The University of Nevada, Reno Honors Concert is held annually, this year being March 8, and features five soloists performing at the Nightingale Concert Hall, each playing a different instrument.
The five elected this year included Sashekia Brown, a soprano; Alexandra Gordon on oboe, Jürgen Hirt on bassoon, Audrey Lim on viola and Robert Smith on trumpet.
Looks like it wasn’t Alexandra Gordon’s night.
Unfortunately for Gordon, his solo was the only one the symphony orchestra seemed to spoil right after intermission.
However, the concert initially started with flying colors.
The first movement begins after the conductor has taken the stage and led the orchestra through Claude Debussy’s “La Cathédrale Engloutie”. The song is taken from Preludes Book I, which is orchestrated by Peter Lawson.
The piece started with a lovely strumming of the harp before the soft lullaby grew intense, and the trombones added a deep pounding to the harmony. The full orchestra quickly joined in to play a tone that builds like an epic battle scene wavering on the horizon.
With just the start, the low tones of the bells and the phenomenal haunting tone that followed soon after sent shivers down the spines of the audience. There is a crossfade and then the room falls silent before the audience bursts into applause.
After the intro song, Smith took the stage, followed by Jason Altieri, the concert’s main bandleader.
As the orchestra settles in, it becomes clear who the soloist is. Smith stood at the front of the stage, facing the audience, while the conductor stood facing the orchestra, who were seated in a semicircle of chairs behind the soloist.
The concerto for trumpet and string ensemble is in E flat major, performing three pieces including “Allegro”, “Largo” and “Vivace” by Jan Krtitel Jiri Neruda.
The first track, “Allegro”, is a catchy song that looks like it could be played in medieval times. At a few points where the trumpet is isolated in its sound, Smith does a great job of maintaining the piece’s perfection. Then the piece resumes – even the conductor takes small dance steps to enter the music.
“Largo” follows quickly with a gallantly graceful tone that’s perfect for a chic 18th century ball. When the trumpet performs another solo, it loses movement a bit and does not sound as good as in the first piece.
The final track, “Vivace,” is racy and exciting, a fitting song that could follow the moments of someone running through the streets to catch the love of their life.
When the trumpeter recovers from an unnecessary amount of soloing, he improves a bit. Eventually, his playing becomes strained and he has a lot of flaws in his later solo parts of this piece, leaving the audience feeling a bit deflated by his performance.
There is a short pause after Smith leaves the stage before Hirt enters, with his beautiful big bassoon resting in his arms. The principal conductor takes the stage shortly afterwards and Hirt’s Concerto in F major, Op. 75. Hirt plays three pieces by Carl Maria von Weber including “Allegro ma non troppo”, “Adagio” and “Rondo – Allegro”.
In “Allegro ma non troppo” there is an abrupt start with an intense combination of strings, trumpets, drums and flutes.
When Hirt escapes with his bassoon solo, it’s breathtaking.
His fast flying fingers, confident personality and great dynamics with the orchestra carry the whole song to a fantastic finish that shakes the whole room.
The following track “Adagio” has a sadder tone. Hirt impressively plays a higher tune, rarely heard on such a deep instrument. It even contributes beautifully to the sad fade in the piece.
The grand finale of “Rondo – Allegro” fills the room and it’s a much faster pace, difficult to follow even for the spectators.
Watching Hirt’s fingers run along his instrument in one fluid motion is incredible. Even with the racing pitches, the catchy rhythm of his playing alongside the strings is quite captivating.
The audience applauds and Hirt leaves the stage, followed by the other orchestra, where they tell a short intermission of ten minutes before the next three soloists can perform.
The next is where the real tragedy occurs.
When Gordon takes the stage followed by the conductor, she is a recognized performer pursuing a Masters of Music in performance at university.
The concerto is centered around the oboe with a small orchestra, composed of three pieces by Bohuslav Martinû including “Moderato”, “Poco Andante” and “Poco Allegro”.
The first track begins softly, with high pitched playing and a good build-up from Gordon’s oboe. Not even a minute or two in the room, the conductor wavers. The audience hears a fault in the performance, but it continues.
The orchestra weakens again. Gordon is clearly shaken by the foul.
The bandleader, instead of trying to regain the position, stopped the song altogether. He smiled and gave the listeners a little wave that everything was fine and they were going to start over.
There were a few light chuckles that echoed through the audience and the orchestra prepared to pick it up from the start.
Gordon’s eyes filled with tears and the sense of panic and distress crossed her expression as she regained her composure. When the driver turned to her for the go-ahead, she pulled over to take a minute to hold back tears.
She took a deep breath before nodding at him, putting on a brave face, and starting to play again.
Gordon played his instrument beautifully, but the song isn’t perfectly finished. The trumpets were a bit out of tune at times in the piece. His oboe carried the good sounds of the song, but they do much better in the second.
The second was a great follow-up to the previous incident, as it created a sad and dramatic air of grief in the hearts of the audience to mimic what Gordon is feeling.
The combination in this piece with piano and oboe is beautiful, however. Adding the light strings in the background also allows for a dramatic build-up of beautiful, fast playing. Somehow, Gordon has smoothly maintained his flawless performance on the oboe, an instrument most know is extremely difficult to play.
The music switched to “Poco Allegro”, which provided an epic ending to Gordon’s solo collection. The beat is quick and the tempo is brisk, with short, abrupt pauses between each dramatic moment.
In this one, it was obvious that Gordon had given everything to make the piece sound exquisite despite the mistake at the start, it was easily overlooked with his incredible playing for the rest.
After Gordon leaves the stage looking tense, there is a brief pause before Brown takes the stage wearing a gorgeous cream dress with sequins that reflect off the bright lights illuminating the stage.
She began her collection of “Quatre Chansons de Ronsard” by Darius Milhaud, which includes four pieces: “Aune Fontaine”, “A Cupidon”, “Tais-toi, Babillarde” and “Dieu vous gard”.
The start of the first track was enough to catch anyone listening off guard. Her voice will send shivers down your spine because of its softness.
The second track was a little sadder and the audience felt the music as her voice flowed through and gracefully connected to the sounds of the other instruments.
In “Shut Up, Babillarde”, the instruments started the piece in place of her vocals, starting with a brisk start before Brown joined in at a perfect moment and perfectly matched the pitch of her extended voice.
In the last piece, he finishes the whole collection with a happier tone of pauses and quick pauses, awe-inspiring to watch the master soprano.
After her performance, she leaves the stage to applause that follows her behind the door.
The last soloist came out soon after, with her viola to perform a simple piece, “Vivo, e molton preciso” by William Walton. Lim wore a beautiful red dress and carried her smooth viola with her.
His instrument has the loudest tone and was certainly the loudest of the five. Her playing in this piece is dramatic, fast and thrilling – keeping the audience on their toes as they tried to keep up with the dramatic build-ups of the other instruments around her.
It’s impressive to see how fast his fingers move and it’s easy to stay in tune with his impeccable playing.
The final note was abrupt, but it created a dramatic ending for Lim. She exited the stage to applause vibrating behind her.
Finally, the entire orchestra joined the stage, not one instrument left to start the last piece “España”, a rhapsody for orchestra, by Emmanuel Chabrier.
Before the start of the piece, the conductor asked the audience to once again applaud the soloists and encourage the accompanying orchestra. He quickly added a bit of his own experience and understanding of their stress and commitment, before resuming his conducting skills and letting the orchestra’s music soar.
The piece is slow at first as each instrument slowly adds its own parts to the rhythm. When the beat picks up, the song sounds like fighters marching into battle. It is intense, dramatic and gallant at the same time.
The piece is a bit repetitive, stretching longer with the abrupt pauses of different instruments playing small snippets of their own sounds. However, the ending is dramatic and has one of the strongest finishes of any play.
The audience applauded once the symphony was over, and the entire symphony rose to accept the applause.
Even though each collection had its flaws and there was a difficult accident in Gordon’s performance, the orchestra and soloists still managed to wow the attendees of this concert with a simple collection of heartfelt songs.
Jaedyn Young can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.