Berkshire Symphony: Student soloists top the meters


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Soprano Claire Leyden topped the applause meter.

Leyden, a junior, was one of four Williams College students featured Friday night in the Berkshire Symphony’s student soloist concert. As at sports events, Williams students turn out to cheer their friends and classmates at these annual talent parades.

Appearing as winners of the orchestra’s soloist competition, all four stars-for-a-night -- one of them actually a composer -- were received lustily by a large audience, but Leyden enjoyed a built-in applause advantage. She sang Leonard Bernstein’s "Candide" show-stopper, "Glitter and Be Gay," with vocal acrobatics and ditzy antics appropriate to Voltaire and Bernstein’s poor, confused Cunegonde.


Every year, the competition shows that, along with jazz, ethnic music and other genres, Williams takes the study and practice of classical music seriously. It’s not just the competition winners on display. Half of the orchestra is made up of students.

In technique and expressive range, Friday’s heroes were not note-perfect conservatory whizzes. So much the better. They come to classical music as part of the liberal arts tradition.

The concert was presided over by guest conductor Andrew Massey, whose bio cheerfully reported, along with podium credentials, that he lives in northern Vermont, "where he studies and composes in his hut in the woods, usually accompanied by his cat, Brian." To top off the four student-centered performances, he ambitiously concluded with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. A good bit of the evening’s playing came with rough edges.

Let’s see. If Leyden won the applause award, senior violist Lysander Jaffe won the bravery prize. He not only showed mastery in Georges Enescu’s rhapsodic Concert Piece but also carried on when, midway through, the bridge of his instrument came off, collapsing the strings. Quickly borrowing principal violist Ahling Neu’s instrument, he played on almost seamlessly to the finish.

The virtuoso award goes to freshman Joyce Lee, who took on the technical and introspective challenges of the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. And a nostalgia award, please, for senior composer Sato Matsui, whose 12-minute "Memorabilia," in its premiere, provided a lush ramble down her personal memory lane.

An extra handshake to all for providing lucid, informative program notes for their pieces.


In a lengthy program note for the Dvorak Seventh, conductor Massey compared it to the Brahms Third in its "dark side" and, through moments of charm, "intensified dimension of gravitas." The performance also made the point. Fast-paced, unbalanced and heavy, it made music that passes through both light and shadow seem like a dense forest that allows no sunshine through.

It was a lot to ask of an orchestra that had had to tailor four earlier performances to the needs and expectations of the featured students. The traditional farewell to the graduating seniors -- 12 of them, including two from high school -- followed.


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