The Thunder and Lightning Orchestra Storms the Chapel

The Chapel was packed for Sunday afternoon’s debut performance by Thunder and Lightning Orchestra. Sponsored by the Colgate Arts Council, Professor Marietta Cheng conducted 13 virtuosi string musicians in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” and Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” The concert was a huge success, with live streaming, a well-attended reception and standing applause.

Cheng, who chose the music herself, danced to “Serenade for Strings” as a child in ballet, and it remains one of her favorite pieces. It has been used in a number of famous ballets, and is comprised of a sonata, a waltz, an elegy and a finale.

“Four Seasons” was the piece that inspired Thunder and Lightning Orchestra’s name. A set of four concertos – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – each broken into three movements, it was written as accompaniment to four seasonal sonnets, which Vivaldi may have also written. “Four Seasons” is one of the most famous classical works of all time, and it was the final movement of “Summer,” in which a thunderstorm breaks out, that inspired the name.

Even for a person who doesn’t listen to much classical music, both pieces were very enjoyable. It was easy to see and appreciate the musicians’ focus and effort, from huge sweeping motions to tiny, incredibly precise movements. The cameras for the live stream were projected on screens behind the musicians, so the audience could see close-up shots of them as they played, focusing intently on Cheng. As expressive as the musicians were, it was hard not to clap after every movement of the “Serenade,” and some audience members were humming along as they enjoyed the expressive strings.

There was a brief intermission before “Four Seasons,” which featured a solo by Korean-American violinist Kristin Lee. To give some context, well over a page was devoted to Lee’s accomplishments, including upcoming engagements, prizes and honors, past performances and memberships, in addition to an ordinary biography. Lee, a renowned musician, has had unprecedented success at a young age, and Cheng introduced her part in “Four Seasons” with a brief analysis.

“At times the soloist has to be distinct from the nature of [the orchestra] – notice the opposition of the individual to the group, that’s very important. At other times, the tables are turned…Four Seasons contains all sorts of technical innovations. Today, we are delighted that our soloist knows every trick in the bag-and could probably teach Vivaldi one or two,” said Cheng.

“Serenade for Strings” and “Four Seasons” were both beautiful, but watching Lee’s hands move on the violin was the most fun part of the night. For long periods of time it looked as though she had her eyes closed, feeling the music rather than seeing it, while her fingers danced and her bow skittered quickly through the notes. She didn’t just use her musical skills to express the moods of the music though; from minute to minute and season to season, she involved her whole body into communicating the passion and beauty of the piece.

Although Colgate students were a very small minority in the audience, the performance could actually have been a fantastic study break; according to the program, a March 2013 psychology article found that people were more vigilant and less distracted after listening to Vivaldi’s Spring Concerto, the first movement of the Four Seasons. So consider using classical music as white noise while you work – and paying more attention to  the many entertaining musical opportunities on campus.

Contact Lee Tremblay at