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“Starry Nights” orchestral showcase lights up the night

Professor of Music, Cello and Chamber Music Colin Carr is the artistic director of the “Starry Nights” programs at the Staller Center for the Arts. The program is presented twice a year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE STALLER CENTER

“Starry Nights,” an artist’s journey celebrating the classical works of Mendelssohn, Aperghis and Beethoven, was an orchestral blend of two ensembles driven by acoustic, dynamic performances by world-renowned artists that are also university staff and students, on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the Staller Center for the Arts.

Under the direction of music professor and world-renowned cellist Colin Carr, the classical pieces were performed acoustically in an intimate setting of a recital hall, including professor in graduate performance and violinist Arnaud Sussmann, doctoral alumna and violinist Joanna Kaczorowska, doctoral students and violinists Brian Bak and Anna Tsukervanik, professor in graduate performance and violist Matthew Lipman, violist Larry Dutton, doctoral alumnus and cellist Sean Hawthorne and doctoral student and pianist Miki Aoki.

The night started with the violin and cello performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major op. 20, featuring the songs Allegro Moderato ma con fuoco, Andante, Scherzo: Allegro Leggierissimo and Presto.

“I love Mendelssohn and always enjoy coming here to see it performed live,” Alfred Lieffrig, a vascular surgeon from Smithtown, said.

His daughter, Selene Lieffrig, said that her father is a fan of Mendelssohn. “Ever since he was five, he always enjoyed playing the piano,” Lieffrig said. “He has always been a huge fan of the classical works by Mendelssohn, and to see it perform live was very special.”

There was a drastic change in musical direction from moving classical pieces to erratic percussion sounds performed on bongos in the second set. The percussionist trio of Department of Music Professor Eduardo Leandro, masters student John Ling and Shane Mulligan creatively demonstrated their view on how we perceive sound through the works of Georges Aperghis, a Greek composer famous in the field of experimental musical theater and composer of non-programmatic chamber music.

During the Georges Aperghis set, there were various rhythms, shouting and yelling and occasional explanations of the purpose and meaning of various parts of the performance. That was something the audience did not expect to hear but was truly interesting and educational, bringing awareness to how everyone perceives sounds differently.

Considering there weren’t any sound enhancements, the power of the combined acoustic instruments alone was incredible. It really made you think how we, as a society, have forgotten the simplicity of musical performances without these aids.

While observing the audience, there were people mumbling that this performance was an odd collection of bongo noises and an array of abstract sounds. Like some other audience members, the Lieffrigs didn’t like the second act.

“We did not understand the second act,” Selene Lieffrig said. “It was a bunch of noise.”

However, the point was to highlight how we don’t think when there is noise. They tried to show the audience how exposure to loud and busy sounds opens our minds to having a single focus. When introduced suddenly to silence, our minds are released to many patterns of thinking. The audience didn’t quite capture this idea and most of them did complain leaving the theater afterwards.

The second act had both funny and serious moments throughout, which was entertaining because of the odd and confused facial and body reactions the performers displayed, along with the sounds that they made during the percussion performance.  

The last act featured the three piece ensemble of violinist Sussmann, cellist Carr and pianist Aoki, that again was magnificent with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major op. 97. The featured Beethoven songs — Allegro moderato, Scherzo Allegro and Andante cantabile — can be easily described as blissful, tranquil melodies. Like the first act, this trio performed with a passionate drive, receiving in a standing ovation and cheers of excitement from the audience.

“Most musicians if they had to choose an influential composer, you’re going to hear Beethoven most of the time,” Carr said after a rehearsal for the show on Tuesday, Oct. 16. “Now, more than 200 years later, it still resonates and shocks you which was his intention.”  

Carr expressed appreciation to the Stony Brook community for their involvement in classical music. Faculty and students collaborated in both the production and the performance of the event.

“The outside community has very much embraced it, and they love it,” Carr said. “ It is also educational for students because in every piece we have the faculty and students working together.”

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