A Dreary Evening Warmed by Classical Music

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There aren’t many weather patterns that Chopin can’t remedy.

Last night at 6 pm, as part of the Music at St. Paul’s series, the Columbia Classical Performers held their first concert of the season hardly a month into the academic year.  Bwog sent its Sonorous Sounds Sleuth Alexandra Svokos to investigate.

In case you don’t recall, it was a blustery, cold night yesterday.  There was that awful misty-rain thing spattering our coats and souls, and the world appeared completely grey.  It may have been horrible weather, but it made for a fantastic atmosphere at the Columbia Classical Performer’s concert.  The show began with Silent Woods by Dvorak performed by Justin Zhao, SEAS ’15, on cello and Charlotte Li, SEAS ’15, on piano.  This slow and soulful piece was performed to perfection by Zhao and Li, the emotion only extended by the starkness of the outside world.  They were well in time with each other and Zhao pulled out his legato notes with great expression.

Next up were two pieces composed by  Solomon Hoffman, CC ’14.  He played them on the piano with Caroline Sonett, also CC ’14, on flute.  The pieces were composed for a local performance near Hoffman’s home and were inspired by the paintings of local artists.  The first was Wait for Me, which was about a woman reaching for a man.  The music told this story with desperate pleading.  Hoffman on piano had a plodding three-tone repetition while Sonett’s flute called out over him.  The second piece was called, again appropriate for the night, House in the Storm.  However, Hoffman explained, it was supposed to express the power and positive qualities of storms.  So, while the music was heavy and strong, it also had an upbeat sound to it.  Sonett played the melodies agilely and they came together for some beautiful swells and crescendos.  Yes, it was a storm, but there was no reason to fear it.

Shannon Lee, CC ’13, stepped up to bat with a violin and Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A-Minor.  Another sad song for a gloomy day, it resonated under her wistful touch.  Lee had quick and smooth trills and was aggressive on the faster notes.  Most impressive was the quality of her sound.  It was strong and full, easily filling the entire church despite the noise from outside—she actually ended the piece with sirens going off on Amsterdam behind her.  It was not a pitiful sad song; she was clearly in control.  It was a moving performance.

For a change in sound, Maria Sulimirski, CC ’13, sang two arias with Jean-Paul Bjorlin accompanying on piano.  The first was Vaga luna che inargenti by Bellini.  I am always impressed by singers for the simple fact that their body is their instrument.  If I am nervous and shaking when I hit a note on the piano, you won’t hear it shake, but singers must assert complete control.  It took her a moment, but Sulimirski soon found her center and sang wonderfully, her voice echoing magically around the church.  By the end she had loosened up and moved with a bit of acting to the song.  Next she sang Puccini’s beloved O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi.  There her voice was full and loud and she was emotionally invested, pleading like her character ought to be.

There was a last-minute addition to the program.  Javier Llaca, CC ’16, who played Bach’s Fugue from BWV 998 and the Prelude from his Lute Suite No. 4.  He was a very attentive and attached performer, clearly very comfortable with his instrument.  Llaca hit every note in these intricate pieces with precision and kept up with the compositions in what was a very peaceful and relaxing performance.

The highlight of the night was Victoria Fassrainer, CC ’15, playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31 on piano.  She was absolutely fantastic on this difficult piece.  It’s a fast one with oodles of runs up and down the keyboard, but it was no match for her mastery.  Her right hand completed the runs easily while her left was solid in rhythm—in the few moments when Chopin allows it to be that simple.  Fassrainer held great command of dynamics, performing not only a precisely played piece, but an emotional and moving one.  She did not drop the quick tempo, and she made the slower parts resound.  Frankly, she was wonderful.

So, the weather was horrible, but the music was not.  In fact, walking back outside into the gloomy mist, I had to smile and appreciate the fog and miserableness.  Without such awful weather, we’d never get such beautiful sounds.

Fancy schmancy concert hall via Wikimedia Commons

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