UCI Symphony Performs Borodin

The UCI Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Stephen Tucker explored the cultures of Russia and Hungary through the famous works of Alexander Borodin and Max Bruch Saturday night at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

The performance began with a special guest, Kimberlea Daggy (formerly of KUSC), who gave anecdotal excerpts about the composers and each piece with humor and stage presence.

The first work by Borodin, “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” was written for Czar Alexander II to celebrate his silver anniversary and follows the long journey of a caravan across the steppes. The piece opened with sustained high-pitched harmonics by the violins and plucking of strings, which created a serene dawn-like atmosphere in the theater.

The gloomy and melancholy notes of the oriental were then introduced, while the brass created a sense of greatness. The strings evoked a romanticized feel of traveling despite the impending danger that seemed to underpin the journey.  The piece finished with a clear flute melody.

The orchestra delved into a fantasy through Bruch’s “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26,” featuring violinist Priyanka Venkatesh.  Venkatesh was the 2014 Concerto Competition Winner and is currently pursuing her Masters in Violin Performance at UC Irvine. The first two movements, “Vorspiel: Allegro Moderato” and “Adagio” began with the timpani followed by Venkatesh’s impassioned violin solo.

Her skill over the instrument was masterful especially her ability to cover the wide range of her instrument. Throughout the movement, the constant exchange between Venkatesh’s solo and the orchestra revealed a sense of sadness and drama through the constant underlying emotional tension. The melody drifted into a soft lullaby as Venkatesh played a serenade.

The final movement, “Finale: Allegro Energico,” provided a gradual build up of an upbeat and joyful tune like a fairytale or ball-like atmosphere. The brass intensified the extravagance of the piece, which reflected Bruch’s romantic roots. The orchestra captured the natural ebb and flow of the graceful melodies, while preserving their energetic ambiance. The movement finished with a dramatic ending.

The final piece the orchestra performed was Borodin’s famous “Polovtsian Dances,” which was comprised of four dances along with several reprises. Some of the themes incorporated in the work were put to “Stranger in Paradise.”  The entrance of the tambourine and woodwinds introduced a soft melody with a light spirit. Gradually, the orchestra built up the volume and increased a sense of frenzy that evoked movement of the “Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens.”

Violist Kania Gandasetiawan also enjoyed the energy of the piece. “The English horn solo made my heart tingle in ‘The Dance of the Maidens,’” Gandasetiawan said.

The piece included a melodic exchange between the oboe and flutes, which led into an idyllic and exotic intrigue introduced by the plucking of the harp.  In contrast to the earlier light melodies the piece became loud, rambunctious and chaotic. The brass exerted a sense of masculinity, while characterizing a sense of a hunt or chase.

“The last piece was most enjoyable, since I was able to blast it,” trombonist Tetsuya Endo said.

The piece concluded with a flurry of woodwinds against the bellowing of the brass, which created much vibrant energy.

In addition to such an energetic performance many performers had to overcome challenges, such as time constraints.

“We had two weeks to learn the concerto.  Another challenge was putting everything together,” cellist Leo Baluk said.

The orchestra’s hard work was definitely rewarded with a memorable performance through stunning pieces.

The UCI Symphony Orchestra’s next concert is scheduled for June 6.