Recently dubbed "Baltimore's other great orchestra," by the city's deputy mayor, the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra just had its 25th anniversary celebration concert on Friday, Dec. 1. Not only was it an impressive concert, but also a unique experience for the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, Hopkins and all of Baltimore.
The Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, the only community orchestra in the city of Baltimore, has now been an official ensemble of the University for 25 years. To celebrate this momentous occasion, music director Jed Gaylin programmed a difficult but ultimately rewarding concert.
The orchestra began with a world premiere - "Sinkinetic" by Matthew Stofferahn - and then performed Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9," which is, quite possibly, the most famous piece of music ever written, and certainly one of the most difficult.
Pieces such as these show what a brave and talented ensemble the HSO is. To premiere a piece, especially one as difficult as "Sinkinetic," is quite a feat, but to perform that in addition to Beethoven's 9th without an intermission is very impressive, and the HSO suceeded with ease.
This concert was a combination of present and past, and was clearly an overture to the future of this orchestra. "Sinkinetic" was composed specifically with the HSO in mind, for it was written by an alumnus of the orchestra. Matthew Stofferahn is a resident physician in Newark, Del. with a degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, but he is also an HSO alumnus with a B.M. in music composition from USC. The piece was truly, as Gaylin described, "a confetti of sound." Modern music can be difficult to appreciate to the untrained ear, but this piece wasn't unpleasant or overly complicated. With brass fanfares and other bursts of sound created by pizzicato, mallets and woodwind flourishes, the piece built up as it progressed. However, although a certainly unique piece, the melody was as developed as expected. At times it just sounded like noise and notes with no definite purpose. It must have been a difficult piece to prepare because it was so complex. The orchestra performed it well, but it was perhaps a poor choice to perform it in the same concert as Beethoven's 9th - it couldn't possibly compare. At least they performed "Sinkinetic" before the Beethoven.
After "Sinkinetic," the HSO jumped right into Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9." The first movement was a good introduction to the rest of the piece - they achieved a big sound but were obviously saving the best for last. The second movement was particularly impressive: Their style was light and perfect for a scherzo. The few pauses were in sync and overall, it could be appropriately described as "perky." The third movement was beautiful, flowing and completely in tune, which is impressive considering the thin texture of the music, making it difficult to cover any mistakes. Slow and elegant pieces are often much harder to pull off than fast and loud parts, but the HSO performed the third movement with perfection. While the first three movements are nice, the real focal point of the concert (and any concert that includes Beethoven's 9th) was the fourth movement. This movement further expanded the orchestra into, not only a group of Hopkins and community musicians, but also the Johns Hopkins Choral Society, the Baltimore Masterworks Chorale and four superb soloists. This movement was incredible. The soloists began with bass Robert Cantrell, who opened the vocal section with a rich, dark voice. The four voices, Lori Hultgren, Fenlon Lamb, Richard Crawley and Cantrell, all blended and projected well, despite the sheer volume of sound from the orchestra and the chorus. "They make it easy for me," Gaylin said. This was "the latest, greatest, best performance!"
Baltimore's Deputy Mayor came to the concert to surprise the HSO with a gift. Dec. 1 is now Hopkins Symphony Orchestra Day, which came complete with a plaque. Shriver was filled to the brim - people were even standing in the back to hear the concert. Overall, this was certainly a celebration for Hopkins, but the year isn't over yet. This concert may be over, but the 2007-2008 25th anniversary season of the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra has just begun!