By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Cesar Leal took a somewhat unorthodox path from the wings to the podium as he entered the stage weaving through the violin section at the start of Friday evening’s combined Symphony Orchestra & Wind Symphony concert.
As he later told the audience, though, there may have been a reason for that.
“Is it anyone’s first time here?” he asked, leading several audience members to raise their hands. “Good … me too.”
One would hardly have known if not for the admission. Both the Symphony Orchestra and the Wind Symphony, despite performing their first concert with only four weeks of rehearsal (a week less than is typical due to next weekend’s presidential installation ceremony displacing the normal concert date), sounded in mid-semester form, a strong launch point ahead of the more advanced repertoire that comes later in the semester.
Leal’s maiden concert as Director of the Gettysburg College Symphony Orchestra included 27 minutes of music that he conducted with exaggerated yet earnest gesticulations that elicited a sound that was both precise and emotive from the string orchestra.
The concert opened with Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite,” a four-movement work that the 22-member ensemble played with control and expression. In the second movement, a delicate and haunting line rose from the cello section and set the tone for the remainder of the piece, which showcased a balanced string choir sound.
Consistent with Leal’s commitment to program music from outside the Western European classical canon, the orchestra’s portion of the concert finished with a pair of works by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, whose 1992 New York Times obituary called him “the world’s foremost composer of tango music.”
The first piece, “Milonga del Angel,” featured a soaring violin melody played with equal parts precision and verve. The second, “Libertango,” began with percussive extended techniques and concluded with a dance feel that epitomized the concert title, “Ceremonies and Dances.”
The Wind Symphony
After a brief intermission during which a small army of band staff reset the stage, the Wind Symphony began its portion of the program. Dr. Russell McCutcheon took the stage to conduct a celebratory fanfare aptly titled “Fanfare for a Celebration.”
The Wind Symphony’s program proceeded with Elliot Del Borgo’s “Overture for Winds,” which layered musical ideas and was held together by a sharp rhythm in the percussion section that cut through the ensemble before the piece landed in a lush middle section whose harmonies were outshined only by short gripping passages from principal players in the french horn, clarinet, and trumpet sections: Jeremy Porter ’20, Brooke Maskin ’20, and Ethan Tessier ’22, respectively.
Ron Nelson’s six-movement “Courtly Airs and Dances” was next. Despite numerous voices carrying melody throughout, the piece never lost forward momentum. In the fifth movement, soft vocalizations meshed with a few lingering instrumental parts to achieve an ethereal blend that made for a stirring climax.
The concert closed with two works that the Wind Symphony will play during next weekend’s installation festivities: “Procession of the Academics” and “Gettysburg Triumphant.”
The former stands in subtle juxtaposition to more traditional processional marches, integrating just enough tonal and metric deviation (the faculty ought to prepare for an occasional 5/4 bar) to befit its composer, the late David Maslanka.
The latter, written by the Sunderman Conservatory’s namesake benefactor Dr. F. William Sunderman ’19 (that would be 1919), is a staple of the Bullets Marching Band’s pregame repertoire, but was performed Friday evening as the concert’s conclusion. As the piece approached its finish, McCutcheon made eye contact with an alumnus performing with the group that had not been in the group’s rehearsals to remind him of what was coming … and, as he typically does, McCutcheon placed a short caesura before the final note, the veritable “displaced stinger.”
- The Gettysburg College Symphony Orchestra will perform next on Friday, Nov. 15 at 8:00 p.m. in the Majestic Theater.
- The Sunderman Conservatory Wind Symphony will perform next on Saturday, Sep. 28, at the installation of new Gettysburg College President Bob Iuliano and then again on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 8:00 p.m. in the Majestic Theater.