With birds chirping, the wind whistling and students playing, music was in the air as spring burst into full bloom on Saturday afternoon. The music continued throughout the evening as the Yale Symphony Orchestra hosted its final concert, featuring 90 instrumentalists and one soprano performing staple pieces by Strauss and Stravinsky.
The concert, which ran from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, opened with Strauss’s “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” a vibrant account of the life of Till Eulenspiegel, a knavish trickster whose pranks targeted those in power. The orchestra then played Strauss’s “Vier Letzte Lieder” and ended with a performance of Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka.
“I was really thrilled with our performance tonight,” said Noah Stevens-Stein ’18, co-president of the YSO. “Each piece on the program presented its own difficult challenges, and I feel like the orchestra really rose to meet them. We’ve been working on these pieces since February, but it’s also one of the hardest programs we’ve ever presented.”
Ian Niederhoffer ’19, who conducted “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” was succeeded on stage by Toshiyuki Shimada, who then conducted “Vier Letzte Lieder,” four “last songs” written at the end of the Strauss’s career. Scottish soprano Lauren McQuistin MUS ’19 accompanied the orchestra with an elegantly sung rendition of “two old people preparing themselves for final rest,” according to the program notes.
The second half of the concert featured a performance of Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka, a short-concert-piece-turned-ballet that paints the story of three puppets brought to life by a “Charlatan” at the Shrovetide festival in St. Petersburg. At the end of the concert, Shimada addressed a nearly full Woolsey Hall, acknowledging the departing seniors and their families. After brief applause, Shimada turned to the seniors, thanked them for their commitment, and finished by telling them “I love you all.”
Eileen Norris ’20, a second violinist for the YSO, echoed Shimada’s praise of the graduating senior class.
“The orchestra is going to miss all of the seniors, and … at least for me personally, the seniors have played such a big role in both organizing the orchestra and welcoming all of the new musicians,” Norris said.
During an interview earlier in the week, Shimada told the News that the season had progressed “well and smoothly,” adding that the Halloween show was a success. He most fondly remembered the orchestra’s performance of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony, which he described as “a work which really connected to the history about the Russian Revolution.”
The choice to perform pieces by Shostakovich and Stravinsky was especially pertinent this year, given that 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the onset of the Russian Revolution and that the symphony orchestra toured Russia last summer.
In the fall, the orchestra saw a high turnover rate among its musicians, Shimada said, as about a third of the orchestra was new this year. Shimada emphasized, however, that everyone bonded over the beauty of making music, and, before long, the orchestra was playing with its characteristic “unified” and “homogeneous” tone.
“By the first concert in October, we could really play as one instrument, which is the orchestra,” Shimada said. “Now that we got to know each other so well, we play even better. We know exactly how we feel all together.”
Lorenzo Arvanitis | firstname.lastname@example.org