Philharmonia shines

In last Friday’s season debut, the Yale Philharmonia performed three pieces for a packed Woolsey Hall, all of which draw upon earlier music or literature. Yet there was nothing antiquated about this brilliant and innovative concert.

Based upon the poem “Don Juan” by Nikolaus Lenau, Strauss’ “Don Juan, Op. 20” was the opening selection. An extremely technical and dynamic piece, “Don Juan” immediately established the Philharmonia’s virtuosity and precision.

After booming applause, the orchestra began its second selection, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” As the title suggests, Vaughan Williams borrows thematic material from a modal piece written by the Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis. As with “Don Juan,” the deep, rich sound of the orchestra resonated through Woolsey Hall with this selection.

After an intermission, the Philharmonia concluded with Rimsky-Korsakov’s dazzling “Scheherazade, Op. 35,” a four-movement work inspired by the “Book of One Thousand and One Nights.” One of the first motifs of this piece, a somber violin line, represents Scheherazade, a woman who tells stories to her sultan husband. The motif reappears throughout each of the four movements as Scheherazade entertains her husband with stories. The piece highlighted the Philharmonia’s brilliant balance and its subtle use of different colors and textures. Accordingly, the audience warmly met the conclusion with a standing ovation.

In addition to the incredibly talented and motivated students — all from the Yale School of Music — who comprise the orchestra, the Philharmonia benefits from the direction of Maestro Shinik Hahm. Hahm, who has led concerts everywhere from New York’s Carnegie Hall to the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, has brought an innovative and fluid style to the Philharmonia since his appointment as music director in 2004.

“I’m most excited about the orchestra’s repertoire this year and the very high-level musicianship and spirit of our players, which is great every year,” Hahm said.”

Double-bassist Brian Thacker MUS ’09 predicted that this season will be different from any other.

“The Yale Philharmonia is going to make Toad’s look like a somber coffee house,” he said. “We’re going to be turning Woolsey Hall into a rock ’n’ roll arena this season.”

Indeed, the Philharmonia boasts an impressive repertoire this season, with works by Bruckner, Mahler and Stravinsky, among others. This program represents a slight shift in comparison with previous seasons; this literature allows for a fuller, more forceful orchestral sound.

Hahm also points to this season’s prominent guest conductors: The European conductor Reinbert De Leeuw will visit the Philharmonia in December to conduct the “Turangalila Symphony.” Next, Toronto Symphony Music Director Peter Oundjian —also a Yale School of Music faculty member — will return to Yale in January to lead Bruckner’s 8th.

Finally, Maestro Nicholas McGeegan will visit in March as the Philharmonia combines with three Yale choral groups — the Glee Club, Camerata and Schola Cantorum.

Despite the Philharmonia’s high level of musicality and technicality, their concerts are accessible to almost any listener, including those who are non-musical.

“Philharmonia concerts are very exciting events,” said Hannah Collins MUS ’09, a third-year cellist. “There’s no better way to hear such a huge cross section of talented instrumentalists from the School of Music all in one concert. Even for a non-musical person, experiencing the sensation of Woolsey Hall resonating from floor to ceiling as a result of the efforts of dozens of musicians on stage is a sight to behold and a memorable experience.”

Hahm agreed.

“Philharmonia concerts are among the few opportunities to hear the wonderful masterpieces of Western music played by an orchestra of truly professional quality here in New Haven, not to mention that it’s free to the public and students alike,” he said.

The Philharmonia continues to attract large audiences and to present a fantastic opportunity to enjoy quality music at Yale. Its performances are dynamic, beautiful and fluid, and if last Friday’s concert is any indication, this season is promising.

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