An American in Paris

An American in Paris

The orchestra had a proud and majestic sound. That’s all I could think for the first five minutes of the performance. The half-professional half-student orchestra had me awed. Then, of course, I noticed that the Conductor and Professor of Music Marietta Cheng had on the loveliest dress I had seen in a long time.

A variety of factors (acoustics of the room, excellent conducting, good placement) led to an orchestra sound that was an extraordinary amalgamation of different sounds. I tried to break it down to one sound, but I could not. As the quote from Amadeus goes, “With music… with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time and it’s not noise, it’s a perfect harmony.” Each instrument was alive by itself in the rich vast fabric of the orchestra. Just as I tried to catch my breath, muted violins took control of the orchestra and of me. I, of course, could not catch my breath for the rest of the afternoon.

I was hit by an ominously inspiring tune (how is that even possible?) that seamlessly blended into a flowing armada of emotional music that was followed by a veritably playful melody. And back. The cycle complete. And again.

Young kids, students, old and young members of the community were in attendance at the performance. Everyone had their senses fixated on this performance. The winners of the Student Concerto Competition then performed solos with the orchestra.

When sophomore Sarah Gerd, the solo flutist, came up on stage to perform, I was already overwhelmed. And then, the music and the solo shamelessly tugged at the strings of my heart. I was helpless in the ebb and flow of the music. I knew that I hadn’t felt this emotional in a long time.

She was followed by senior Benjamin Bernstein on the violin. I didn’t know if I could stay any longer, but I was hopelessly drawn into the music. The music began with a morosely suspenseful aura that led into an Arabic trance that led into the morosely suspenseful tone that mutated into playful suspense. The solo was immensely beautiful.

Senior Samantha Newmark was the final soloist on the French horn. This piece was painlessly evocative in a way that music has not been for me in a long time. All I could think of was gliding through water and air and slicing through heat and cold with complete impunity when she played her solo. How could I resist the Walt Whitman-esque impulse that took over me?

I could not resist anymore. And just then, the orchestra got ready to perform An American in Paris. Cheng introduced the piece by saying, “Gershwin, the composer of this piece, made a daring move when he decided to introduce jazz and blues to the symphonic orchestra. This was also the first time he conducted. If he had submitted it to a strict composition teacher, he would’ve gotten it back with a lot of red marks. But the melodies… oh, the melodies would’ve gotten an A+. Gershwin said that his head was overflowing with melodies, which led to the creation of this musical kaleidoscope.”

Actual car horns were used for the performance of this piece. The music conjured up an image of, as its title goes, a brash American walking through the streets of Paris. Henry James (author of The American) would’ve been proud of this rendition of the piece. The performance was simultaneously joyful, intimate, cavalier, playfully mysterious, abrupt, fast and slow in alternating turns.

When the rendition of Carmen began, I could almost imagine diametrically opposite stories being told to that music, such as The Canterbury Tales and Pride & Prejudice. In this writer’s point of view (given that I want to be a storyteller,) this was the most life-giving performance and the most tangible, creative storytelling that I heard from musical instruments that afternoon.

The only complaint I had was with the infrequency of the applause. I wanted to burst out clapping every two minutes, but I got very funny stares from the old couple sitting right next to me. Hopefully that formality will not be as strict next time.

Contact Srikar Gullapalli at [email protected].