Oberlin Orchestra Balances Kondonassis’ Energetic Solo

Colin Roshak

More than a hundred years since its premiere and after countless performances, Igor Stravinsky’s iconic and provocative ballet The Rite of Spring still resonates today. Conductor Raphael Jiménez and the Oberlin Orchestra transported their audience from Finney Chapel to ancient pagan Russia with their riveting performance last Thursday.

Before delving into Stravinsky’s primordial fantasy, Jiménez first joined forces with Assistant Professor of Harp Yolanda Kondonassis for Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. Kondonassis’ musical presence and intensity were not overshadowed by the orchestra. The first movement of the piece was dominated by a syncopated and energetic four-note theme. Kondonassis played with pristine articulation, always maintaining a purity and resonance to her sound. Ginastera’s piece expertly balanced soloistic virtuosity with orchestral accompaniment, yielding a richly colorful sound palette ripe with intriguing rhythms and tonalities.

The first movement sounded like a strange, contorted dream. In the second movement, the dream ascended to a crystalline palace in the sky. The third movement, only vaguely connected in theme and character to the first two, didn’t offer much more than a final, exciting romp. Kondonassis’ playing appeared effortless, and her every motion was planned to the smallest detail. With the final strokes of the harp and the last emphatic chords, the spell was broken, and Kondonassis rose triumphantly. The standing ovation she received spoke to the profound depth of her performance.

Another magical journey followed Ginastera’s dream world, a much-anticipated journey to the unforgiving Russia portrayed in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The Oberlin Orchestra was totally engaged and nearly flawless from start to finish. Bassoonist and double-degree junior Tom English began the piece’s eerie and legendary opening solo. His pure, translucent sound filled the hall. This set the scene for the rest of the piece, which portrays a cold and ruthless wasteland just beginning to warm into spring.

The Rite of Spring is based on pagan myths and tells the story of the rituals of spring, including worship of the earth and the sacrifice of a young girl to nature. Stravinsky’s music is wrought with exciting rhythms, resounding power and primal lust. Jiménez’s interpretation breathed so as to fully grasp the music’s fateful tale. Drawing a clear and halcyonic sound from the orchestra, he conducted with graceful, sweeping motions. Some of the tempi were on the slower side, but the orchestra played with such conviction and dedication to Jiménez’s vision that none of the music’s momentum was lost.

The youthful energy of the performance excited and delighted, even though many listeners were likely familiar with Stravinsky’s masterpiece. The final sacrificial dance buzzed and hypnotized before ending vigorously and definitively.