Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 11, 2023

Hopkins Symphony rhapsodizes on America

By NATALIE BERKMAN | October 24, 2007

The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra had its first performance of the year on Saturday evening and proved that it was not only a capable ensemble, but also one with a spirit.

This concert was only the first of the four concerts that have been scheduled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the HSO.

However "this is only one incarnation of this orchestra," General Manager Edie Stern said. "It's been in existence probably since the 1800s in one form or another." In 1851, Peabody graduate student, Catherine Overhauser, created the HSO in its present form - the only community orchestra in Baltimore.

The concert on Saturday was well programmed with pieces, as Musical Director Jed Gaylin put it, that are all true American pieces.

Their opening number, "Polka and Fugue from Shvanda the Bagpiper," was written by Jaromir Weinberger, a bohemian immigrant. This piece, now more famous than the opera it was originally a part of, was certainly a pleasant opening number.

The opening polka was light and enjoyable; the bouncing melody clearly held the elements of a story, making it an apparent excerpt from an opera.

As the texture thickened for the fugue, which is from the wedding march in the opera, the orchestra stayed together. The big brass sound carried the ensemble when the melody was passed to them, creating a more complex variation than the polka provided.

Gaylin said he wanted the first HSO performance of the year to be fun, and Weinberger's piece certainly achieved that. Overall it was an interesting and unconventional way to start the concert.

The second piece was "Rhapsody in Blue," which most people know as American-born composer George Gershwin's first classical work for piano and orchestra.

This piece incorporated the jazz style that was prominent in America in the early 1900s, one that was certainly compounded by soloist Eric Conway.

Conway received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Peabody, and has since proven himself an accomplished pianist not only in the United States, but also in many parts of Africa and Asia.

His enthusiastic and emotional interpretation of Gershwin's famous piece was engaging, and he was well accompanied by the orchestra. Conway has a history of playing with the HSO, and from the interactions during the performance, it was evident these students and community members have a well-oiled relationship with Conway.

The well-known melody of the piece exuded a slinky coolness exhibited by the wind and brass solos. Conway's charismatic playing captured the audience's attention and easily made this the crowd's favorite of the evening.

The concert ended with Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony," one of the most popular orchestral works ever written. Dvorak wrote the symphony in response to his visit to the United States in the late 1800s - he had fallen in love with the Native American and African American music he heard there and embedded the modern styles he heard into the body of his work.

There aren't many pieces that contain such a plethora of beautiful melodies as this symphony, and the HSO certainly did it justice.

Unlike the other pieces, Dvorak's The first movement was proud and noble, the tempo shifts into the faster sections were seamless, and they certainly had a strong start.

The English Horn solo in the second movement's Largo was beautifully majestic, haunting, and emotional.

The third movement was energetic and exact as a scherzo should be, with the slight variations that Dvorak perfected.

Finally the beginning of the fourth movement was strong and certainly caught the attention of the audience (it is the melody from Jaws, after all). All the reccurring themes were brought out at in a triumphant end. It was a good performance, lauded with two standing ovations.

"I think [the HSO] is a wonderful experience," freshman violist Emily Moore said. "It blends students with community involvement and produces really good results."

"The potentials are limitless," Gaylin said. "We have a great student body with increasing interest to play, and a great community with increasing capacity for music." The HSO is certainly a vibrant ensemble with very talented people.

The official 25th anniversary concert will be on Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall, premiering a piece by Matthew Stofferahn and performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Johns Hopkins Choral Society, Goucher Chorus and the Baltimore Masterworks Chorale.

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