Musical Transformations at Bard

Byron Adams
Raman Ramankrishna
New Begingings

Bard’s Conservatory Orchestra offered on November 1 a program focused on personal and historic transformation. The program began with contemporary composer Byron Adams’ Concerto for Violincello and Orchestra (2000, revised 2015). After the wonderfully melodic Allegro moderato that portrayed happiness, the piece became a resigned elegy for a mentor and friend of Adams. In the third movement, Soliloquy and Finale, cellist Raman Ramakrishna excelled in conjuring loss and mourning in the tragic Soliloquy, as dissonance invaded melody—Ramankrishna’s bow arcing in lightning whip-like strikes. The Finale rose to acceptance, intimating a new perspective on life that permitted melody to once more take its place. Adams came down the aisle to the stage amid loud applause, put his hand to his heart, and gestured outward to the audience with moving appreciation.


Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, his most joyous work, registers his optimism and ecstatic delight upon hearing of Wellington’s victory of Joseph Bonaparte in Spain. Beethoven etches a public celebration of good news in the hope of social transformation. Wagner called this Symphony the “Apotheosis of Dance.” The all-student orchestra, playing in unison, communicated exultant transformation as they performed above their expected level: they played like an established professional orchestra and received a standing ovation. The horns were especially effective in this fabric.


After intermission, Richard Strauss’ Death and Transformation (1889) displayed sheer genius in describing the transition from life to death in this gripping yet elegant symphonic poem. Gabriel Baeza played first violin with ardent fire and lyricism. This being the first day of the year according to Celtic calendars, the emotional description of death and the passage to new life was an apt choice well-handled by the young musicians as dramatic crescendo gave way to peaceful expiration and transforming conclusion in blinding white light.


The concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Festival Overture: The Year 1812 which celebrated the demise of Napoleon Bonaparte. I’ve always had a low opinion of this work, judging it bombastic and propagandistic, ever since I first heard it at the age of 14 at an aunt’s house in a stereo version with live cannon. Here the Tsarist national anthem triumphs over the French national anthem, “The Marseillaise,” during which, thankfully, no one in the audience stood up. After the irony of Russian artillery defeating the famous artillery genius with booming percussion, all was well as church bells ringing, the audience stood to pay tribute the orchestra, while I wondered if we were somehow paying tribute to the re-invention of Russia as a major military power, as well as cultural giant. And, yes, it was fun!