The lights in Lang Concert Hall dimmed as Concert and Production Manager Jeanette Honig took to the stage to commence the start of that night’s Fetter Chamber Orchestra Concert, I took my seat in the audience. What followed were groups of student musicians taking the stage and performing classical music, including the works of Bach and Beethoven, which conclude with uproarious applause from the audience.
The Fetter Chamber Music Concert, a part of the Elizabeth Pollard Fetter Chamber Music Program, is composed of chamber groups formed on campus. The program’s director, Associate Professor in Performance Dr. Michael Johns, places people who auditioned together based on musical interest and level, but students have the option to select the piece and the ensemble they wish to work with. Each group has a coach assigned to them and they work closely for about ten sessions in order to perfect a performance. As a requirement, at least one of the performers in each chamber group has to take the program for credit and thus compose the program notes for the performance. The groups then perform in one of the three concerts that occur before reading week.
The April 23 concert began with The Musical Offering, BWV 1079 by Johann Sebastian Bach played by Liam Packer ’20 on flute, Tristan Cates ’20 on oboe, and Douglas Yang ’18 on harpsichord. The trio played the piece in two movements, largo and allegro.
In his notes about the piece, Yang described the two movements saying,
“The opening Largo, somber but elegant, is characterized by its graceful trills and light, flowing sixteenth motifs. The allegro, is fast and vigorous featuring runs traded off between the flute, oboe, and basso continuo.”
In the actual performance, however, Cates played his part with an oboe, despite it being originally written for violin. Despite that change, Yang, Packer, and cates, who had never played at a Fetter Chamber orchestra before, were applauded by the audience when the concluding their performance.
“I wanted to perform for something that requires more practice and dedication than just being a member of the orchestra. I wanted to challenge myself with more difficult music,” said Cates.
The concert continued with a dual piano performance of Karina Menchin’s Abundance of Space and Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano Four Hand, FP8 by Elliot Nguyen ’18 and Jacob Cartenson ’17. Nguyen worked with Cartenson since the beginning of the year, having worked in both finding four-hand pieces to match their different skill levels, as Cartenson began learning piano last year, and in their practice sessions with coach Laurie Ticehurst. Nguyen has been involved with the Fetter program since his freshman year, having played seven concerts, mostly focused on four-hands piano music.
“I originally got interested in chamber music in high school. It’s the closest analog to playing in a band that you can get within the classical music realm – the ideas of working intimately with a small group of musicians and having that on-stage communication and dialogue was really important to me, since I had a few different non-classical music projects and bands in high school,” said Nguyen.
The final performance before intermission was Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, Op. 5 No. 2 played by Jack Rubien ’20 on cello and Alice Dong ’20 on piano. Rubien, who played in the Fetter last semester, and Dong, who was playing her first Fetter and event at Lang Concert Hall, worked with coach Keiko Sato on the three movements, first practicing them in order followed by in reversed order. When asked her thoughts about the concert, Dong said,
“[The concert was] terrifying but thrilling. For much of the first movement, my left leg which, thankfully, was hidden from audience view, was shaking underneath my dress. Your heart starts to race and the fear of rushing becomes an increasing danger throughout the piece.”.
Despite the fear, when Dong and Rubien finished, they took their bows and the audience responded with applause. When asked to reflect on the performance and performing with Rubien, Dong said,
“Although it was not our best run-through, I believe that the concert was a success as a whole since we were able to play through the whole piece without any major problems. Jack and I have always been lucky in terms of chamber in that we are good friends outside of the program, so connecting in the music and breathing worked more naturally than I believe it would have been had we not known each other well prior to working together.”
After intermission, the concert continued with Heitor Villa-Lobos’ The Jet Whistle, played by Nigel Van Ha ’20 on flute and Jacob Brady ’20 on cello. This was followed by Huddie Ledbetter’s Bring Me Little Water, Silvy arranged by Moria Smiley and Gwyneth Walker’s The Spirit of Women sung by sopranos Natasha Nogueira ’18 and Elizabeth Stant ’19 and altos Ruth Elias ’20 and Rebecca Ford ’19. The concert then concluded with Carl Reinecke’s Trio in a minor, Op. 188 by Jonathan Cohen ’17 on oboe, Amy Shmoys ’19 on horn, and David Robinson ’19 on piano.
When Cates, Nguyen, and Dong were asked, if given the opportunity, whether they would again perform in the Fetter Chamber Music Concert, all agreed and spoke about the opportunities it, and other music programs at Swarthmore, provided them to better, work with others on, and showcase their music.
“The opportunities presented to us here at Swarthmore are greater than that at the majority of schools. At the same time, I feel like many students are intimidated and feel as though they have to be at a certain level in order to participate or pursue improvement in their music understanding and performance. However, that is definitely not the case and the music department’s goal is to help you no matter what level you are at,” said Dong.
Overall, the concert was a success as various audience members, including myself, commended the students on their work at the concert’s conclusion.
The Fetter Chamber Music Concert will have its final concert this semester on Friday, April 28 at 8:00 pm. Make sure to attend if you can.