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University’s Symphony Orchestra electrifies the Staller stage

The Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra held its second concert of the semester on Nov. 4 at the Staller Center for the Arts. Under the baton of Anthony Parnther, the orchestra comprises around 70 graduate students from the music department. CHRISTINA MARIE MARIANI/THE STATESMAN

The Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra lit up Staller Center’s stage on Saturday, Nov. 4 for their second concert of the season. The orchestra, consisting of approximately 70 graduate students from the music department, was under the baton of conductor Anthony Parnther. He opened the show with a joke, tapping into the energy of the enthusiastic crowd.

Parnther is currently the music director for San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra. As a conductor, he has also worked on film and video game scores such as the 2022 superhero film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and the multiplayer online battle arena video game “League of Legends.” 

Parnther said Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade in A Minor, the first piece of the night, is a “stormy and cinematic” piece. Opening trills of the woodwinds mark the beginning of the piece with deep strings following along and playing a melodic motif that is then passed along among the different sections of the orchestra. 

The moodiness of the beginning gives way to a lush middle section, with the musical motif of the beginning being played at a slower tempo. The ballade comes full-circle when it returns to its beginning notes but this time supported by a strong brass section complete with dramatic cymbals to smoothly transition the spotlight to soloist Chao-Chih George Chen. 

Chen was one of the winners of the 2023 Stony Brook Concerto Competition, playing Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, composed by Louis Spohr. Winners of the competition receive the coveted opportunity to play with the orchestra in the upcoming season. 

Chen said he chose to play Spohr’s piece out of a love for its “sweet” melodies.

“When he was composing this piece all the technique was about [the] violin,” Chen said. “So this piece is very challenging for clarinet.” 

The composition has three movements that Chen expressively moves through as if he is overcome with passion. Supported only by the violins and cellos, the second movement is the most mellow of the three. He sways along to the notes that he plays, bringing energy to the piece.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, which is made up of five movements, closed out the night’s program. Each movement drastically differs in tone with the first, being playful and almost “circus-like.” 

Featuring an eerie melody, the second movement highlights three solo instruments: clarinet, flute and piccolo. The strings only contribute to its ghostly essence, hinging on elements of chromaticism and dissonance. 

Shostakovich once again switches up the mood with the third movement. Led by the woodwinds, the orchestra works itself up to a chaotic frenzy. 

Beginning with a strong brass line, the piece leads into a haunting bassoon solo for its fourth movement, establishing an eerie mood. Parnther said he liked this movement because it sounded like a “mournful prayer.”

The bassoon once again shines in the fifth movement, introducing a major melodic line that is repeated throughout the orchestra. Returning to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the first movement, the ensemble ends with a lively flourish. 

Parnther balances bassoon playing and conducting, maintaining a busy schedule. He was only able to spend a few days with the orchestra in preparation for this concert.  

“The level is extremely high here at Stony Brook and it’s had that reputation for many years as one of the premier graduate institutions for Western classical music and new music. It’s been a very enjoyable process,” Parnther said. 

The concert concluded with momentous applause and a standing ovation. The orchestra will be hosting its last concert of the semester on Dec. 2.

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