By Lucy Rudman
The Sewanee Symphony Orchestra (SSO) performed a spooky concert on Halloween night. It was the orchestra’s first performance with new conductor Doctoral Candidate Mathew Ward. The concert had two performances: one at 11:00 a.m., for around 500 local elementary school kids, and one at 7:30 p.m., for students, staff and community members.
The three-piece set took care to stay true to a spooky Halloween theme, and included “Night on Bald Mountain” composed by Modest Mussorgsky and revised in 1886 by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saëns, and “Suite from Swan Lake” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Before each piece, Rhaea D’Aleisio, office manager of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, took a few moments to explain the background of each piece, a fun fact about it or its composer, or an explanation of the “plot” that each piece followed.
Crowd favorites included “Scéne” from the “Swan Lake Suite,” a part of the famous ballet, which featured solos from visiting assistant professor Peter Povey and harpist Molly Morgan (C’22), and “Danse Macabre” by Saint-Saëns, which was about Death playing a violin in a graveyard while skeletons danced until dawn. Other soloists throughout the set included Maria Ramirez (C’20) and Dr. John Gatta, professor of English, on clarinet and Kaitlyn Vest, visiting professor of music, on cello.
Courtney Boucher (C’21), was especially impressed by the orchestra’s treatment of Swan Lake, which included a harp solo from Morgan, saying, “The harp solo was amazing. I never knew Swan Lake could sound so Halloween-y!”
For Morgan, the best part was playing for the kids that attended the earlier concert.
“They were so excited to be there,” she explained. “I mean, obviously our regular, older concert-goers show enthusiasm, but it is something else when there’s that many kids clapping and yelling after you’re done playing.”
Under the direction of conductor Mathew Ward, the orchestra is just getting started. The group is already rehearsing for their next concert, on December 9. The group is playing two pieces by “two lesser-known women composers,” according to Dr. John Gatta, principal clarinet. He continued, “Almost nobody in the group has heard or played these works before, so the experience has so far been challenging–– but also illuminating, an education for all of us.”
More than anything, the orchestra is a rare place on campus where students, faculty, and community members have the opportunity to work collaboratively and as equals.
“Orchestra rehearsals and performances provide a rare, welcome opportunity,” explained Gatta, “for students and those of us who are non-students to harmonize together on a mostly equal footing, for the sake of making music.”