Category: Music

Illustration by Laura Elizabeth Hand

 

Prior to the Columbia University Orchestra performance at Alice Tully Hall, my most recent event at Lincoln Center was Yo-Yo Ma’s breathtaking cello performance of Symphonie Fantastique. Yo-Yo Ma climbed to the highest note of his cello while we climbed to the edges of our seats. Here, instead of the back corner box, I am in the front, my gaze catching on an audience that has exchanged black gowns and reserved enthusiasm for H&M and outright fervor.

The spring concert will lead with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (1868), and then eventually trail into Columbia’s own rendition of Symphonie Fantastique with a different cellist starring. Alec Hon’s performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D Major (1783) is set to follow Tristan and Isolde first, however, ushering the packed— sold-out— hall into intermission and then the closing march of Berlioz’s Episode from the Life of an Artist: Symphonie Fantastique (1830).

Heels and blue jeans, overexcited parents and a girl in a blue down jacket (leaning in to gesture frantically at a distracted violinist) are the signs marking the rapid growth of our audience as they press into the general admission seating. The vibrations and eerie peels of the stringed instruments begin as they warm up for the highly-anticipated spring concert. Soon enough, the wind instruments’ lend trills to the rising atmosphere.

In the final moments before Tristan and Isolde begins, there is a brief interlude of frantic applause followed by absolute silence.

Then the sound and the silence that punctuates its phrases begins and the audience is spellbound. Even Yo-Yo Ma did not command this degree of respect from his audience. The musicians and the conductor are clearly responding, as the synchronized sweep of elbows gains in pace and coordination. If music is not their first love, as is the case for Chris James, violinist first-year studying psychology (whose proud uncle sits next to me with his torso half twisted over the edge of the balcony box for a better view), it may yet prove to be their finest.

The musicians move with the music, and the audience is moved. Perhaps a finger slips with perspiration here or there, but the overall effect of the students’ passion is unmistakable and impossible to ignore. In a perfect cycle, a moment of silence, then thunderous applause also carries the piece to a close.

After a few minutes of the muffled brush of gowns, squeak of instruments, and squeal of shuffled chairs, all of the sounds of musicians rearranging themselves for a piece, the strings once more coral the audience into submission for Alec Hon as he takes his cello and takes center stage.

During the Cello Concerto, he pants against his cello as the music rises, sweat visible on his forehead, effort and nerves carrying a different tone into the bars. As each run ends, his right shoulder drops and the bow falls back, leaving the responsibility of the piece to his fellow musicians, who perform the piece with frantic energy. When his part comes again, Hon plays without reference or prompt, and the only moving bodies in the room belong to Alec and the third bass player, who attempts to surreptitiously duck away for a second’s relief from the heat of the lights and his stifling formal wear.

When they come together again, the piece comes to a close, ending with a bow and a fond pat on Hon’s cheek by the pleased conductor. The audience rises to a standing ovation.

Intermission is accompanied by the inevitable gush of exiting audience members bottlenecking in the halls and loudly declaring their opinions on the pieces performed thus far. The discourse seems overwhelmingly favorable.

As the audience members make their more subdued return to their seats, there is renewed enthusiasm for Symphonie Fantastique, which I share but pair with some trepidation. Having recently viewed the undisputed master of the cello take on this piece, how will I review an admittedly incredibly talented student orchestra?

I needn’t have worried. While the piece is nearly unrecognizable from the psychedelic interpretation of Berlioz Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic offered, it clearly demonstrates budding mastery of a different style. This is perhaps most evident in the softer percussion and the presentation of the Fourth and Fifth movements. Instead of pushing forward with the shrill nerves of the dream as I first heard it played, the Columbia University Orchestra offers rolling swells of music that invoke a deeper introspection than the NYPhil’s lucid dreams.

Indeed, after the concert ends and the applause grows louder than ever before, I find myself thinking it would be hard to find a member of either audience who did not fall in love with Berlioz and the musicians who brought him to the stage.

The night closes with a lingering audience and many proud tears, the Spring Concert happily demonstrating itself a roaring success.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

“So beautiful,” whispered a captivated concertgoer behind me. Normally, any talking—or sound for that matter—is hurriedly and aggressively shushed by a “serious” audience member at the Met. Renée Fleming, however, seemed to provoke an admissible exception.

Fleming’s whirlwind return to the Met Opera’s season premiere of Der Rosenkavalier (music by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal) electrified the opera community. Last week, Fleming scared many by announcing that she would soon be leaving the opera stage. Fleming has since nixed the retirement idea, but the effect of the buzz was obvious: fans came in large numbers just in case this would be the last time that they could do so. In attendance as well were some of Fleming’s collaborators, who have sung with her over the years–coming to support her previously-presumed last run at the Met.

Fleming, for her part, plays the Marschallin: a middle-aged member of the Viennese aristocracy who sighs in anguish over the cruelness of aging. Fleming knows—and loves—the role. In her first solo at the end of Act 1, Fleming smartly addressed the silver rose—a symbol of youth and forthcoming happiness—with an imploring, wistful tone quality. Shortly after, her sweet, yet innerly despairing voice seized the audience’s empathy.

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Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

However, notwithstanding the positive aspects of Fleming’s work tonight, I do prefer her 2010 performance of the same role (Columbia faculty and students can find it through CLIO under the keyword “Met Opera on Demand”). In that performance, she lived the Marschallin: solemn tears slowly streamed down her face at the end of the “Mein schöner Schatz” duet in Act 1. Her phrasing and sepulchral tone made for an unforgettable moment.

Tonight’s conductor, Sebastian Weigle, again chose problematic tempos. The prelude, for example, was much too fast. Here, the music is declarative, demonstrative—overly confident and grandiose. Yet, Weigle seemed incredibly anxious, gesturing with extremely quick circular motions (so fast that his arms were just a blur to my eyes). By taking a quicker tempo, the music sounded too hectic and lost its appropriate gusto.

Weigle made a similarly poor decision in the last minutes of Act 3. Here, silvery chords in the high strings, winds, and percussion flutter downward. The descent should be reflective—it is the end of the opera!—and ethereal. However, it felt tossed-off, illy cared for–herky-jerky and uneven. I recognize that I was critical of Weigle’s lethargic tempo decisions for Fidelio, yet here he seems to have gone in the opposite direction. I do admit however, that future runs of the production might produce better results.

The Met orchestra impressed me —as it routinely does—with its stamina. In the middle of the third act, I heard a clarinetist–presumably either Inn-Hyuck Cho or Anton Rist–flawlessly execute a rapid lick that flickered between the clarion and altissimo registers. The passage was followed by a sustained, pianissimo high note. Both of these sections are incredibly difficult to play when with fresh energy. They’re almost a miracle after two and a half hours of continuous music.

Robert Carsen, the producer of the Met’s new take on Der Rosenkavalier, replaces the dusty, Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque setting with a bawdy production set when the opera was written (1911). Topless prostitutes pursue and are pursued by lustful Viennese men; Octavian, the Marschallin’s young lover, grabs his partner’s behind (what a great way to say, “Welcome back, Renée!”); and Sophie, Octavian’s new love, carelessly dances across one of her father’s howitzer (oddly placed in the living room of their modern palace).

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The playfulness of Octavian–performed by Elīna Garanča–and the Marschallin–sung by Renée Fleming–on display in Act 1. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Admittedly, I was skeptical when I learned about Carsen’s decision to set the third act in a brothel. Typically, it is staged in an inn, a “house of ill repute.” However, the text—the same one used for the inn setting—actually translates well in the new environs: it is believable that Sophie’s dad Faninal calls Octavian, who is disguised as Mariandel, a slut and it makes sense that Octavian assumes a baser dialect as a working-class Viennese woman (some funny lines include “Whad’ya mean?” and “I ain’t gonna drink no wine.”)

The one aspect of the brothel that felt most uncomfortable, however, was the onstage jazz quartet. Prostitutes pantomimed and synchronized fake playing on the clarinet, saxophone, double bass, and accordion. Not only was their supposed music not like the orchestra’s actual performance, but also the quartet implied 1920s Europe more than the 1910s. The production had a 1920s feel to it elsewhere as well, Octavian’s flapper-like costume in Act 1 being another example.  

I found Carsen’s incorporation of the Zeitgeist—especially Freudian ideas—rather compelling. When Sophie sings about her upcoming marriage, dreamlike clones of Sophie and her groom-to-be waltz behind her. Sophie is bathed in a yellow spotlight—the light of the real world—while the dancers behind her are enveloped in purple—a hue of the inner, thought world. Carsen’s decision illustrates how an individual’s inner thoughts and desires are experienced as real, even while awake.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Although this was seemingly The Renée Fleming Show, there are, of course, more singers in Der Rosenkavalier. Elīna Garanča as Octavian embodied the wide range of conflicting emotions of her character. At the end of the last act, Octavian is caught between the Marschallin and Sophie, unsure of who he should turn to. Here, Garanča’s expressions and voice illustrated Octavian’s distress well.

Erin Morley as Sophie sounded quite warm in the upper register, especially when she built up toward it. Unfortunately, she was sometimes overpowered by the orchestra, especially during a fast, staccato passage in Act 2. Overall, I found that her diction was unintelligible at times, but balance could be to blame.

Günther Groissböck–a holdover from Fidelio–swaggered with pride, aggression, and self-absorption as the predatorial Baron Ochs. In Act 2, he engaged with Sophie in a vocal battle of sorts, his crescendoing vocal presence overpowering his soon-to-be wife (who he caustically likened to an “unbroken foal”). The Ochs is easily one of the easiest-to-hate characters in opera.

But the night was Fleming’s. At curtain call, the audience enthusiastically expressed joy for her return and relief for her operatic stay. It was her voice—combined with the prowess of the Met orchestra—that led my fellow concertgoer to exclaim, “So beautiful.” It is for these cherished musical moments that we go to the opera and for which you should let yourself come too.

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier runs through May 13, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live May 13, at 12:30 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org.

 

 

Hello Columbia! My name is Remi (CC’20), and I’m the Creative Director for the Lion. I turned eighteen a few weeks ago, I have no idea what I want to do with my life, and I really love cats. One week ago today, I got a press pass to Bacchanal, and here is what went down.

No, this is not me pretending to write for Buzzfeed. Okay, maybe it is. Don’t judge. I’m fulfilling a fantasy, okay?

No, this is not me pretending to write for Buzzfeed. Okay, maybe it is. Don’t judge. I’m fulfilling a fantasy, okay?

Wednesday night before the concert the Bacchanal e-Board invited us press pass holders to discuss logistics (at like 11pm – and I had an exam the next morning, whoops). There were four of us: the Lion (me), Bwog, Spec, and something they called the “Bacchanal Press” which I’m pretty sure was them hiring CPS photographers to get their own pics of the event. The press pass gave us access to both the ‘private’ viewing areas directly to the left and right of the stage on Low steps in addition to the regular mosh pits (on map labelled “Front Viewing Areas.” We were also told we’d be given limited access to the middle aisle in front of the stage for a few minutes per act to get some close up shots.

Image courtesy of the Bacchanal e-Board.

Image courtesy of the Bacchanal e-Board.

We were told that last year, the Bacchanal committee only gave out one press pass, which they explained to us was a total disaster in that the individual was backstage very drunk and made the committee look terrible. As a result, Public Safety significantly limited our access to the middle aisle area this year. On that note, only myself and the Bwog rep showed up to that first meeting.

The day of the show, we met at the side entrance to Low at 9:30 am to pick up our wristbands and purple press passes.

They used my I.D. photo. Ew, am I right? Look at that shine.

They used my I.D. photo. Ew, am I right? Look at that shine.

I went up to hang on Low steps at around 12pm, in preparation for the show to start at 12:30pm. The show actually started at 1pm, but they kept telling us to advertise a 12:30pm start to get people to show up.
The first act was a student opener, Battle of the Bands winner THOU SHALT NOT Entertainment (made up of Vanessa Chadehumbe, Tarek Deida, and Jenny Goggin). Before the show started, Vanessa complimented my blue lipstick. I was in a little bit of shock! She’s a pretty rad person and super nice, you guys. When you’re rich and famous, please remember me and hire me to be your photographer! –sobs

These guys know what’s up.

These guys know what’s up.

Let the show commence! THOU SHALT NOT did an amazing job, even if there were only a dozen spectators on either side. There was a student group as backup dancers who were also pretty spectacular. Unless told otherwise, you definitely would’ve thought they were a professional group. Check out their Soundcloud here.

Jenny Goggin of THOU SHALT NOT.

Jenny Goggin of THOU SHALT NOT.

Vanessa Chadehumbe and Tarek Deida of THOU SHALT NOT. So fierce.

Vanessa Chadehumbe and Tarek Deida of THOU SHALT NOT. So fierce.

Next there was about a twenty minute break before the second act: Mykki Blanco. For those who don’t know, she is a poet, rapper, and activist originally from California. During her performance, she got the audience to chant phrases like, “Protect Trans Women,” and “Protect Black Children.” Very Columbia.

Goddamnit, CAVA, messing up my perfect shot. Mykki still slays, though.

Goddamnit, CAVA, messing up my perfect shot. Mykki still slays, though.

It was honestly wild, though. About a minute into her performance, she leapt off the stage, jumped three fences, and took a stroll down College Walk. The other photographers and I were clicking away literally running after her. It was the first time I’ve ever felt very ‘paparazzi-esque,’ but it was fabulous. She then ran across the railings leading towards Low; you could practically feel Public Safety having a panic attack.

Lol wut are you doing?

Lol wut are you doing?

 

You go, Glen Coco. You live your best life.

You go, Glen Coco. You live your best life.

Next came D.R.A.M. (Does Real Ass Music; real name Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith). You may know him for his song Broccoli featuring Lil Yachty, which was nominated for a Grammy Award last year. The crowd was starting to seriously pick up at this point, and the atmosphere reeked of stale alcohol and low expectations. The pens were pretty much filled by this point – there were girls sitting atop shoulders above the crowd; a steady thumping as the audience jumped up and down. The lawns, of course, were packed, their residents either not possessing tickets or unable to be bothered to get swept into the crowd of sweaty, drunk teenagers. Sticky!

Yass.

Yass.

D.R.A.M. got the crowd pumped up!

D.R.A.M. got the crowd pumped up!

Things got a little hazy. The DJ Almand came on and gave a steady performance of his own techno / rap mixes, and kept changing into wacky costumes with each song change.. Despite the stupor, you definitely got the sense that everyone present was having a pretty good time. Lines to get into the pens snaked around the corner while popcorn and Rice Krispie squares were being given out by the handfuls. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any clear shots of Almand due to the Bacchanal committee sort of forgetting about us press people? It’s all good; poor guys, they seemed so stressed. Almand’s music was great, though, and he really engaged with the crowd, coming down off the stage and taking selfies with the crowd. At one point he took someone’s phone and took a picture onstage with the crowd!

Aluna Francis of London-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge.

Aluna Francis of London-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge.

I texted them halfway through AlunaGeorge and they were able to let in us. She was so much fun: the perfect concluding act! I don’t feel like that many people were familiar with her songs, but they were catchy, lively, and caught on quickly with the crowd. The viewing areas were super packed, and there was a lot of wild fist pumping going on. I saw a lot of glitter. There was enough glitter for a lifetime…

And the crowd goes… WILD!

And the crowd goes… WILD!

During her last song, she invited a bunch of people from the private, Low steps viewing areas onto the main stage. I, unfortunately, was not among such elite ranks, and had been taking pictures from the crowd. Oh well! It was super cool to see normal people having some fun onstage – and a very nice closing touch. I actually wasn’t there because I lowkey got tired right before the end and went back to my room to destress. I live in John Jay, and have a nice room facing Low – and was able to get this pretty nice shot of the end of Bacchanal!

Yeah, my view’s pretty swanky. I stuck my camera lens out the tiny amount we’re allowed to open our windows.

Yeah, my view’s pretty swanky. I stuck my camera lens out the tiny amount we’re allowed to open our windows.

My thoughts and reflections?

Overall, getting ~backstage access~ and a ~special pass~ was pretty fun. 9/10 dentists would recommend. If you have the opportunity to get special access to Bacchanal another year – whether that might be being apart of the planning committee, or for one of the publications or performance groups, I’d check it out. It let me experience the event in a really special way, and I’d definitely be open to doing it again. It got me out of my comfort zone, which is what college is all about!

Bacchanal itself was pretty cool! It was my first, and a good first, I think! The music was great, I loved the student openers and the craziness of some of the performers. I’ve never been that much of a party/concert person, but I feel more open to them now after forcing myself to go to Bacchanal.

Whether you got to be apart of the crowd, casually observed from the lawns, or flaked altogether, one thing is sure – Mykki Blanco’s green hair slays for centuries.

~
If you liked these photos, click here to see the full album on the Lion’s Facebook page, all personally shot (unedited – I ain’t got time for that!) by yours truly.

MMC students and teachers pose for photos after the winter recital. (Photography by: Jamie Grafton)

 

“Remember what we said about your princess posture!” No, this was not a line from Brave or The Princess Diaries. Rather, it was heard—of all places—at a music lesson.

Teachers from the Columbia University chapter of Musical Mentors Collaborative (MMC) have been giving lessons at P.S. 145 every week since 2008. Instruments taught—free of charge—include piano, violin, guitar, and voice.

Most of the over 50 students in the program would probably not be able to take lessons otherwise.

“We are a school where the majority of the population are working-class immigrants,” Carlos Salamanca, the Parent Coordinator of P.S. 145, explains.

“It’s important for the Latino and Black communities to have the opportunity to play musical instruments. This is the chance that they have–this Musical Mentors teaching.”

The MMC program leads to many exciting learning experiences. Last Saturday morning, Stephanie Rager, a sophomore in SEAS who is a Co-President of MMC, taught Sophia–after reminding her to stand like a princess, of course–what a half note is.

Stephanie Rager, CC ‘19, with her student, Sophia

Stephanie Rager, SEAS ‘19, with her student, Sophia.

First, Stephanie clapped quarter notes with Sophia. Then, she sang the last three notes of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”–quarter note, quarter note, half note–while Sophia continued to clap. Stephanie explained that the last note she sang was twice as long as the two prior. After some time of working on the measure–both with and without her bow–Sophia’s face lit up: she had “got it.”

Watching students’ reactions made me smile more times than I could count. I now understand why James Valentini often talks about “Beginner’s Mind”: these elementary school students were incredibly eager to learn and bubbled with joyous excitement when they did.  

Music lessons can even be mathematical. This week, Alexia Le, a junior music major in CC, taught Vanessa 3/8. Explaining time signatures can be complicated: it oftentimes involves fractions, which some students have not yet learned.

Alexia solved the difficulty by finding a different way to explain it. She described how it was similar to 3/4–which Vanessa played earlier in the lesson–in that there are three beats per measure, yet different because the eighth note gets the beat.

These challenging pedagogical moments are rewarding for teachers. Julian Vleeschhouwer, a sophomore in Columbia College, values his new role as piano teacher.

“I really enjoy teaching—prior to this I never really taught music before, I’ve always been the one taking lessons—so to be able to give back a little is really fulfilling for me,” Julian says with an assuring nod.

“It’s helped me to realize the role music can play in different people’s lives; I think that I always took it for granted in my life.

Julian Vleeschhouwer, CC ‘19, and Nicole at the winter recital (Photography by: Jamie Grafton)

Julian Vleeschhouwer, CC ‘19, and Nicole at the winter recital. (Photography by: Jamie Grafton)

However, despite the positive interactions I witnessed, the realities of the program are sobering. Some pianos are extremely out-of-tune (almost a half-step flat). The school’s music program does not include band or orchestra, so most students are unable to develop their instrumental skills during the school day. Instruments are provided by P.S 145, which means there’s a what-we-have-is-what-you’ll-play policy.

Perhaps most disheartening of all: MMC ends after elementary school. Without an instrument, let alone a teacher, many students stop playing.

“Vanessa’s older sister was also in the program, but now that she is in middle school, she doesn’t play violin anymore and doesn’t remember how to play,” Alexia recounts—her voice diving down, crestfallen, at the end of her phrase.

With more teachers the program could expand to the local middle school, ensuring that students can continue making music after graduating.

An increase in instructors would also help at the elementary school level: P.S. 145 often has more interested students than available instructors.

“We always need more!” Salamanca emphasizes.

Recent fundraising from the Columbia Festival of Winds will definitely assist the program: MMC anticipates using the several thousand dollars collected for new classroom pianos.

However, the larger problem–governmental support of art and music programs in public schools–is insurmountable for MMC. Despite written acknowledgement (see page 2) of the arts’ educational value, the Department of Education (DOE) is clearly not doing enough to foster art in schools, which MMC’s very existence and the sad story of Vanessa’s sister illustrate.

These MMC lessons demonstrate, though, just how beneficial and necessary music making in schools is; they show why additional and continued governmental support of the arts is a good—to put things in blunt financial terms—investment in a child’s future.

How do these lessons prove why music has educational value? Take, for example, Alexia’s relationship with Vanessa.

In the lesson that I observed, Alexia spent nine minutes working with Vanessa on just one measure because of its rhythmic complexity. Alexia’s focus on the passage demonstrates her great commitment toward Vanessa’s learning.

Their determined work leads to success: Alexia beamed when describing how proud she was while watching Vanessa’s end-of-semester recital. Throughout our discussion about Vanessa, Alexia’s voice oozed with warmth and care.

Jonathan Herman, SEAS ‘18, looks on after Angel’s performance at the winter recital (Photography by: Jamie Grafton)

Jonathan Herman, SEAS ‘18, looks on after Angel’s performance at the winter recital. (Photography by: Jamie Grafton)

Alexia has helped ignite Vanessa’s passion for music. Nowadays, Vanessa often seeks out pieces to learn from YouTube and even composes her own music.

In reality, Vanessa would not have been able to work with–let alone discover–her musical interests without the MMC program. Because of the opportunity, Vanessa has developed not only her musical abilities but also the virtues intrinsic to learning an instrument: independence, patience, and a strong work ethic.

Vanessa’s growth illustrates the benefits of a music education. Her story speaks directly to the NYC Department of Education, proving that music programs are needed in schools.

“I feel like I’m making a difference; I see the progress,” Alexia confirms.

“I think that I’m helping her realize, hopefully, a lifelong love of music.”

 

 

Photo Credit  Maddy Kim

At their Artist Release Party Friday, the Bacchanal Committee announced that the lineup for this year’s concert includes AlunaGeorge, DRAM, Mykki Blanco, and Almand.

For those new to Bacchanal, the group organizes a yearly concert held on Low Plaza. You can get a ticket to the show via this link at the following times:

Friday March 31st 11:30 a.m. (500 tickets)

Saturday April 1st 11:30 a.m. (1,000 tickets)
Monday April 3rd 8:00 p.m. (1,000 tickets)
Tuesday April 4th 2:30 p.m. (1,000 tickets)
Wednesday April 5th 8:00 a.m. (1,500 tickets)

Keep in mind, tickets do sell out fast — most often within seconds of release — so get ready.

For those unable to get tickets, The Lion will be sharing photos from backstage and of the campus throughout the event.