Orchestra performs Romantic French compositions

The Geneseo Symphony Orchestra performed a variety of Romantic-era compositions in Wadsworth Auditorium on Sunday March 1. Distinguished service professor of music James Walker conducted the orchestra. Walker explained that he chose the music carefully to form a French-based program for this concert.

Music written in the Romantic era often contains rich harmonies, a long and involved melody and plenty of emotion. The most impressive aspect of this concert, however, was the wide variety of sounds created despite the fact that the pieces were all from the same place and time period.

The most complex piece of the performance was Pablo de Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25.” Sarasate was not only one of the most famous violinists of the 19th century, but he was a brilliant composer as well. He wrote the piece in 1883 based on the themes from Georges Bizet’s famous opera “Carmen” to showcase his virtuosic technique and vocal tone.

“Carmen Fantasy” was played by violin instructor Peter Povey, the music department’s newest faculty member. Povey started playing violin at the age of three. He received his bachelor of music with honors from the Royal College of Music in London, his masters degree from Yale University and his doctorate from Northwestern University. Before coming to Geneseo, Povey performed in the London Philharmonic Orchestra and played in orchestras on the soundtracks for movies such as Lord of the Rings.

The piece was challenging for the entire orchestra as well as the soloist due to the complicated rhythm and tempo change. “From the start to finish, playing this piece is exciting—sometimes even frightening,” Walker said. To adequately prepare for the performance, the orchestra rehearsed “Carmen Fantasy” for the duration of the weekend before the concert.

In the end, their effort resulted in a great performance. Povey’s technique and musical interpretation were phenomenal. Even in the high register, the sound he produced was clear and steady. He could bring out the melody and sing it while simultaneously playing the counter-melody and accompaniment at incredible speed.

In addition to “Carmen Fantasy,” the orchestra performed Franz Liszt’s “Les Preludes, Symphonic Poem No. 3,” which is also complex and elaborate. Liszt was a virtuoso pianist primarily known for his piano compositions. He was the first to use the term “symphonic poem.” The piece—the entirety of which is centered on a three-note motif called the “fate” theme—was written based on a poem about unanswered questions of the death of the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine.

The complexity of “Les Preludes” lies in the ambiguity of its form. Liszt stayed away from traditional four-movement symphony. Instead, he expressed his idea in one big movement—which was his typical approach to the composition also seen in his piano sonata.

The other pieces played included Jacques Offenbach’s “Overture to ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’” and Georges Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne (The Girl from Arles) Suite No. 1.” Besides the faculty and guest musicians, the student solos played by clarinetist senior Nicholas Ellsworth, violinist senior Regina Carra and violinist and concertmaster senior Robert Gaglione contributed to the brilliance of this concert.