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Review: Yale Philharmonia Kicks Off 2017-2018 Season with The Rite of Spring

It was a strong opening night for the Yale Philharmonia and Maestro Oundjian, mainly owing to their chilling performance of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. I usually sit further back in the hall to hear a more balanced orchestral sound, but this time I sat three rows from the front to experience The Rite in full force, an experience I would recommend without reservation. The snarling brass and fluttering woodwinds and wailing strings and pounding drums created a paralyzing, chilling effect. It was exhilarating! The soloists were wonderful, the orchestra was nearly always together, and most of the piece had that raw energy missing from domesticated versions of The Rite. There were moments in some less energetic dances when the orchestra seemed to play without much interest (playing through them just to get to the next exciting part), but the overall performance was phenomenal.

The evening's opening work, Thomas Tallis's "Why Fum'th in Fight," was sung from the back of the hall by the Yale Voxtet and was wonderfully effective. The work it foreshadowed on the program, Vaughan William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, was inconsistent in quality. The composition suffers from pacing issues and its structure meanders; it leaves you wondering what the point of the piece is, questioning why you are listening to it, and feeling almost embarrassed by its contrived minor resolutions. Despite all of this, the orchestra played well with passionate swells and a rich sound, especially in the staggered bowing at the end. If only their efforts could have gone towards a worthier piece.

Lastly, we come to Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. I'm going to be the first to say it: the Yale Philharmonia needs to stop getting a pass for the bad acoustics of the hall and the detrimental effects they have on any piece requiring clear articulation, especially from the Classical Era. Whenever there is a piece with lush, romantic swelling (Brahms' 4th Symphony or even this evening's Vaughan Williams), the effect is marvelous overall, but the university clearly needs to look into installing curtains or an acoustic dome. For the Mozart, there was too much wash in hall, too much reverb, and the articulation suffered. The first movement was a bit slow and too constrained, not anxious or desperate enough. There wasn't much humor or levity in the lighthearted second theme. The second movement was inoffensive and harmless, though a little boring. Honestly, it was too slow for an Andante movement. The third movement provided some welcome change in energy, though the winds were muddy as usual due to the hall. The fourth movement's Allegro Assai tempo was harnessed and pulled back into a Meager Moderato. Simply put, it wasn't passionate enough and lacked dramatic energy.

On the whole, the concert was worth it for the Tallis and Stravinsky. I look forward to future concerts this season.

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