Intricate Pieces No Problem for Sinfonietta

Clara Shannon

While most students spent Friday night dancing in Wilder Bowl, several of Oberlin’s most talented musicians revived classical music. Oberlin Sinfonietta, under the acclaimed baton of Professor of Conducting Timothy Weiss, closed its season in Warner Concert Hall with a successful performance of pieces by John Adams, Charles Ives and Richard Strauss, alongside guest soloist and Associate Professor of Singing Timothy LeFebvre.

Nationally acclaimed baritone LeFebvre has had a successful career, appearing in concert with established symphonies such as the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, the American Symphony Orchestra and many more. He has also appeared in concert at New York’s Alice Tully Hall and Carnegie Hall. Prior to his time at Oberlin, LeFebvre taught voice at Binghamton University, Cornell University, Syracuse University, Hamilton College and Colgate University.

The night began with John Adams’s “The Wound Dresser” and Charles Ives’s “General Willliam Booth Enters into Heaven.”Although the Adams had its merits, it was the performance of Ives that left the audience entranced, haunted and breathless. The work was adapted by Ives from a poem by Vachel Lindsay about the founder of the Salvation Army. LeFebvre’s deep voice filled the resonant hall, with a good balance from the orchestra accompanying him. Though soothing, his voice cut through like a knife with his desperate cries of “Hallelujah!” and “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” Like in many of his pieces, Ives quotes from a number of traditional tunes, among them the hymns “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” “Onward, Upward” and “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers.” The ending was soft, beautiful and rendered the audience utterly speechless, delaying applause ever so slightly before an enthusiastic reaction. The performers did an impeccable job of conveying the dark, despairing essence of the piece.

Strauss’s Suite from the Incidental Music to Der Bürger als Edelmann, based on Moliére’s play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, followed. With only 16 string players, a handful of woodwind and brass and piano, the lengthy and intricate piecewas a breeze for Oberlin’s Sinfonietta. Each of the movements called for particular solos on various instruments, representing certain characters and themes from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, a five-act comedy first presented in 1670.

The first movement featured the melody of the soprano arietta, “Du, Venus’ Sohn,” played by oboist and double-degree fourth-year Jacob Chae. The second movement, a minuet taken from a ballet Strauss wrote, is scored for two flutes and strings. With lush romantic harmonies, the movement was enchanting, featuring sparkly and enticing solos from flutist and Conservatory junior Katherine Ma. The fourth movement, “Entrance and Dance of the Tailors,” was a showcase of concertmistress and double-degree fifth-year Josie Davis’s virtuosity. With immense power and skill, Davis effortlessly shone through her solos, filled with intricate rhythms, difficult high-register melodies and fast running notes. The fifth movement was delicate and sweet, based on a minuet by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The sixth movement, a courante by Strauss, featured solos for the violin, cello and woodwinds.

To follow, the seventh movement, “The Entrance of Cléonte” was a nice complement to the previous movement. The strings presented the theme at the onset, then the woodwinds followed with a faster middle section, followed by the theme presented by the entire group. The eighth movement was, in the original production of 1912, the prelude to Act 2 of the play. However, in the 1918 revision, it became the intermezzo. The ninth and final movement, “The Dinner,” was a brilliant and grand end to the night. In the play, there is an elaborate entrance wherein the waiters bring in the feast. Here, various courses of the meal were represented musically. Cellist and double-degree fifth-year Luke Adamson gave a heartbreakingly beautiful and powerful solo. Rich in color and tone, Adamson’s cello rang throughout the hall, conveying an alluring and calming atmosphere, with soft echoes from second cellist and Conservatory senior Boris Popadiuk. A fun waltz theme ended the movement, the suite and the night. After an exciting year for Sinfonietta, this program was a fitting and grand finale.