NAU Symphony hosts an evening of classical music
By MacKenzie Chase
Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Symphony and Chamber Orchestras debuted their collective talent in their first performance of the year this past Sunday in the newly renovated Ardrey Memorial Auditorium. The symphony orchestra, made up of string players, brass, woodwinds and percussion, played two pieces together; while the chamber orchestra, a smaller group consisting of mainly string instruments, took over during the other two.
A day before the concert, symphony orchestra violist and sophomore music education major Jennifer Schmidt was looking forward to showcase what they had been working on.
“The greatest feeling as a performer is finally getting up on stage and showing friends, family and peers the work you’ve put into for months,” she said.
The orchestra’s hard work had clearly paid off, as the concert transitioned smoothly from piece to piece.
The first song, “Consecration of the House Overture” by Ludwig van Beethoven, featured the symphony orchestra and was conducted by Kevin Kozacek.
Musicians then filed off the stage, leaving just the members of the chamber orchestra to play Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
This delicate piece, conducted by graduate conducting assistant Vanja Ljubibratić, has been associated with somber events over the years as it was played during the radio announcements of both Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy’s deaths and at Albert Einstein’s funeral according to the concert program.
At its conclusion, Ljubibratić took a bow and guest conductor Zvonimir Hačko, Artistic Director of the Austrian Symphony Orchestra, took over the stand for the final two performances of the evening.
With over a month of preparation with these pieces, the members of the orchestras seemed to play like it was second nature. However “No orchestra is perfect,” Schmidt admits, “but considering the level of difficulty of the Ravel Piano Concerto we’re performing, I’d say we’ve done a good job with it.”
The event program explained that Maurice Ravel wrote his “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major” between 1929 and 1930 as a commission by pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in the First World War.
Despite the challenge it posed, Schmidt said she was most looking forward to playing this particular piece.
“Dr. Scott, our soloist, is fantastic and the piece itself is interesting even from an audience standpoint. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and I’m really excited for our audience to hear our progress,” she said.
Frank Scott, director of the piano program here at NAU, took on the responsibility of playing the solo for this concerto.
“I happen to be right-handed . . . but I’ve always been interested in left hand as a pianist to try to improve the overall quality of my playing,” Scott said. “Somebody said there’s 4,000 pieces for left hand alone and there’s only 75 for right hand.”
Those who are familiar with the instrument understand that two hands are generally necessary to play both the foundational bass notes with the left as well as the melody at the same time with the right in the higher octaves. The functionality of the left hand, however, allows musicians to successfully execute songs single-handedly.
“[The] left hand is really the hand that’s the best for playing alone because it has the thumb on the top which plays the melody notes,” Scott explained.
In short, the thumb takes over most of the melody while leaving the rest of the fingers to work the bass notes.
Ravel’s concerto had been a work in progress since last year for the orchestra. Scott was supposed to solo with them last season and began working on the piece the summer before but then “I kind of put it away because we didn’t have any definite plans of actually performing it,” Scott said.
A little extra practice never hurt anyone; and it can go a long way. Accompanied by the full symphony orchestra, Scott took to the stage with applause from the audience
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Well, what’s your favorite piece?’ and it’s usually the piece you’re working on at the moment, so it happens to be Ravel,” Scott said.
The piece concluded to a standing ovation and, after a brief intermission, the chamber orchestra gathered once more on stage to play Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Symphony No. 104 in D Major ‘London,’” probably one of the most recognizable compositions in classical music.
In the words of Schmidt, “Music allows the performer to be an actor and to get away from whatever life is throwing at you.” Just being in the audience could be an escape from reality for some, letting them lose themselves in the sounds of the music.
NAU’s orchestras will have several more concerts throughout the year so if you enjoy classical music and talented students, be sure to keep your ears open for further announcements in the months to come.