Yale Symphony Orchestra

The Yale Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert of the semester, “Young at Heart,” at Woolsey Hall on Friday.

After the audience shook off rain-drenched coats and squeaked through the warmly lit aisles of Woolsey Hall, YSO music director Toshiyuki Shimada began the concert with Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” before guest conductor Jeffrey Douma followed with the world premiere of Caroline Shaw’s “Music in Common Time,” featuring the Yale Glee Club. After a short intermission, Shimada ended the concert with Gustav Mahler’s intricate “Symphony No. 4 in G Major,” featuring soprano Jessica Pray MUS ’17.

“The Mahler is actually my favorite symphony,” said Cameron Daly ’18, a violinist in YSO. “It’s so life-affirming. The premise of the piece is a child’s view of heaven and [the piece] really captures it.”

The theme of the concert brought together pieces that portray youth, ranging from the whimsical and romantic “Mother Goose Suite” to the passionate, slightly nightmarish Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4.” Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite,” inspired by European children’s fairy tales, allowed YSO to showcase its ability to play with a diverse set of styles, starting from the first movement’s ethereal blending of the wind and string sections to create an airy, tenuous effect. The piece quickly transitioned to the second movement’s playful exchange between the horns and strings. The final movement, aptly titled “The Fairy Garden,” was almost indulgent, featuring a resonant, lilting string section that perfectly reflected the location of Woolsey Hall, whose dimly lit lanterns and the dark blue sky peeking through the windows gave it a fairytale quality.

“The expression in the Ravel was so vivid, you could picture the stories in your head as you hear the music,” audience member Isabel Sands ’21 said.

Conversely, Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4 in G Major” presented a darker vision of childhood. The first movement’s abrupt changes in mood, from jaunty to troubled in the span of a few measures, reflects the transient nature of children’s tantrums — they come as quickly as they leave. The second movement features a violin solo performed by Daly, and evokes a child’s nightmare, featuring unsettling and slightly disjointed rhythms.

Another highlight of the concert was the world premiere’s “Music in Common Time,” in which the YSO collaborated with the Yale Glee Club to deliver an otherworldly, lyrical performance. Shaw presents a fresh approach to composition, blending powerful vocalizations with creative, slightly disjointed rhythms in the strings. The sound contrasted significantly with other moments in the piece — such as the mysterious finale, which featured a soft viola solo performed by Sarah Switzer ’19.

“The voices blended really well with the rest of the orchestra, and I could appreciate how the voice can also be an instrument,” audience member Annie Yang ’21 said.

For this concert cycle, YSO welcomed Head of Berkeley College David Evans ’92 on the contrabass. As an undergraduate at Yale, Evans played his instrument in the YSO, and has rejoined the group twice in recent years — both times to perform Mahler symphonies.

“I’m very pleased to see that the character of the group hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years: top-class student musicians, mostly pursuing careers outside of music but devoting considerable time and effort to produce consistently magical moments on the stage,” Evans said.

The YSO’s next concert, “At the Cusp of the Modern,” will be on April 14 at 8 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, featuring works by Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky.

Candice Wang | candice.wang@yale.edu