University of Connecticut Symphony Orchestra Strings had people 'looking into the past' Sunday night

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The William Benton Museum of Art is always a calming place to go for a quick cup of coffee or to take in some beautiful art. This Sunday night, however, was extra special because the University of Connecticut Symphony Orchestra Strings, conducted by Harvey Felder, performed with special guests Solomiya Ivakhiv and Philip Setzer, added to the ambient atmosphere of The Benton everyone loves.

The theme of the night, Harvey Felder said, is a “look to the past” and how things are connected. This was where the night’s title, “Strings Attached” derived. The audience was told to interpret this as they pleased, but it shows how noticing connections in the world around us isn’t a bad thing and can also be beautiful once found.

The night started with two movements from “Suite for Strings” by Leoš Janáček. The UConn Symphony Orchestra Strings showed their hard work through this relatively quick song, bowing in sync as well as mastering the dynamics and accents - things that require extreme concentration and control.

The two guest soloists joined the UConn Symphony Orchestra Strings in performing “Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach. The first soloist was Philip Setzer who is a nine time Grammy Award winner and a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet. The second soloist was Solomiya Ivakhiv who has performed at venues such as Carnegie Mellon and Merkin Concert Hall. She is also an assistant professor of violin and viola as well as the head of strings at UConn.

It is in this piece that we see how music becomes a conversation. It was as if both violins were talking to each other. Instead of the awkward silences and loss for words we see in normal conversation, there were calculated measures of rest and strongly performed notes. The UConn Symphony Orchestra Strings brought both violin solos together, making the audience disinclined to the end of the conversation.

There was a brief intermission where the audience was free to peruse the art or get a drink. Among the audience were many distinguished faculty members, including Richard Brown, a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History at Emeritus.

“The orchestra as a whole was splendid,” Brown said. “They have a wonderful sound, their attacks were crisp [and] they were absolutely wonderful.” He also noted the orchestra’s use of dynamics. The orchestra seemed to have mastered changing their sound from very loud to very soft and vice versa – this task requires much control and precision in order for the audience to hear the transition in volume. It was evident that the audience noticed and was very impressed.

Solomiya Ivakhiv joined the UConn Symphony Orchestra Strings once more for the piece “Havanaise, Op. 83” by Camille Saint-Saëns. She played this piece completely from memory, with no sheet music to aid her. Not only did this show her amazing skill and talent, but also the skill of conductor Harvey Felder as well, who must guide the performers through any minor adjustments in tempo or sound that can appear when a piece is played from memory. He also illustrated the important role a conductor plays. His conducting was every bit as graceful as the pieces themselves and pulled the performance together.

Of course, we can’t forget about the talent of the student musicians that make up the orchestra. They were so skilled that it was easy to forget that they were students who attend UConn and take classes just like the rest of us.

The concert was perfectly put together and was a great event for those who are not the biggest fan of sports. However, if you are a fan of both sports and music and happened to miss this event, the UConn Symphony Orchestra Strings along with Philip Setzer and Solomiya Ivakhiv will be performing “Strings Attached” again at the Wadsworth Museum in Hartford at 7:30pm on Monday, Feb. 5. The event is free and open to the public.

The show ended with a piece called “Paragon Rag” by Scott Joplin. Unlike the other pieces which were chosen for their baroque themes, Harvey Felder admits, “When it came to Scott Joplin, I said, ‘Oh well.’”

This was a great choice, despite slightly veering from the theme, ending the performance on a fun and familiar note - pun intended.


Maria Shah is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at maria.shah@uconn.edu.