Melodies by the masters at von der Mehden

The UConn Symphony Orchestra performs a show titled "Dances in Masks" in von der Mehden Recital Hall on Thursday night. The show featured works by Bernstein, Fuchs, Saint-Seans, and Tchaikovsky. (Photo by Maggie Chafouleas/The Daily Campus)

Thursday night’s performance of the University of Connecticut Symphony Orchestra at von der Mehden, titled Dances in Masks, featured powerful selections from some of history’s great composers, along with a new piece by UConn’s own Professor of Composition Kenneth Fuchs. Each piece had a distinct style and flare, leading to a great rollercoaster of feeling.

The first piece, the overture to “Candide” by Leonard had a sweeping, epic sound mixed with more playful, subdued bursts. The back and forth of grandiose and quaint melodies gave a freshness to the piece which kept the interest of the audience throughout. Many shifts in tone were punctuated by overpowering drum beats that rippled through the auditorium like seismic shocks. This was an ideal opening to the night, instantly drawing listeners in and keeping them hooked.

The second piece was American Rhapsody, written by Fuchs in 2008. Fuchs based the work on the principal melody of another piece he wrote back in 1993, titled “Where Have You Been?” This time, the orchestra was accompanied by accomplished violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv. Ivakhiv showed enormous prowess; she has performed at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, conducted at Yale and Columbia and is the Assistant Professor of Violin and Viola and the Coordinator of Strings at UConn.

The piece began slowly, led by the strings in a low register. Shortly after, Ivakhiv’s violin cut through, soaring high above the rest. In contrast to “Candide,” the work dripped with emotion, signifying deep, inner longing or a fond memory with a slight twinge of sadness. Ivakhiv played with effortless energy and grace.

The third piece was “La muse et le poete, Op. 132” by Camille Saint-Saens. The work was written as a memorial to a female admirer of his who lobbied for a statue of him to be erected in the town of Dieppe. This piece relied heavily on the balance between violin, played once again by Ivakhiv, and violoncello, here played by Sophie Shao. Shao is another gifted musician, showing off her talent with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra. Like Fuchs and Ivakhiv, Shao is also a UConn faculty member, where she works as the Assistant Professor of Cellos and Instructor of String Techniques. Focus continually shifted between lighthearted, bright sections played by Ivakhiv and Shao’s low, depressed tones which built continually in ferocity and intensity as the piece progressed. By the end, both played together, acting as opposing forces until eventually joining in harmony.

After a brief intermission, the orchestra returned to play their final piece, which was Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.” By far the longest of the night, this symphony was broken into four movements. While it exhibited much of the pomp and vigor traditionally associated with Tchaikovsky’s music, it seemed, to me at least, a bit lacking and self-indulgent. Tchaikovsky himself was displeased with the work, feeling that its popularity was only due to his own celebrity and not with the quality of the music. Still, the symphony was enjoyable, especially in its recognizable second movement, and contained an outstandingly bombastic finale.

As always, the students in the UConn Symphony Orchestra performed beautifully, living up to the same standard as professional musicians seen in any concert hall. Seeing the concentration and emotion in the eyes of the musicians as they played showed their devotion to their craft. The performance also saw a large student turnout, which is always heartwarming at musical events on campus. Judging by the topnotch quality of the music and the audience reaction, this night was a triumph.


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.