By Gabe Guo
On October 31, Williamsville East High School presented its annual fall orchestra concert, with both the Symphonic and Philharmonic orchestras giving scintillating performances.
The Symphonic Orchestra played Shostakovich’s Spanish Dance, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar’s Bride Overture, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; while the Philharmonic Orchestra gave renditions of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op. 46, Brian Balmages’s Phantom Tango, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. The concert as a whole was lively and engaging, as was befitting for the uptempo character of the chosen works.
The Spanish Dance from The Gadfly Suite served as a flashy opening to the Symphonic Orchestra’s inaugural performance, incorporating elements of old Spanish flair into Shostakovich’s idiosyncratic modern Russian style. The tempo of this all-string piece was particularly quick, with the cello section playing a rhythmic harmony to the violin section’s lyrical yet upbeat melody.
Next up was the Tsar’s Bride Overture, another driven Russian composition. This piece for full orchestra was originally composed as an introduction to Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera of the same name, telling tales of love, jealousy, and heartbreak.
The dramatic nature of the story is evident in this overture, as its themes ranged from harsh and rhythmic to gentle and lyrical. Both the winds and strings did a phenomenal job of conveying these deep emotions throughout the tempo and key changes.
Yet, the star of the show was none other than Suzie Lee, the piano soloist for Rhapsody in Blue. The piece started with a clarinet flourish, courtesy of Ellery Farbo, and quickly developed to include the whole orchestra and piano.
Lee’s rendition of this jazz piece was excellent, with her rubatos perfectly matching the shifts in the blues harmonies. She also did not fail to impress in her cadenzas, putting her piano skills on full virtuosic display as she played the complex chords and sixteenth notes with the ease, grace, and finesse that would characterize a pianist twice her age.
Her riveting performance was on par with professional recordings, as the audience could attest. Upon the last chord, the audience members burst into a standing ovation and loud cheers, impressed by the wonderful performance. Even the members of the Symphonic Orchestra, who had rehearsed with her, were amazed at the musical caliber of her interpretation.
But throughout her success, Lee remains humble, stating, “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to play such a fun piece with an orchestra as talented as this.”
Following the Symphonic Orchestra was the Philharmonic Orchestra, which also gave a memorable performance.
They started with excerpts from the Peer Gynt Suite, a Norwegian classic that appears on many “morning mood” compilations on YouTube and Spotify. Their rendition was indeed calming and relaxing, as they smoothly played the lyrical melodies that pervade the piece.
Next was Phantom Tango by Brian Balmages, mirroring the Symphonic Orchestra’s first piece in its Latin flair that energized both the performers and audience. This also had a Halloween-ish feel to it, through the intentionally dissonant harmonies and sudden changes.
Finally, they played a pop tune that everybody instantly recognized: “Thriller”. Their performance evoked images of Jackson’s original music video, and one could almost hear the high pitch of Jackson’s voice as the Philharmonic Orchestra played.
The concert was one of the best in recent memory, with excellent interpretations of musical classics all throughout the night.