University Orchestra’s Musical Tale – Cheng Conducts Unique Medley

University Orchestra's Musical Tale - Cheng Conducts Unique Medley

Megan Richards

On Sunday, March 1, the Colgate University Orchestra held one of its four primary concerts of the year, which featured an intricate blend of music ranging from triumphant symphonies to works depicting the characters and themes from an ancient Persian tale. Professor of Music and Conductor of the Colgate University Orchestra Marietta Cheng chose this interesting blend of songs in order to feature various instruments and highlight the high level of talent of the student and professional musicians in the orchestra.

“It is wonderful to have works that challenge each other within the performance,” Cheng said. “[Claude Debussy’s] ‘Danses’ following a work by Mozart shows the contrast between the 18th and 20th centuries. The juxtaposition is just fascinating. The contrast of the history versus music versus what was happening in the composers’ lives adds a lot of thoughtfulness to the program.”

During this past weekend’s concert, the orchestra played four pieces: Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Danse Slave,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Symphony No. 35 in D Major,” Claude Debussy’s “Danses” and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

The first piece, “Danse Slave,” was an upbeat and triumphant dance with great utilization of pizzicato, a musical device where sound is produced by plucking the instruments’ strings. In contrast, “Danses,” a piece that featured harpist Deete Bunn, began in a melodic and peaceful manner but would often slow to a mysterious and haunting melody.

The most anticipated piece of the concert, however, was Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” which depicted musically the story of Scheherazade in the Persian tale “One Thousand and One Nights.” This story is about a bitter Sultan who, in an attempt to spite his first wife, marries and then executes a different girl every night. One girl, however, Scheherazade, marries the Sultan, but does not finish her gripping story by the morning, forcing the Sultan to keep her alive for another day. This process continues until the Sultan finally realizes the error of his ways and falls in love with the young girl. Teacher of Music and Concertmaster Michael Cleveland’s violin solo illustrated Scheherazade’s tale while the loud brass section represented the Sultan’s merciless rule. The piece began with strong, ominous brass, which flowed gradually into Cleveland’s violin solo.

Cleveland, who also teaches violin at Colgate and has received an “Outstanding Educator Award,” has served as Concertmaster for the Colgate University Orchestra for the past 13 years.

Conductor Cheng, who has been conducting for the Colgate University Orchestra since 1993, has a wide repertoire of experience as well, including conducting for the Corning Philharmonic, the Chatauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, in addition to serving as Conductor Laureate of the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes. Besides her conducting experience, Cheng has appeared at Carnegie Hall to speak on composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, on the radio to discuss prominent female music figures and, most recently, as a contributor to The New York Times editorial section.

Despite her impressive resumé, Cheng has a strong love for the devoted students in the Colgate University Orchestra.

“My inspiration is definitely the students,” Cheng said. “I am always astounded by the difference between the first rehearsal and the talent level by the time of the concert. They go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just five or six weeks.”

Cheng’s devotion to the Colgate University Orchestra inspires her orchestra members to strive for their very best, but it is ultimately her passion for bringing the music alive that makes her such a successful conductor.

“Musically, I am always interested in how we can be emotional-how the notes on a sheet of music can really move people,” Cheng said. “I love seeing how we can turn the black-and-white pages to something vivid. I want to focus on bringing out the sound and the motives behind the music.”