Freshman Julie Barnes didn’t have to wait long for her turn to help the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra evoke images of Spain with Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Espaa Rhapsody” Monday. The piece began with a flourish of pizzicato notes from the strings before melting into the harp solo Barnes was “excited and nervous” to play.

“It was exciting because the part was so exposed,” said Barnes, a freshman harp performance major.

She and sophomore Lauren Shookhoff played the passage with energy and musicality.

Although there were probably more audience members in the Paris theater where “Espaa Rhapsody” premiered in 1883, the fans sitting in the Eastman Theatre Monday night applauded loudly when ESSO ended this first piece on the evening’s program.

The audience spanned the entire theater, from the probable parents sitting in the very front row to the students and friends sitting in the anonymous corners of the balcony, but did not come close to filling it. Student groups like the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra attain the highest level of musicianship in performances ? it seems a shame that more community members don’t attend, especially when tickets are free compared to costs of around $10 to $60 for RPO performances and special events.

Chabrier’s flamenco-inspired rhapsody, the most popular of his compositions, warmed the audience and readied them for a fun, varied performance. Music performed Monday spanned two centuries and three countries.

“The music on the program was lighthearted,” said junior violist David Kim. “It was a nice change from the more serious repertoire we often hear.”

After the short rhapsody, ESSO and conductor Mendi Rodan welcomed baritone Lucas Meachem to the stage.

Meachem’s expressive voice, combined with facial expressions and physical gestures, effectively delivered the lyrics of Aaron Copland’s four “Old American Songs.” The audience’s rigorous round of applause after the happy-go-lucky children’s song “I Bought Me a Cat” brought Meachem back for a second go. The singer delivered the animal ? and “wife” ? noises required of the song with equal gusto the second time around.

“[Meachem] was very enthusiastic and entertaining,” said junior clarinetist Lisa Dixon.

Meachem will be in the spotlight again in April, portraying Marcello in Eastman Opera Theatre’s highly-anticipated production of Puccini’s “La Bohme.”

Rodan and ESSO took a short pause after the Copland and came back to attack the next work on the program, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, with equal energy. In fact, according to several students, Rodan began the piece at a faster-than-normal tempo. However, the piece was never out of Rodan’s control ? not surprisingly, considering Rodan’s mile-long, diverse list of conducting credentials.

The Chabrier and Copland featured great student soloists, and the Shostakovich followed suit.

Sophomore Sarah Frisof played the spritely piccolo line during the first movement. “Sarah was awesome on the piccolo solo,” said freshman vocalist Laura Puzio.

Several other students were featured in the symphony as soloists, including poised concertmaster Melissa Chung.

Sophomore Lynda Paul was featured during the Largo movement on bassoon.

“[Lynda] portrayed the mood,” senior bassoonist Eric Goldman said of her solo. “It was perfect,” he said.

The symphony was impressive in its entirety, evoking images like conversation, seduction, mourning and revolution with its motives. A perfect cadence ended a great performance.

Rodan will conduct the Eastman Philharmonia tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in another free performance in the Eastman Theatre. ESSO will give its next performance in April under the direction of guest conductor Neil Varon.

Weiss can be reached at

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