This concert marked the end of the orchestra's winter tour, in which the musicians traveled primarily around the Midwest and towards the Southwest. This summer, the orchestra plans to tour Spain, playing concerts and absorbing the Spanish culture.
On Thursday night, the orchestra sounded superb, working together in perfect synchronization. From a musician's standpoint, the obvious communication within the orchestra is quite an achievement and is one reason why it is so high-class.
For those unfamiliar, the audience sees something quite spectacular watching the St. Olaf Orchestra: All of its members are constantly looking at one another.
This is partially the reason their sound is so phenomenally clean and homogeneous and how they are able to convey such a range of musical colors and textures.
For this winter's tour and Thursday's concert, two seniors were featured in solo pieces, though they alternated nights on the tour. Whit Noble performed Debussy's "Première Rhapsodie" on clarinet, and David Moon presented Dvoák's "Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op.104" on cello.
Both pieces were played masterfully and showcased both performers' abilities and talents. The pieces were also gentle and lyrical, enhancing the incredible tone of the performers and drawing the audience into the pleading and beseeching melodies.
The cello concerto, in particular, exhibited a hauntingly engaging opening, which when contrasted with the dark, full sound of the orchestra caused chills to run down audience members' spines.
Also on the program was a piece written by conductor Steven Amundson, "The Gift." This piece, which was premiered on tour, was composed to honor the memory of a former Orchie, Eric Drotning, who died in a car accident in June 2005 and was commissioned by Eric's family.
This piece centers around the motif E-C-D-G (the first and last letters of Eric's first and last name) and begins very gently with the strings and marimba reverently spelling out the theme.
The orchestra builds in intensity until the middle of the piece, which is full of grandeur and hopefulness, as the brass continue the E-C-D-G idea. The music then lulls the listeners back into a sense of peace and light.
The orchestra expertly performed selections from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," causing the action and emotion of the play to leap out of the music. The string section was especially impressive during the movement "Death of Tybalt," as their bows practically flew off the strings while they conveyed the intensity of the fight between Romeo and Tybalt.
However, it was the percussion section that stole the show Thursday night. In the piece "Celebrare Celeberrime" by Carl Vine, the syncopation and compelling rhythms propelled the piece forward, while the multiple cymbal crashes added to the energy and excitement. The percussionists were also highlighted in perhaps the most frivolous and entertaining piece of the evening, "Mambo" by Bernstein from West Side Story.
In this movement, there were times when the timpanist's hands were moving so rapidly, one could see only a blur. Adding to this excitement was the hearty call of "Mambo" from the orchestra members as they performed this rendition of a Latin mambo.
Their sound and communication was remarkable, and they played with an air of community and camaraderie that was impressive and made them all the more enjoyable to watch.
After a successful tour, the homecoming concert was an excellent finale to for the orchies, as well as a perfect Valentine's Day activity for the audience members.