UCSD Chamber Orchestra Excels with Narrative Driven Music

Arun Dhingra / The Triton

The UC San Diego Chamber Orchestra performed a diverse and lively set on December 5, ending with the beloved “Star Wars Suite” and a standing ovation from the audience.

In its first concert of the year, the Chamber Orchestra played three pieces that each contained their own unique narrative. Led by conductor Matthew J. Kline, the Chamber Orchestra performed splendidly.

The first piece was “Coming Together”, composed by Frederic Rzewski. It had a more intimate setting, with only nine out of the sixty-nine musicians that make up the orchestra. A speaker, Celeste Oram, was present throughout the piece and repeatedly recited a letter by Sam Melville written in 1971. Melville was a prisoner at the Attica Prison and part of the infamous Attica Prison Riots, where over a thousand prisoners rioted to demand better living conditions and political rights. Oram’s commanding voice and deliberate rhythm served as the melody over the piece as the instruments alternated between long, slow notes and quicker, staccato accompaniment. The end of the piece reached a climax with both Oram and the musicians forcefully delivering each word and note.

After a short setup period to accommodate the full orchestra, the next piece performed was “Peter and the Wolf”, composed by Sergei Prokofiev. This piece featured a narrator, Jessica C. Flores, who told the story and explained the role of each instrument in the beginning. The high-pitched twittering of the flute portrayed a bird, while Peter was represented by a pastoral theme played by the strings. The instruments also helped set the scene, as the tremolo from the strings helped build suspense while the wolf was approaching. Flores’ conscientious job narrating and her unique inflection for each character’s voice made the story feel much more detailed. The musicians held great balance between each section of instruments and the combination of the musical motifs that represented each character played in conjunction with each other was a treat to hear.

The Chamber Orchestra closed with the famous “Star Wars Suite”, composed by the one and only John Williams. Williams is one of the most famous modern composers of all time and is responsible for the iconic scores behind Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones series, and much more. Four songs were selected: “Main Title”, “Imperial March”, “Yoda’s Theme”, and “Throne Room & End Title.” The string and percussion section were particularly admirable throughout the suite, with the string section utilizing vibrato in “Yoda’s Theme” while the percussion section was consistent rhythmically and had a clear sound. A minor fault was the noticeable pitch issues in the brass section, but their articulated staccato notes made up for it. The whole orchestra had great transitions between the fast-paced, well-known opening of “Main Title” and the slower, more tender snippets of “Princess Leia’s Theme” incorporated in “Main Title.”

Overall, the UCSD Chamber Orchestra performed wonderfully and told three stories in different, yet equally impressive ways. Each piece had its own individual style—from minimalistic and circular, to a more traditional style, to finally a grandiose one fit for a movie. These distinct sounds not only showed off the range of the orchestra, but also demonstrated the different ways music can be part of a narrative. While the “Star Wars Suite” was publicized as the main attraction, the recurring theme present in all of the pieces was the power of music in storytelling.

The Chamber Orchestra’s next performance is on March 13, 2018 in Conrad Prebys Concert Hall and is free for UCSD students. More information on concerts hosted by the UCSD Department of Music can be found here.

Arun Dhingra is a contributing writer for the Arts and Entertainment section for The Triton.