UCI Symphony Orchestra at the Barclay Theater

What appears to be an underappreciated art form at UC Irvine received proper attention last Saturday night when the UCI Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Stephen Tucker, gave its first concert of the academic year — a concert for which it has been rehearsing since the beginning of the quarter. The orchestra’s colorful sounds filled the Irvine Barclay theater, as over 50 musicians, mostly UC Irvine students, performed an exciting set of repertoire — Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Norfolk Rhapsody No.1,” and two works by well-known German Romantic composer Ludwig Van Beethoven: “Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat” and the famous “Symphony No. 5.”

Beginning with Williams’ “Norfolk Rhapsody,” one of three pieces based on folk songs of the Norfolk region of England, the respective sections of the orchestra executed melodies with fiery gusto. The piece showed off the orchestra’s talented string section with its several fast passages and intricate themes.

The orchestra then traveled back in time 100 years, playing “Piano Concerto,” a piece that features a solo piano against background music played by the orchestra. For this performance, the soloist was Robert Edward Thies, a professional pianist who has performed over 40 concerti with orchestras all over the word. Thies’ playing featured many pacifying melodies, delicate chromatics and several call and response sections with the orchestra.

Finally, the talented musicians performed “Fifth Symphony,” a piece that can be recognized by classical music fans and non-fans alike. The piece, which includes four separate movements, made a triumphant end to the concert, showcasing the orchestra’s power with its very loud final phrases and receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

“I’ve played it multiple times and it never gets old,” said concertmaster (principle First Violinist) Aaron Tam, whose duties as concertmaster include tuning the entire orchestra before every rehearsal and performance and carefully watching the conductor so that he can lead the violin section accordingly, either using body movements or breathing, to ensure that the entire section plays together.

“With music, people get tired of the same thing, so when it comes to a symphony that’s been played so many times, it is sometimes difficult to play and interpret it differently but still make it so that people will still understand what is going on,” said Tam about playing the “Fifth Symphony.”

“I think it’s crucial for people at the college level to play famous works because many are going to go into the professional world of music, and the more you learn and play, the more experience you gain as a musician.”

Through the experience of playing such famous repertoire, the orchestra’s many music majors walk away from the stage with knowledge that will greatly benefit them later in life. Such musicians, including Tam, are thrilled to be pursuing their passion at UCI.

“Classical music is special because it can convey so many emotions and can make people’s imagination go wild,” he said.

Despite this passionate testimony from Tam, classical music, and much of the work done by music majors at UCI, which includes countless hours of practice each week and a solo recital during senior year, seems to go unnoticed.

“Because we are a small program, we don’t have too much advertisement elsewhere on the campus other than around the arts area. I think a lot of the popularity of classical music has to do with how exposed people are to it,” Tam said.

Though infrequent, performances such as the UCI Symphony Orchestra’s last Saturday can help UCI students gain exposure to an underappreciated, yet beautiful and thriving art form.