Andover High School was chosen as one of three metro-area high schools to host Symphonic Adventures with the Minnesota Orchestra this year.
Andover students welcomed the ensemble Jan. 20 and packed the auditorium to hear the orchestra’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
The concert, not open to the public, was performed for an audience of music students who were given the opportunity not only to listen to the orchestra play, but also to ask questions of the professional musicians.
Before the concert began, Kristen Bruya, principal bassist with the orchestra, let senior Sofia Burckhardt, who plays the bass in Andover’s orchestra program, hold her instrument – worth more than $100,000.
“It’s incredible to just touch something that has such a rich history,” Burckhardt said.
She and her friends were excited to have the orchestra at their school and expected the performance to be both amazing and humbling.
The concert was hosted by violist Sam Bergman, who spoke with the students about each movement before the first downbeat.
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, written in the late 1870s, is a staple in the Minnesota Orchestra’s repertoire.
Bergman estimated that there was a 20 percent chance students who had attended a performance at Orchestra Hall had heard the ensemble play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
“No matter how many times we program it, it always seems to sell out the house,” Bergman said.
He explained that the piece was a perfect reflection of the man who wrote it, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Brass players pick up a theme intended to represent fate, interrupting lush, swimming melodies again and again to remind audiences that life is full of harsh realities, Bergman said.
Part of Tchaikovsky’s genius is that “he understood pacing, and he understood what his audience was going to need,” Bergman said.
After a powerful first movement and plaintive second movement, the third movement offers respite.
Piccoloist Roma Duncan plays her first note in the third movement and compared her involvement in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony to a kicker’s contribution in a big football game.
“I’m simply not involved in every play,” Duncan said. But “if I miss it, you’ll know.”
After the dramatic final fourth movement, students applauded wildly, giving the orchestra a standing ovation.
Many students had questions for the conductor, Roderick Cox, associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra. What does it take to become a conductor? What goes through your mind on the podium?
“If you can imagine yourself being anything else, don’t be a conductor,” Cox told students.
The job takes so much energy and preparation and comes with much isolation, loneliness and rejection, he said. But it is a job he loves that allows him to dive into the history and traditions behind any given score.
When he is up on the podium flailing his arms, “I’m trying to channel the character of the music,” he said. He is also listening to the ensemble and trying to communicate any adjustments that should be made.
Bergman answered freshman Lum Chi’s question about how one prepares to audition for the Minnesota Orchestra.
Studying one’s instrument and devoting seemingly endless hours to practice are essential, he said. Usually after attending college, individuals begin auditioning for major ensembles, often sending in a tape first before being invited to audition several times in person.
“You walk on stage, and you see no one,” only a screen, he said.
Major orchestras used to be dominated by men, so ensembles began putting up a screen so that they could not judge musicians on anything but the notes they played; the practice has stuck, Bergman said.
“Women flooded into symphony orchestras,” he said.
At the end of the process, the best players are left standing.
“Learn to play like the world can not intimidate you,” Bergman said.
Chi, who plays the violin, is hoping to minor in music some day and would love to wind up in an ensemble as talented as the Minnesota Orchestra, she said.
“I’m never going to stop,” Chi said.
Seeing her students so inspired was a treat for Stacy Griffin, one of Andover High School’s two orchestra conductors.
“It’s so fun for me to see my students get excited,” Griffin said. “The Minnesota Orchestra is incredible.”