Amidst prelims and essays last Thursday, the Cornell Symphony Orchestra took the stage. With a wide range of contemporary and classical pieces, the audience could not have asked for a better study break. Pre-Med student Karen Chang ’15 was grateful for this “breath of fresh air … Attending this concert broke the cycle of going classes and heading straight home to study.”
The concert opened with a premiere piece, “Music for Orchestra,” composed by Cornell doctoral candidate Charles Cacioppo. Drawing inspiration from Navajo traditions, hip-hop and composers of the Second Viennese School, Cacioppo’s piece took everyone by surprise. Like most contemporary pieces, “Music for Orchestra” wasn’t exactly melodic. According to violinist Akito Nicol ’16, “Contemporary pieces get smacked around a lot” because of this tendency to avoid simple, melodic compositions. This sentiment was clear in the crowd: as one audience member joked, “a monkey using garage band could have made the piece.”
Yet most students appreciated the instrumental disparity. Flautist Hee Kyun ’16 found “Music for Orchestra” to be “not normal,” and after a moment, added, “not approved,” although she liked the piece. In this statement, Kyun touched upon the most defining aspect of the Cacioppo’s work and, indeed, of all premieres: The audience is given the power to judge something for the first time, a power that is thrilling whether you enjoyed the piece or not.
From Cacioppo’s contemporary work the symphony moved into more classical pieces when acclaimed pianist and Chemical Engineer Vikram Potdar ’14 made his way on stage. Potdar had just been named the ninth annual Cornell Concerto Competition winner, and after his performance, it is clear why. Potdar took on the role “the lonely piano” in Samuel Barber’s piano concerto “Op. 38,” a piece that won Barber the 1963 Pulitzer Prize in music. This reflective, somber piece contrasted greatly with Cacioppo’s: Every note seemed deliberate and the artist’s intent clear. The movement of the melody between the orchestra and piano aptly captured the path one’s thoughts take when dwelling on an idea too long.
Potdar’s solo was vigorous and his fingers mesmerizing as Barber’s piece broke the order of the previous movement. We are left with a drunken melody and a rabid pianist. Barber has let us hear the breaking point of our minds.
The piano concerto was followed by Edward Elgar’s “Enigma,” which easily became the fan favorite of the night. This may be because a variation of the piece, “Nimrod,” was played at the opening of last year’s Summer Olympics in England. The choice by Danny Boyle was well received by the public, as the music was considered to be tied to England’s history.
“Nimrod” is the one variation that doesn’t fit the theme of “Enigma.” Elgar questions his identity in “Enigma,” naming the piece as such to illustrate his uncertainty of his life and dichotomy of his character. As Assistant Conductor Niccolo Athens explained, he was a man of contradictions, from the “post-Romantic opulence” that clashed with his “Classical restraint,” to the fact that he was an “English gentleman [with a] turbulent romantic life.” However, “Nimrod” is a well-formed composition that is not wracked with internal dilemmas.
The Cornell Symphony gave an incredible performance, especially considering they were without their conductor, Chris Younghoon Kim, for two weeks. The Orchestra’s next performance will be at the end of this semester.
Original Author: Ashley Popp