Course: PERF 110: Understanding Music
Written: April 22, 2014
Published: September 16, 2017
© All Rights Reserved
Introduction to the Music
The American University Symphony Orchestra performed in the Abramson Family Recital Hall at American University's Katzen Arts Center. Conducted by Yaniv Dinur, I witnessed their closing performance on Sunday, February 24, 2014. Dinur masterfully conducted three different pieces composed by George Frideric Handel, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and Ludwig Van Beethoven: The Alchemist (Handel), Cantus Arcticus (Rautavaara), and Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (Beethoven).
Even though I enjoyed the musical sensibilities of all pieces performed by the Orchestra and Dinur equally, I will primarily discuss Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Later, I will juxtapose the musical elements of this concert to another concert where Yuliya Gorenman performed Franz Liszt.
Setting Sets the ToneThe aesthetic appeal of the Katzen Arts Center embodies the beauty of creative expression. While walking into Abramson Hall, I was sandwiched between a robust, orange wall to my left and floor-length windows to my right. The orange wall was ordained with handwriting. The floor-length windows complemented the spacious landscape of Katzen. Some musicians were chatting to one another in happy tones. Others looked more anxious. I noticed one musician shaking his leg up and down, perhaps in a way to release any anxiety. Light-oak and cream-colored walls of the recital hall complemented it’s spacious, yet cozy appearance. Slightly-dimmed lighting emphasized the stage and musicians.
Classical Music and Setting
Why do we always see Classical music in ornate and classical halls? I believe it all boils down to perception. When most people think about Classical musical, these words come to mind: regal, classy, stately, prestigious, and sacred. Therefore, it's only natural that the aesthetic appeal of where classical music is played emits the very same perception. This could explain why classical music is played in these halls. I don't mean to oversimplify the answer, but I can't help but add that it relates to the art of persuasion as well. From a historical and socioeconomic context, classical music was entertainment for the "the elites," even though the Age of Enlightenment welcomed the Middle Class.
Entering the Recital Hall
As I walked to seat B-11, I began to feel appreciative of how beautiful it was to see the instruments up close and personal in their element. The orchestral-musical families (string, brass, percussion, wind) that were discussed a few weeks ago in my Understanding Music course by Dr. Matthew Heap, were right there before my eyes. And admittedly, they looked ten times better in comparison to the pictures on the powerpoint slides in class! In order of left, center, and right, the orchestra included: violins, a harp (in piece Cantus Arcticus), gongs, clarinets, flutes, trumpets, a celeste, cellos, and basses. For me, this moment reconfirmed the trite idiom that complements the essence of experiential learning: there’s nothing better than seeing music performed in concert.
Audience and Orchestra
Just as noteworthy was the young demographic of the audience. Although the house was moderately full, it was enlightening to see young members of the community, aged early 20s to mid 30s, at a Classical concert. This night was a living testament that classical music does have life.
In similarity to the audience, the musicians were predominantly young. Rightfully so, since the AU Symphony Orchestra consists of both undergraduate and graduate American University students, along with members of the community. I was proud to see two minorities of color in the orchestra, one a female violinist and another a male bassist. However, I wasn’t surprised that minorities were under-represented.
AU Symphony Orchestra Performing Beethoven
After Intermission, the orchestra performed Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Beethoven. At 4:04p.m., the musicians entered. Most of them were smiling and chatting to one another. Others began gazing out into audience. They began warming up their instruments. This was cacophony at best! Sounds were clashing and it was a bit overwhelming. But nonetheless, it was necessary as a pre-performance measure. The mood of the audience was happy and optimistic at this point.
This was my first time at a concert, so I had no idea what the musicians were doing when they began tapping their feet on the floor, while smiling. Once the conductor, Yaniv Dinur, took the stage, it all came full circle--they were clapping for his entrance! The audience then echoed with an optimistic clap.
At 4:07p.m., Dinur entered and he began explaining that in his eyes, “This piece is about the last movement…it's like Beethoven was celebrating this joy of life over and over again,” said Dinur. Dinur also mentioned that the fiery-esque quality to the music also could have been due to the fact the Beethoven was losing his hearing and still trying to grapple with holding on to it.
Elements of Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
In relation to the technical reflection, the 1st movement was in a sonata form. The tempo was predominantly allegro. I think this added to the fiery-eque appeal of the music. The rhythm was 4/4. Quite naturally, the texture was homophonic. One element of Beethoven’s music that I appreciate is the balanced amount of both consonance and dissonance.
The musicians performed the 1st movement with an intense
and focused demeanor. So intense that I witnessed a drop of spit emit from one of the clarinetist's clarinet. One bassist would twitch his mouth at the same rhythm of the music. He was enraptured. The audience appeared to be in a trance. At another time, I heard Dinur's bones pop. This was primarily because his arms were thrusting in motion the majority of the time.
I would describe the timbre of the 2nd movement of the piece as celebratory and more lighthearted. This reminded me of homework music. In comparison to the 1st movement, the audience appeared to be paying more attention to the musicians instead of the music. Perhaps, they were awakened from their trance now! Instead of allegro, the tempo was more of a walking speed—andante.
At 4:30pm, the 3rd movement began. It looked as if Dinur had his eyes closed at times. I noticed that he was more dominant in the left hand, since it glides with more discipline. I appreciated the elements in the music when the clarinets would echo the violins. The syncopation at the end of the 3rd movement was a surprise. The tempo was more allegro. The 4th movement was also allegro and in sonata form. In reaction to the performance as a whole, the flow was well-organized.
Yuliya Gorenman Performing Liszt
Let's switch gears. The 2nd concert that I attended was on March 22, 2014. This concert also took place in the Abramson Recital Hall in Katzen Arts Center. Yuliya Gorenman performed pieces from the Romantic composer, Franz Liszt. Similar to the 1st concert, the audience was diverse. However, more couples were present. Perhaps the 8 p.m. concert time was a good time for date night. My date was my younger brother, Justice.
The audiences' demeanor was optimistic and attentive. The setting of the room was very similar to the 1st concert with AU Symphony Orchestra. By contrast, the stage had a spotlight effect on the “Steinway & Sons” piano.
Elements of Listz: Hungarian Rhapsody
The most anticipated piece that Gorenman performed was Hungarian Rhapsody. This was Justice’s favorite piece as well. “How can we have a Liszt recital without Rhapsody?,” Gorenman said before she played. The timbre of the piece was bold, obnoxious (towards the ending), and striking, similar to the 1st movement of Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven. At other times, it was jumpy, light-hearted, and airy, like Beethoven’s 2nd movement of Symphony No. 5. Gorenman would play chromatic scales throughout the piece, which did two things. First, it showcased her skill. Second, it showcased the musical complexities of the piece with a good balance of consonance and dissonance. Similar to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, the texture of this piece was homophonic.
In comparison to the full orchestra, the piano still held its own. In this way, I mean that the piano echoed throughout the room just as the full orchestra did. I would still say that the 1st movement of Symphony No. 5 was more dynamic than Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt.
Towards the end of the concert, Gorenman answered questions from the audience in relation to the musical elements of the piece and Liszt’s background. This was a nice perk. It created a platform for the audience to connect with both Liszt and Gorenman on an intimate level.
In essence, I enjoyed the musical experiences of both the full orchestra and the solo concert. Liszt and Beethoven are two remarkably talented composers of their time. I can say the same for the performers: Yaniv Dinur, the AU Symphony Orchestra, and Yuliya Gorenman.
Both concerts resonated with me simply because I appreciate music that comes from a sacred and positive place. I find that elegant instrumental music embodies this quality. I enjoyed hearing Symphony No. 5 primarily because it's such a dynamic piece. Hungarian Rhapsody is closer to homework music. However, I thought the full orchestra was more entertaining than the solo piano. All in all, listening to both Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven and Hungarian Rhapsody by Listz affected my mood in a positive way.
My Personal Reflection to Beethoven and Listz
So What, Who Cares about Classical and Romantic Music?
I couldn’t close without proudly stating that in no way is Classical or Romantic music dead. The diverse audiences at both concerts offsets that perception. It's important to note that Classical and Romantic music are often sampled or used fundamentally in modern-day music. Let’s not forget that Hollywood has borrowed from both Classical and Romantic composers in order to add depth to soundtracks and movies to say the least.
This also leads me to relate classical music to my major. I’m earning two degrees: Business and Public Communication. It’s self explanatory that music, business, and communications are intertwined. Music evokes pathos, logos, and ethos, just like communication can. And since communication is at the heart of our society, music follows in its footsteps. Music unifies people from multiple backgrounds—just lie effective communication in business. Business, communication and music are also building blocks of experiential learning. In essence, they all have their place professional, academically, and personally.
Classical and Romantic music aren’t dead. They're full of life.