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Classical Review: Violinist Hua Shows Prowess With Carmen Fantasy

MITSO’s Promising Start Complemented by Virtuosic Solo Performance

By Tony Hwang
STAFF WRITER

MIT Symphony Orchestra

Dante Anzolini, conductor

Serenus Hua ’07, violin

Kresge Auditorium

Friday, Oct. 21, 2005, 8 p.m.

A large audience gathered at Kresge Auditorium on Friday evening, eager to hear the MIT Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the school year. The opening concert sets the tone for the season, allowing listeners to get a feel for what the orchestra has to offer. MITSO was happy to oblige, programming the first half of the concert with the sultry and exotic melodies of “Carmen” and then switching to a grand symphonic work of Schubert in the second half.

The quality of an orchestra’s performance depends not only on the ability of individual players, but also on members’ familiarity with each other. Fortunately, this year’s MITSO roster consists of many returning players, thus allowing the orchestra to play cohesively. Additionally, new players feel more comfortable, as they are settling into an organized group and not struggling to find their own identity.

After some peculiarly fast tuning from the orchestra and some strange stage lighting (dim lights on stage and bright lights on the audience until after the tuning), conductor Dante Anzolini took his place on the podium and was ready to start with Bizet’s “Carmen Suite No. 1.” Immediately, I was impressed by the tight intonation of the group. An essential quality of a professional sound is clear intonation, and MITSO had it convincingly secured in contrast to previous concerts. However, the sheer number of violins seemed to cause the section to overpower the other strings and even the winds at times, and this imbalance was not accounted for by the violinists.

The following Aragonaise and Intermezzo sections presented beautiful wind solos that were delivered cleanly. Perhaps Anzolini could have given the soloists more freedom with rubato, but he managed to keep the melodies in motion, which is the most important factor. To finish off the excerpts was the famous Los Toreadors, a selection that capitalized on the strength of the violins to bring out the fast-paced excitement. At the conclusion of the suite, the audience exhibited a strong positive reaction, which was well-deserved. I was a bit disappointed not to hear the Haba era, but the following solo would pick up where the suite left off.

Pablo de Sarasate was a master violinist and composer who produced many showy and technically notorious violin pieces, including the “Carmen Fantasy on Theme of Bizet Op. 25.” Serenus Hua ’07, last year’s MITSO Concerto Competition winner, tackled the piece with gusto. He took the stage with a polite and composed demeanor, bowing deeply and then mentally preparing for his performance. As Hua began to play, he immediately became extremely animated (a la Gil Shaham), with sweeping movements from the upper body and rocking back and forth on his feet, almost as if dancing to the music. These motions were extremely fitting for such a virtuosic piece and were entertaining to watch, although it was visually distracting in some parts where the melody slowed and became soft.

Hua’s technical proficiency overshadowed this minor detail though, as he showed off on chord and harmonic runs as well as wild string crossings. In fact, caught up in the spirit of the moment, Hua would rush through many of the challenging passages at an even faster tempo than expected, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Anzolini was attentive to the soloist, always making sure to mark time with the fluctuations in tempi. As an experienced performer, Hua did a decent job keeping his nerves under control, as the Carmen Fantasy is enough to make even the most skilled violinist sweat. Ending with a dramatic pose, he received a great ovation from the thrilled audience and looked half-relieved, half-exhilarated. His performance deserved nothing less.

The solo seemed to be the peak of excitement in the concert, as MITSO moved on to more formal repertoire. Schubert’s “Symphony No. 9,” known as “The Great” symphony, relies more on the classical notions of structure and rhythm and creates its climaxes through grand fanfares from the brass as opposed to whirling passages from the strings (e.g. Carmen). As before, the intonation was excellent, appropriately capturing progressions of alternating dissonance and harmony. However, as the symphony is a long one, it is quite mentally taxing on the players and their tiredness began to show through toward the end of the second movement, although it picked up a bit again for the finale.

MITSO’s first concert of the season was an encouraging start. Hua’s showstopper was great for inspiring interest in both orchestra and audience. The orchestra itself delivered the music properly, and with some more passionate playing could become truly remarkable.