Symphony concert evokes childhood imagery

The billing of Sunday Feb. 24’s symphony orchestra concert, “A Young Person’s Concert,” took on a double meaning with pieces chosen to appeal to both college students and younger.

Though it mostly drew the expected mix of faculty, parents and music students, the pieces nonetheless conveyed this intention, making for a typically enjoyable performance.

The afternoon opened with the overture to Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel,” which consisted of several movements, dominated alternately by brass and strings. In its fastest sections, the horns carried the melody, with the orchestra’s robust violins, violas and cellos providing color.

At its slowest, the woodwinds - in particular the flutes - took the leads, accompanied by slow timpani rolls and hints of xylophone, a full sound. 

A companion of German composer Richard Wagner, Humperdinck first performed “Hansel and Gretel” in 1893, aimed at both children and adults. It, and in miniature the overture, incorporates themes from German folk music into the sound.

After a short break, the orchestra performed Camille Saínt-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals,” composing the rest of the concert’s first half. Featuring associate professor of music Amy Stanley and senior Louis Lohraseb on dual pianos, as well as professor emeritus of theatre Terry Browne reciting the verses of American poet Ogden Nash, the piece moved through a number of short sections.

Each section was composed of a discrete piece of music tied to a kind of animal, be it rooster, lion, cuckoo or mule. Nash’s short verses were witty in a corny way, fitting for the piece and well recited by Browne.

Often considered a work best appreciated by children, “Carnival” is an incredibly fun piece, featuring frequent call-and-response between the pianos and other instruments. It seems composed to tickle the ear. Some sections are downright beautiful: one, dedicated to the swan, featured a gorgeous cello solo from senior Erin Pipe.

Following a short intermission, the orchestra concluded with the deceptively difficult “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” Benjamin Britten composed the piece for an educational documentary film called The Instruments of the Orchestra in 1946.

The piece was recently featured in the opening of Moonrise Kingdom, playing from a record, and the performance here followed the same pattern: the entire orchestra played a theme together, and then was taken apart piece by piece, demonstrating the role each instrument plays in making a larger whole. It is then rapidly reassembled, before a powerful close.

Between the programming, intent and execution, powerful could well apply to the whole concert.