The Emory University Symphony Orchestra (EUSO) will tour New York City and explore the spirit of Stalinist Russia during the weekend, battling bitter cold weather while wielding instruments meant to provoke the hearts and wallets of those in attendance.
The EUSO, comprised of 104 students, will travel to New York City on Thursday, where it will play at a Campaign Emory event. Some notable audience members include President of Emory Alumni Board Crystal Edmonson (’95C), President James W. Wagner and Donna and Marvin Schwartz of the University’s own Schwartz Center.
The orchestra will headline at the Marriott Marquis off Times Square, an exciting venue for the orchestra members, who are looking forward to visiting sites such as Carnegie Hall and the skating rink in Central Park.
The musical excellence of the EUSO will be called upon to entice the major donors and alumni in attendance — part of an effort to support the University’s Strategic Plan. To showcase the University’s talent during the event, Director of Orchestral Studies Richard Prior selected short and entertaining pieces, including scores by Gioachino Rossini, Antonin Dvorak, Jean Sibelius and Edward Elgar.
The second concert EUSO has been preparing for is its performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor on Friday night at the Lincoln Center. The piece is both physically and emotionally demanding, resonating from Shostakovich’s purpose for composing it. The piece is a direct response to Joseph Stalin’s condemnation of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which was deemed primitive and vulgar. As a result, Shostakovich tabled his already completed Fourth Symphony in favor of the Fifth, which was first performed for an emotionally-involved audience in Leningrad on Nov. 21, 1937. The symphony spans 45 minutes but was purportedly given a 40-minute standing ovation at the premier.
The emotions of anger toward the Stalinist regime and its stifling artistic policies are felt not only by the audience 70 years ago but also by the players today. The emotional rigor transcends the movements, making it a wonderful showcase for the EUSO to demonstrate its skill under physical and technical demands.
“Aside from the piece itself which is big enough, the amount of time and complexity that the piece entails to play ... really says a lot about where the program has come from and where we are headed,” College senior and section cello Lara Ortega said.
Each of the four movements in the piece signify a particular emotion or message.
The first movement, “Moderato,” begins the symphony with a cry of despair, followed by the waltz-like “Allegretto,” intended to mock the Stalinist regime. The third movement, “Largo,” is “one of the most despairing pieces ever written,” said College senior and principle trumpet Evan Gottlieb.
“It is a memorial for Mother Russia. At the time, this was a very political piece and people were crying at the third movement,” he added.
The symphony’s longest movement is the fourth, “Allegro non Troppo,” a very technical piece comprised of a march commenting on Soviet Russia’s forced acceptance of the regime.
“On the surface, [Shostakovich’s] music can appear really bright and really happy, but you listen closely and you hear the darkness and the pain that’s associated with it as well,” College senior and concertmaster Katie Lee said.
As for the appearance by the Schwartzes, the members of the orchestra look forward to the chance to prove themselves and show their gratitude for the Center.
“We are just really excited to say thanks for all of the money and the donations that they have contributed, giving us our beautiful hall and amazing instructors,” Lee said.
The orchestra typically tours once every three years, but participating in the Campaign Emory event is a new experience for the group.
“What we are really doing is continuing to cultivate the philanthropic relationship with current donors and new donors, as well as cultivate relationships with alumni,” Prior said.
Campaign Emory, a fund-raising effort that supports the University’s strategic initiatives, holds events to raise awareness for the event and to thank donors.
“We chose to link this to a Campaign Emory event, so we weren’t just going on a tour but also serving the broader interests of the University right now,” Prior said.
Aside from being able to perform for alumni and prominent University figures, orchestra members embraced the opportunity to assist the University.
“It’s just nice to go on tour with a purpose for your institution,” Lee said. “I think it’s really important to show we are really a core part of this University.”
The symphony orchestra brings this performance to the Schwartz Center on March 5 at 8 p.m., where the fortunate Atlanta community can experience the energy and artistic abilities of the EUSO for free.
— Contact Christina White