DSO, Chamber Singers to perform accessible classical tunes

The Dartmouth Chamber Singers' program includes lesser-known works by seminal American composers.

The Dartmouth Chamber Singers' program includes lesser-known works by seminal American composers.

With the snow sculpture melting and the shadow of finals already bearing down on the student body, the end of Winter term is drawing near. For students in many Hopkins Center performance ensembles, the hard work of the past two months will culminate in more than a period of self-imposed hibernation in Baker-Berry Library. On the heels of last weekend’s Dartmouth Wind Symphony concert, the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Singers will perform their respective Winter shows this Saturday and Sunday.

The Wind Symphony’s concert last Sunday in Spaulding Auditorium, “In Our Time: Struggle, Courage and Hope,” focused on “music of warfare, resistance and renewal,” according to a press release from the Hop. The concert featured as its centerpiece Karel Husa’s “Music for Prague 1968,” an elegy in four movements reflecting on Soviet Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia that year. The concert was the group’s second under the direction of conductor Matthew Marsit.

According to Marsit, he chose to include Husa’s piece because it could “stand up against” Christopher Marshall’s “L’Homme Arm” a powerful song that originally provided Marsit with the idea to select pieces thematically related to war for the concert. Marsit said finding songs that were strong enough to go alongside “L’Homme Arm” posed a challenge.

Judging from the performance, Marsit and the Wind Symphony rose to that challenge, presenting audiences with engaging selections.This weekend, the Chamber Singers and DSO hope to enjoy the same success.

For the Chamber Singers, this will be the second of three concerts this year celebrating the group’s 30th anniversary. “The American Life” is composed of works by some of the most famous American composers from the 20th and 21st centuries, including Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein and Irving Fine, among others.

The theme and the music were chosen by the group’s conductor Robert Duff, currently in his sixth year at Dartmouth.

“As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, I thought it was important to look at major composers that formed the American voice we’ve inherited here at Dartmouth,” Duff said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

According to Duff, the concert will include a mix of well-known pieces in addition to some that are less widely recognized. While Copland, for example, is widely renowned, the pieces of his selected for this concert were written quite early in his career, according to Chamber Singers co-president Matthew Forman ’11.

The Chamber Singers will also perform Fine’s “Three Choruses from Alice in Wonderland'” a selection that Duff said had no intentional “programmatic synchronicity” with the Tim Burton version of the movie scheduled to come out next week. While the Lewis Carroll fantasy and its countless iterations are instantly recognizable, Fine’s “Choruses” are considerably less so. Yet, in an interview with The Dartmouth, Forman explained that the “cheeky [music] … does a good job capturing the darkness and macabre humor of the original novel.”

In contrast to these lesser known works, guest soloist Erma Mellinger will sing “I Have a Love” and “Tonight” from Leonard Bernstein’s ubiquitous musical “West Side Story.” Mellinger, who also teaches in the music department, brings more than 15 years of opera experience to her second performance with the Chamber Singers.

“It is fun to collaborate with students, hear what they’re doing and bounce off their energy,” Mellinger said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

While there is a clear variety in these selections, such a singular focus on one musical era is, nevertheless, somewhat atypical for the group, according to Duff.

“We specialize in music from late Renaissance up through contemporary work, so for this to be totally dedicated to 20th-century music differentiates it,” Duff said.

Yet, according to Forman, the concert’s contemporary focus might increase its appeal to audiences beyond choral-music enthusiasts.

“I think it does have a more casual tone,” Forman said. “Often times, Renaissance and Baroque pieces do not come across as easily. A concert of 20th-century music has an easier time relating to people because it has a very accessible structure.”

The accessibility of the music should also prove to be a strong audience draw for the DSO concert on Saturday. Under the direction of conductor Anthony Princiotti, the orchestra, which includes approximately 40 students, will play Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3 in F major” and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor.”

While these titles are not immediately recognizable to most, the melodies may be.

“The Rachmaninoff [piece] has a lot of melodies that audience members would be surprised to find they actually know,” violinist Elizabeth Shribman ’10 said.

Phil Back ’10, who will play the piano solo for the Rachmaninoff piece and also plays violin for the orchestra, echoed this sentiment, explaining that film scores and pop songs have borrowed Rachmaninoff’s melodies, exposing people who normally wouldn’t listen to classical music to his work.

“It is easy to listen to with nothing dissonant just gorgeous melodies,” Back said.

The Hop ensembles provide an opportunity for students from a range of musical backgrounds to experience playing in a semi-professional setting. Back, for instance, seemed genuinely gracious at being granted the rare opportunity to play the concerto with a full orchestra backing.

Back said that his plans to join the military next year amplify the significance of the moment.

“This experience is all the more valuable because I know with near certainty that I’m not going to get a chance to play [this type of piece] again, both in terms of having the ability to practice and be at this level.” Back said.

The DSO will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium while the Chamber Singers will perform Sunday at 2 p.m. in Rollins Chapel.

Staff writer Caitlin Ardrey contributed reporting to this article.

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