Concerto competition winners perform at orchestra concert – The Lawrentian
Highlights of the Lawrence Chamber Orchestras and Symphony Concert on Friday, April 22 were performances by second-year cellist Thomas Logan and junior violinist Gabe Roethle, co-winners of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition ( LSO) 2021-2022. The orchestras were led by music teacher Kimberly-Clark and group director Andrew Mast, who replaced Mark Dupere on sabbatical.
In the first half of the concert, the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra performed works by José Lezcano, George Walker and Edward Elgar, ranging from adventurous to danceable to nostalgic.
After the intermission, the second half began with Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, played by the LSO and cellist Thomas Logan. The variations were written as a tribute to Mozart, and while those familiar with Rococo architecture would not have been disappointed by the intricacy of the music, Tchaikovsky himself focused on a different angle to Rococo, describing it as “a carefree sense of well-being”. .”
When Logan joined the LSO on stage, they received an enthusiastic welcome of applause and cheers. The Rococo Variations open with a peaceful introduction played by woodwinds and strings and continue with a mysterious and expectant French horn solo. The cello then entered with the light and charming theme on which the seven variations were based.
The woodwinds answered the theme before the cello opened the way for the first variation. This variation was quite brief and characterized by bouncy childlike joy. The same response from the woodwinds as before signaled that it was time for the second variation.
Here the cello has grown bolder, charging fearlessly and making virtuosic displays of ability. Interacting with the string section, the cello seemed to taunt or challenge them in a kind of race as it gained speed and technicality. Like clockwork, the woodwinds indicated another transition, but not yet a new variation; the cello has completely changed its mood, taking on a dark quality. When joined by the ropes, together they painted for me a picture of glimmers of light shining on the surface of the water.
In the third variation, woodwinds and strings in pizzicato create a dreamlike atmosphere around the cello. Gradually, the cello seems to awaken and become more categorical in its words, receiving encouragement from the orchestra. As the accompaniment faded, the cello fell to the bottom of its register, but when the orchestra joined it, the cello rose to the top of its range, doing a few trills along the way. .
The cello began the fourth variation with playful ease. This variation also crossed the extremes of the cello range; twice, after reaching the top, the cello fell chromatically into a lower register, where its trills sounded like the buzzing of an insect. Between these displays of tessitura, the cello becomes dancing. Perhaps my favorite moment in the work came at the end of this movement, where the cello made several calls to the orchestra that went unanswered. Logan made the humor of these moments clear by looking around in feigned confusion, as if waiting for an answer, before continuing on his own.
The cello trills that ended the fourth variation continued into the fifth, creating a smooth transition. Here the flutes, rather than the cello, played the theme. As they did so, the cello’s trills steadily rose in pitch, and the cello dipped alone from these pitches when the flutes ended the theme. A full orchestration of the theme, sans cello, followed, followed by an improvised cello passage. The flutes take up the theme again, this time accompanied by strings in pizzicato. The cello concludes this variation dramatically, ending on a low, mournful note.
The sixth variation opened with a touching duet between cello and clarinet that was easily another of my favorite moments in the piece, and evoked a sense of retrospect or regret. It ended with a bold and impossibly high cello phrase that was finished by the orchestra before the cello could reach the top.
The seventh variation was bursting with energy and contained a level of excitement and grandeur appropriate for a grand finale. The crowd thanked Logan for his performance with a standing ovation and more cheers, and then violinist Gabe Roethle was received as eagerly as he entered.
Roethle played the first movement of Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2, scored allegro non troppo, accompanied by the LSO. This concerto movement could hardly have been more different from the slight Rococo Variations that preceded it.
From the violin’s first entry, the piece conveyed an ominous warning of impending doom. Bartók completed the composition in 1938, while still living in his native Hungary. He was gravely concerned about the rise of fascism in Europe and the danger of Hungary surrendering to the Nazis. Although World War II had yet to officially begin, Bartók’s music hinted unambiguously at what was to come.
At the very beginning, the orchestra, especially pizzicato strings, mimicked the hum of everyday life before Roethle’s violin enters with a stark contrast in mood, like a dissenter or a solitary prophesier. The orchestra soon sank into a rhythmic and harmonic chaos, on which the violin could still be heard.
At times the violin seemed to mimic a mermaid, while at others it seemed fearful or uncertain. As the orchestra took on a darker, more subdued texture, the violin sang as if from the wreckage of destruction. As the violin solo rose, the full orchestra sounded in alarm several times, then the drums came in, evoking the march of soldiers.
The violin took on a sweet melody, contrasted by a dark and eerie orchestral accompaniment, then began to cry out weakly, as if from grief. The violin’s solo chromatic fall was greeted in the background by an orchestral entry that perhaps created the effect of a bomb crashing to the ground.
Trying to rise from these depths, the violin repeatedly floundered, trying to find its way, but repeatedly found only the same dissonant chord, as if stuck. When it broke free, the violin took on a sense of urgency and insistence that the orchestra joined in, before the movement ended in unison with everyone, as if sharing a common goal.
It is surely a testament to Roethle’s and LSO’s interpretative ability that even before I discovered the backstory of this piece, its allusions to war were clear to me. Although the piece is deliberately unpleasant to listen to, these musicians did not shy away from addressing the painful and agonizing themes that were so crucial for Bartók in expressing his reaction to the state of Europe at the time of this composition.
The concert concluded with the LSO’s rendition of Copland’s Outdoor Overture, a piece oddly composed in the same year as the Bartók, but which had a much brighter and more cheerful attitude.