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ISSUE 117 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/31/2003

Orchestra home from the West

By Carl Schroeder
Staff Writer

Friday, October 31, 2003

Capping a 10-day domestic tour, the St. Olaf Orchestra delivered a thrilling concert to a full house at Skoglund Auditorium on Monday night. The two-hour concert, conducted by Music Professor Steven Amundson, featured performances by a pair of Orchestra soloists as well as works by 20th-century American composers Samuel Barber and George Gershwin.

After opening with the passionate "Roman Carnival Overture" by Hector Berlioz, the Orchestra moved on to two pieces featuring student soloists. The first, movement three of Jacques Ibert’s "Flute Concerto," showcased the talents of Shelly Wipf ’04. From its vibrant triple meter opening onward, Wipf gave a breathtaking clarity to the piece’s virtuosic solo flute lines and cadenzas while displaying considerable expressive and technical range. "One reason I like the piece is its lyrical middle section," Wipf said.

Following Wipf’s bravura performance, cello performance major Benjamin Krug ’04 took center stage for movement four of Edward Elgar’s "Cello Concerto." In this somber and reflective work, composed in the wake of World War I, Elgar challenges the soloist with subtle as well as showy passages. During Monday’s performance, Krug resisted the temptation to substitute volume for emotion and hit the high notes with apparent ease. "Elgar wrote so well for the cello," said Krug after the concert. "[The Concerto] has so many different types of expression."

An early Johannes Brahms work, "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," concluded the first half of the program.

The concert’s second half began with an intriguing 1953 ballet score by Samuel Barber, "Medea’s Dance of Vengeance," which musically interprets the story of Medea, the legendary Greek woman who killed her children after learning of her husband’s infidelity. The Orchestra infused this difficult work with requisite senses of anguish and ambiguity.

Following the gentle "Intermezzo Sinfonico," by Pietro Mascagni, the Orchestra tackled the evening’s showpiece, George Gershwin’s "An American in Paris." Famous for its seamless blend of jazz and classical traditions, Gershwin’s 1928 masterwork is as demanding as it is entertaining. The 19-minute piece was performed by the Orchestra with professional flair, and met with a standing ovation by the appreciative crowd. As an encore, the group performed its signature piece, G. Winston Cassler’s "The Turtle Dove."

Following the concert, Amundson said he was "very pleased" with the home performance, which he called "definitely the highlight" of the fall tour.

During its 10-day fall tour, the Orchestra performed at venues in South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota, sharing music with thousands of listeners during a series of ten concerts. "People seemed rather surprised to hear a college orchestra play the kinds of pieces we are playing," said Amundson.

One highlight for the group was the Oct. 21 performance in Cut Bank, Mont., the hometown of flute soloist Wipf. "The whole town came out for the concert," Amundson said. "They were so proud to have a hometown girl come back and play like she did."

Playing at home was another highlight for the ensemble. As bassist Jonathan Graef '05 said, "The energy from the audience was wonderful."

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