Sometimes people can speak very loudly using no words at all. The most propelling, mind-bending music is that which cannot be described in words. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has reached both an epic and admirable level of achievement in the genre of classical music. The adroit musicians performed Brahms’s Fourth Symphony this past Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Eastman Theater in Rochester and left the copious men and women in the audience on their feet during both the intermission and after the finale.
There was one classical music-savvy UR student, however, who sat quietly with his hands in his lap, mildly disgusted by the “grotesque betrayal of the beautiful romanticism of Brahms’s.”
Freshman Chris Satterlee has an explicit opinion of the performance, which he voices with a fierce decisiveness.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra currently consists of 103 members; 15 playing violin I, 12 playing violin II, 12 playing viola, 11 playing cello, eight bass, five flutes, two piccolos, three oboes, one English horn, four e-flat clarinets, one bass clarinet, three on bassoon, one contra-bassoon, five horns, four on trumpet, three trombones, one tuba, two on timpani, five percussion, two harp and two on the keyboard.
The RPO is an extraordinarily diverse group consisting of versatile members who collaborate with ease to produce memorable works of art.
The musicians began the evening with Tobias Picker’s “Old and Lost Rivers,” a light, warm and gentle piece, which contrasted severely with the second piece, “Deus ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra.”
“The first piece was just beautiful,” freshman Donnie Wieand said. “It had such rich harmonic textures and the melody was very moving.”
In agreement, freshman Michael Zimmerman said, “The first piece was light and melodic with soulful legato passages and the woodwinds and brass seemed to give an almost thoughtful idea over the strings. The piece ended abruptly, but it was not rushed and the brass did not play too loud to cover any of the melody.”
In contrast, Satterlee was less moved by the opening, as he expressed.
“‘Old and Lost Rivers’ was all right, but there wasn’t really much to it. It was relaxing, but, aside from the nostalgia in the piece, I didn’t feel like it offered much,” he said.
The second piece, entitled “Deus ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra,” featured pianist Terrence Wilson who exhibited his superior piano-playing abilities even while crouching over the top of the piano and striking chords on the strings.
In opposition to the first flowing and calming piece, “Deus ex Machina” produced a very choppy, staccato sound with several unexpected twists and turns. This lengthy piece sparked a certain degree of thought-provoking controversy between the aforementioned students.
“The piano concerto was a great example of modern program music,” Wieand said. “While it was pretty modern and atonal, [the group] was still able to create compelling melodies. Terrence Wilson’s performance was fantastic.”
Satterlee had a different perspective.
“As for that piece, it was atrocious,” he said. “It was like watching someone rip their intestines out in front of me. Here’s the general lay out of ‘Deus ex Machina’- grotesque dissonance bordering on atonality, futile sadness and depression, then more dissonance that comes to a mediocre resolution. And the saddest aspect of the whole fiasco is the fact that pieces like ‘Deus ex Machina’ are considered great pieces of art because they’re so ‘creative.’ That piece portrayed a skewed and confusing view of the world, leaving everyone in the room baffled and grasping for any answer to what they felt. That’s why the conductor got a standing ovation while I sat with my hands in my lap.”
Ironically, the evening’s conductor, Christopher Seaman, from the University of Michigan, exclaimed that the second movement of “Deus ex Machina,” entitled “Trail of Tears,” was his favorite part of the entire evening. “Out of all the pieces I have composed, this came together the best, with a combination of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Terrence Wilson,” Seaman said.
Seaman is an internationally-renowned British conductor who has been with the RPO for 10 seasons. He is recognized today as one of the leading conductors and is a highly sought-after guest conductor throughout the world. His conducting experiences range from engagements in North America, Israel, Eastern Europe, Australia and Great Britain, also including Chicago’s Grant Park Festival.
Additionally, trombone player Mark Salatino, who has been part of the RPO since fall of 2002, deemed “Trail of Tears” as having a very powerful musical statement.
Nobody denies, despite all previous contradiction, that Brahms’s “Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98” was an astounding piece. “[It was a] great example of the powerful emotional and intellectual struggle that the individual expresses in romantic music,” Satterlee said.
The next Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performance is on Nov. 15, in which the group will perform Beethoven’s Pastoral. Be sure to get your tickets ahead of time and experience the enlightening and refreshing sounds of one of the most renowned emerging musical groups.
Miller is a member of the class of 2011.