “The Planets” premiered in 1918, the fade-out enthralled its audience, as this feat was uncommon before the age of digital music. The effect is no less gripping today, firmly capturing the audience’s attention until the last voices have drifted away into silence.
4.5 out of 5 paws
Pros: Energetic Lansky; well-balanced Mozart; powerful Holst.
Cons: Occasional struggles in choir to match orchestra’s tempo and pitch.