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Orchestra charms audience

The Carnegie Mellon Symphony Orchestra played its first concert of the season last Wednesday. (credit: David Chang/) The Carnegie Mellon Symphony Orchestra played its first concert of the season last Wednesday. (credit: David Chang/)

The Carnegie Mellon Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert of the season Wednesday evening at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland to an audience of Pittsburgh residents and Carnegie Mellon students and staff.

The ensemble played two pieces — Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss and Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, more widely known as the Eroica Symphony, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The symphony orchestra is comprised of both graduate and undergraduate students. It is conducted by Ronald Zollman, an associate professor of music and the director of orchestral studies at the School of Music.

The first piece played, Metamorphosen, is written for exactly 23 solo string players. The small group of violinists, violists, cellists, and bassists gave the entire performance an intimate feel. Strauss wrote the piece near the end of World War II to mourn Germany’s destruction in the war; the quiet opening of basses and cellos conveyed this mournful tone to the audience.

Metamorphosen was approximately 30 minutes long, including a grand pause where the entire concert hall was remarkably silent — a testament to how engaged the audience was. The ensemble members’ faces and body movements responded to Zollman’s exaggerated conducting pattern, suggesting the director had an excellent connection with the students playing in his ensemble.

Following a short intermission and a resetting of the stage, Zollman and a larger ensemble, including wind players and a sole percussionist, joined the stage to play Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

Beethoven had originally dedicated his Eroica Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, but removed that dedication once Bonaparte declared himself emperor of France. One of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies, Eroica includes four movements with intense dynamic shifts from loud full-member sections to quieter soli sections. The dynamic contrast was one of the most impressive feats for an ensemble of this size.

Metamorphosen and Eroica have a unique connection: The end of Metamorphosen includes an explicit reference to a theme from the funeral march in Eroica. Even audience members unaware of such a connection surely enjoyed the program put on by the Carnegie Mellon Symphony Orchestra.

The ensemble played well together, with each instrumental section blending beautifully with the overall sound of the group. A variety of fast and slow, loud and soft, solo and full ensemble allowed the audience to remain engaged throughout the concert.