Clapping for Credit Concert Reports

I took Fundamentals of Music, aka “Clapping for Credit”, during my last semester of college. As part of the course we had to write reports on three different concerts through the semester.

Concert Report #1

For this report, I attended a Friday Noon Concert series performed by the Pomona College Chamber Winds. They performed two pieces by Haydn; Divertimento in D major from II/5 and II/D18. The first piece was played by two French horns, a bassoon, and two clarinets and consisted of an Adagio section in 4/4 time, an Allegro section in 3/4 time, and a Menuet in 3/4 time. The clarinets carried the melody throughout most of the piece, while the horns took over at certain times and performed an energetic harmony. The bassoon provided the chord base in the Adagio section, and served largely as a rhythm section in the Allegro and Menuet sections; but bassoon also unexpectedly took over the melody in a few places.

The musicians unquestionably communicated this piece rather than just reading it.They were comfortable performing and generally worked together. Unfortunately, the clarinets were much too involved in the music; they counted by bobbing their heads so much that their instruments swept out two-foot circles. They also seemed less skilled than the other musicians, with a number of missed notes and bad tones.

The second piece performed saw the clarinets replaced by two oboes, and the addition of a bassoon. The overall skill level increased and the performance was much smoother, but the music was less interesting than in the first piece. Little stood out except a surprise ending; after the Allegro, Scherzo, Menuet, Adagio, and Menuet there was a Finale consisting of no more than 20 bars.

Concert Report #2

For this report, I attended the Pomona College Choir & Orchestra Spring Concert. They performed Brahms’ Schicksalslied and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Each of the pieces was well done, but Dona Nobis Pacem really caught my attention, probably because the vocal part was in English.

The piece opens in a slow movement with the soprano soloist singing alone (this performer was good but a little heavy on the vibrato), to be gradually but fitfully joined by the chorus. The orchestra plays a beautiful accompaniment, but its beauty is disturbed by insistent angry undertones, and finally the timpani sounding as drums of war.

Next comes the war, in a much faster movement filled with sudden starts mimicking the surprise and sound of battle. Following that is a middle-speed movement led by the baritone soloist (he was fantastic!) which is beautiful in sound and speech (“World all over, beautiful as the sky”), yet deeply sad as it declares a hollow victory (“my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself”). The following movement is slightly faster and continues the theme of sadness, but is not so brightly beautiful since it mimics a funeral dirge

The second-to-last movement is very dark, first reflecting on the past and then hinting at a continuing violent tomorrow with the re-introduction of the Dona Nobis Pacem phrase, and clashing orchestral accompaniment.

The final movement of the piece is much happier, with brighter sounds and joyful biblical lyrics celebrating a future end of war. Yet the performance concludes with a return to the Dona Nobis Pacem theme, which has been lightened for this piece but has dark associations by this time.

Concert Report #3

For this report, I attended the Claremont Concert Orchestra. They performed Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture, Op. 81; Domenico Cimarosa’s Concerto in G Major for Flute and Oboe; Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, Op. 56a; and Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D Major (“London”). This performance was roughly one hour and 40 minutes long; which felt long indeed compared to the Pomona Orchestra & Choir Concert the previous week (lasting about 40 minutes). It was a memorable reminder that orchestras have much more endurance than vocalists.

I found that Brahms’ Variations on a Theme was the most interesting piece. The first variation is completed by only the winds and low strings, while the violins sit completely silent. This was the first extended violin silence in the concert (apart from solos in the previous Concerto); it was perhaps more noticeable than it was supposed to be because the violins in this orchestra are still a bit whinier than they should be. As the variations went on, the “variations” become less and less similar, moving from the low-string/wind bounce of the first variation up to a full orchestra driven by the bass line that finally reminds listeners of the original variation as part of the finale. The most noticeable variation was a sudden change in time signature that literally jolted me out of a daze.

The Concerto for Flute and Oboe was also an interesting experience. Apparently the piece was originally scored for two flutes, which surprised me because after listening to the piece the oboe seemed to fit the part better. The flute seemed a little thin — not because the player was in any way incapable but because it didn’t fill the required space nearly as well as the oboe.