On Wednesday evening, the city of Boston was covered with snow and the air was frigid and nippy. My classmates, professor, and I were walking towards the New England Conservatory to listen to three powerful musical pieces written by Jennifer Higdon, Sergei Prokofiev, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. As we entered the auditorium, the lights were low and the walls and chairs were covered with dark redwood, which made the auditorium look like a cathedral church. Suddenly, the lights went off and the conductor came to the scene smiling and welcoming everyone. She introduced the first musical piece, looked at her orchestra, and raised her hands to start conducting.
Blue is the color of the sky and ocean. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, faith, and heaven. Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, and give hope to the prayer. This is how Jennifer Hifdom described the title of her piece. Jennifer Elaine Higdon is an American composer of classical music. She has received many awards due to her outstanding work, such as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto and two Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Higdon was inspired to write this musical piece, “Blue Cathedral,” after her younger brother, Andrew Blue Higdon, died of skin cancer. She said, “I began writing this piece at a unique juncture in my life and found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives.”
The first piece began with the playing of the triangle instruments. Then, the beautiful sound of flute came along and after a few seconds, violinists joined them. Before I came to the concert, I listened to a shorter version of this piece on YouTube and I’ve noticed a few differences. For example, in the Youtube video of Blue Cathedral, triangles were played in the beginning too. However, violin and cello were played instead of the flute that was played at the concert. Personally, I preferred the flute after the triangles since it sounded more calming. Second, in the Youtube video, there was no sound of the xylophone. On the other hand, at the concert, the xylophone was played several times. Finally, in the Youtube video, the conductor was old and did not move or seem to be excited about the musical piece but at the concert, the conductor seemed very enthusiastic. She made me more excited to listen to the piece and follow her hand movements. It could be that the conductor was so excited because Blue Cathedral was the first piece played at the concert. Furthermore, I noticed a musician in the back holding a wine glass and rotating her finger on the tip of the glass to make a very nice sound. I had never seen it before but I thought it was interesting. Overall, I really liked this musical piece and I thought it was my favorite compared to the following two pieces.
The second musical piece was “Suite from Love for Three Oranges, op 33 bis” by Sergei Prokofiev, who was known as one of the major composers of the 20th century. Percussion instruments significantly contributed to this piece. I really liked in the beginning how cymbals, crash cymbals, bass drums, and tambourine were played. In other words, the first movement, “The Ridiculous People,” had fewer string instruments played and more bass and percussion instruments. However, for the second and third movements, “Scene for Hades and March” and “March,” a combination of string instruments, such as violin and cellos were played with the bass and percussion instruments, like the trumpets and crash symbols. Although there were only a few trumpets, the sound from them was still overpowering the sound from the string instrument. The orchestra did a very good job demonstrating “fff” in these movements. Finally the last movement, “Flight,” was probably my favorite since it sounded like the “Flight of the Bumblebee” musical piece. However, there were a few differences. For the “Flight of the Bumblebee” piece, lots of string instruments, such as violin and viola, are used but for the “Flight” movement in Prokofiev’s piece, an equal combination of string, bass, and percussion instruments were played. I think the rhythm is what made the two pieces sound similar. Furthermore, it was interesting to see the conductor’s head and hair moving as the music was being played. The conductor seemed very excited and happy with the music. By the end of this piece, there was an intermission before the last musical piece was going to be played.
The third musical piece was “Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, op. 44” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was a Russian composer and a conductor of the late Romantic period. He had his First Piano Concerto when he was only eighteen years old. His “Piano Concerto No.2” of 1901 was known to be the greatest ever written.
I really liked the first movement of this piece, “Lento-Allegro moderato,” and it made me excited. The music started with crash symbols and string instruments playing simultaneously at the first measure. The music was very loud, “fff,” to the point where I felt like I was sitting in the front row. This piece almost combines all kinds of instruments which made the music more beautiful. The music sounded like the Harry Potter movie’s background. I noticed that there were 6 rows of violinists and five rows of cellists. The cellists had a very powerful part in this piece where the sound of the cellos was beautiful. In other words, I did really enjoy the cello solo part. This part gave me a lot of energy until the music switched to “ppp” and the orchestra started playing “Adagio a non-troppo,” which is when I started falling asleep.
This piece was the longest one played at the concert. I believe it was played for 45 minutes and it was hard to stay awake for that amount of time at nine o’clock. Prof Park was sitting next to me and I did not want to lose a few points for falling asleep. Therefore, I poked myself every once in a while to keep myself awake. I think there was nothing wrong with the second part of this piece but it was just dry. In addition, most of the time, the piece was played in “pp” which could have been the reason why the music made me feel sleepy. Furthermore, I noticed some musicians put their instruments down and start shaking something that also made some interesting sound.
By the end of this piece, the conductor turned to the violinist that was sitting in the front row to her left and she shook her hand. Then, she started pointing at the musicians in the orchestra, expecting from us, the audience, to applaud for all of them. I’m so happy that I went to this concert. I learned that a musical piece can be played in different ways and some ways can sound better than others. Also, I learned that I am not a big fan of long musical pieces unless the music shows complexity and variety in sound. Finally, I learned that playing “ppp” or “fff” can be very effective on the audience and sounds different compared to using headphones.