For many college students, the orchestra is the last place to be on a Friday night.
For all the stresses students endure on a daily basis, whether it be classes, homework, relationships, finances, or even commuting, the one thing the CSUN Symphony Orchestra presented on Oct. 7 was a truly relaxing and enchanting evening.
For only $5 at the Performing Arts Center and an hour and half of time, CSUN’s 66-member orchestra presented three well-rehearsed pieces that conjured a contemplative mood among the audience and an atmosphere distilled of stress.
When the conductor appeared after the orchestra members had warmed up their instruments, the audience was very enthusiastic. While each member of the orchestra focused on his or her sheet of music and their instruments, it is hard to really understand how crucial the conductor really is to the eloquent rhythm and flow of the music.
When looking at the ensemble, it appeared they may have been able to perform independently to create one harmonious sound. From fluttering hand movements and the wave of the baton, the melody flowed evenly according to the conductor’s direction. Just like any great film needs a great director, CSUN too has found a great conductor to lead its orchestra.
The first piece was The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan by Paul Griffes. The poem Kubla Khan, narrated by David Sannerud, was read as an introductory piece for Griffes composition. Sannerud’s voice inflections and tone carried the audience into a dreamy state of fantasy. The poem and the quality of its narration complimented each other well.
The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Kahn began with a somber drum intro, followed by a delicate piano piece. The orchestra proceeded with the trombone, violins, bass and trumpet section. With the combination of a clarinet solo with the violins accenting; a flute solo followed by the accompaniment of the rest of the flute section; an airy harp melody; a drum beat similar to that of a march plus many other musical elements, the orchestra told a seemingly sad and mysterious story. The whole composition was powerful and enticing.
The second piece was Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by Samuel Barber. This symphony piece was accompanied by a soprano, Deanna Murray, a CSUN associate professor and voice area coordinator. A young teenage boy narrated a small piece of a larger poem that Sannerud finished. The poem gave little comic relief to the somewhat serious tone that an orchestra usually delivers, since one could hear giggling amongst the audience members.
As the orchestra delivered their smooth performance, Murray sang the separate piece that Barber wrote to go with the composition. Murray appeared confident and sure in her singing ability.
A few problems did arise that were a little distracting to the wonderful qualities of her voice. Whether it was the theater or the orchestra overpowering her, her voice seemed to be a little muffled from time to time. She also kept looking down at the music to read the words or the notes and having to turn the page. While I am fully aware that one would have to be extremely talented, just as she was, to deliver such a performance, perhaps if she had the words memorized like a lot of opera singers do, she might have been able to deliver a more powerful sound.
Murray was attentive to the emotions pronounced in the music and responded dramatically with her body language. Her presence added a sensual character that the orchestra alone had not delivered.
The last piece was Appalachian Spring. This piece had no narrative, but was well off without it. It started off with a sweet melody that led to a piece that seemed as one would use when conquering the frontier for theme music. All together, the orchestra performance for this piece was impressive.
CSUN’s orchestra brought in a potpourri of guests, ranging in age and ethnicity, and members of the community as well as a number of CSUN students and faculty. Around 250 people attended.
The overall experience was great. I would recommend it if you are looking for a relaxed drama-free evening. It is cheap and fairly short and gives you insight on how many people it takes to make a lovely unified sound.
Michael Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.