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Peabody plays a polished performance

By NATALIE BERKMAN | February 4, 2009

From the descent down the twisting marble staircase to the ceiling buttressed by marble pillars, statues and columns, it is easy to see that this is a conservatory that takes presentation seriously.

When someone enters Peabody for the first time to see a concert, he or she knows exactly what to expect merely from the building and the reactions of the other enthusiastic concertgoers. When the lights dim and the orchestra begins, the opening chords are perfect.

Well, maybe not perfect. Of course, Peabody is a school not unlike the Whiting School of Engineering. Although the concert at Friedberg Concert Hall on Saturday night was comparable to some of the great orchestras in the country, it was just the culmination of their rehearsals - a test of sorts.

Jeffrey Sharkey, director of the Peabody Institute, mentioned in the programs that "when you attend a student concert at Peabody, you are among the first anywhere to hear some of tomorrow's finest professional musicians." Despite the fact that they still have a lot to learn, tomorrow's professional musicians can put on a spectacular concert today.

Saturday's concert began with a strange modern piece called "Bump" by Christopher Rouse. It is understandable that the Symphony Orchestra would choose to begin with a piece by this composer.

Born in Baltimore, Rouse has followed a similar path as the students who performed his work. He went to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, a school similar to Peabody, and has taught at other major music centers around the country such as the Eastman School of Music and Julliard.

"Bump" was interesting and certainly was not unpleasant. It began with a quiet pulse on the bass drum that set the tempo. Other instruments entered with their own bumps, adding to the texture, until the hall was filled with striking chords and syncopated rhythms. Opening with this piece highlighted the purpose of Peabody - to prepare musicians to enter the small, competitive world of music and succeed.

The next piece, "Shelomo" was inspired by both the Bible and composer Ernest Bloch's Jewish heritage. The solo cellist (faculty member Amit Peled) represented the voice of Solomon, while the orchestra represented the rest of the world.

In this particular performance, Solomon had a strikingly beautiful voice: Peled's tone was emotional and pure and continued to ring after he had lifted his bow from the strings. Peled, famous among cellists today, is also a professor at Peabody.

Students get the opportunity to learn from a Carnegie Hall performer and play music with him. The piece was recorded during the performance, allowing Peabody students to be involved in his professional recording career. This exposure to the professional world is one of the things that make Peabody such a successful conservatory.

The final piece of the concert was the most ambitious of all: Dmitri Shostakovich's "Tenth Symphony in E Minor." This piece alternates between lyrical melodies and fast technical runs, simplistic themes and complex orchestrations, as well as appealing melodies and coded meaning. The first movement was slow and long, but playing at a slow tempo can often be more difficult than playing fast pieces. Each member of the orchestra matched in style and tuning.

When there was an exposed part, each performer had complete control of his or her instrument. The second movement was fast and intense, serving as a musical picture of Joseph Stalin.

The third was lyrical again, but with a theme that was code for one of Shostakovich's students with whom he was in love. The fourth movement was very technical and intense and alternated between lyrical and march-like sections. The whole symphony was very difficult but was performed with finesse and great musicality.

To see the professional musicians of tomorrow will always be a worthwhile experience. The Symphony Orchestra is comprised of graduate and upper-level students, making it an experienced group.

However, the Concert Orchestra and the Wind Ensemble that perform multiple times a year are also filled with talented musicians.

Additionally, there are multiple other groups that perform regularly at Peabody: choral ensembles, the Jazz Orchestra, and faculty and student recitals. No matter which of the above groups is performing, the Peabody Conservatory will always provide a night of well-performed music.

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