Saturday Night’s Alright for Classical: Oberlin Orchestra Stuns Audience with Works by Delius and Tchaikovsky

Gabriel Kanengiser

From the very first notes of the Oberlin Orchestra’s first concert of the new school year to its close, clarity emanated from the orchestra as the audience was treated to a delightful and enthusiastic performance. Conductor Raphael Jiménez presented a stellar program last Saturday night at Finney Chapel: Frederick Delius’ Violin Concerto, featuring world-renowned violinist and Oberlin professor of violin Gregory Fulkerson, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor.

Fulkerson captivated the room with Delius’s Violin Concerto; at points, the eminent violinist commanded so much attention that the orchestra and Jiménez appeared to be nothing more than the backdrop to a fantastical world in which the warm, heart-wrenching melodies pierced the audience. This is not to say that either the orchestra or Jiménez were absent. Rather, the orchestra constructed a texture much too vivid to be a dream, but far too surreal to be reality. The thematic motifs in Delius’s work are phrases of utmost pleasure; they are playful, methodical and consistent, but most importantly, Fulkerson brought somber melody to life over joyful orchestration, and the audience reaped the benefits.

And yet, Delius’s Violin Concerto was so much more than a pleasurable experience. It is not just that Fulkerson expressed emotions that most of us cannot articulate, nor is it that the listener was willingly wooed by the performers. The magic was there because the romance only ephemerally existed in a world that the Violin Concerto inhabited, a world created by the Oberlin Orchestra with Jiménez as conductor and with Fulkerson as soloist. As the performance progressed, the world expanded and dissipated — but will never come into existence again.

After intermission, the Orchestra continued with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. While the piece wasn’t flawless and didn’t create the expansive, illustrious experience of the Delius’s piece, it too was a joy to hear. The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s fourth was a wonderfully comical scherzo that presented great contrast to the powerful sounds of the fate motif explored throughout the symphony. This theme was brilliantly put in the program notes, which said that “fate awakens us, … and thus, all life is the ceaseless alternation of bitter reality with evanescent visions.” The entire genius with which the orchestra played in Tchaikovsky’s symphony was not lost on those in attendance. Each movement of the symphony ended with a conclusion worthy of praise, and none more so than the final movement. The music— borne of life with motifs of fate, hope and power — brought the audience to their feet in adoration.