Several challenges may have been anticipated for the Brown University Orchestra when conductor Brandon Keith Brown was relieved of his orchestra duties just one week before the first orchestra concert of the academic year.
But as the musicians delivered a masterful performance to a packed Sayles Hall Friday and Saturday night, it seemed clear that the abrupt transition in conducting duties had not hindered them.
Under the baton of guest conductor Daniel Harp, teaching associate in music, the orchestra plunged into Brahms’ Symphony No.1 in C Minor, impressing members of the audience. “(Brahms’s First Symphony) is a great piece and (the orchestra) did a splendid job with it,” said Katie Byrnes ’21, a member of the audience on Saturday night.
The piece, which comprises four movements, was composed by Brahms over a period of at least 14 years, Harp noted before the performance. It is a manifestation of Brahms’ inner turmoil and the emotion that he was otherwise unable to express, Harp further explained. “Any time there is a break, or a lyrical moment, it reverts very quickly back to some kind of turmoil.”
Harp described the first movement as a “storm of emotion.” Following the “storm,” the second movement starts off innocently, almost like a love song, Harp said. But within four measures, the piece crescendoes. It seems as though “(Brahms) just can’t hold onto a simple motion for very long,” Harp explained. On the other hand, he noted that the third movement is a beautiful intermezzo — carefree, away from the turmoil. A contrasting fourth movement that “seems philosophical — dark, full of destiny” followed, as Harp described. This movement ends with a dramatic, triumphant finale, proficiently executed by the orchestra.
Although Harp only began working with the orchestra as a conductor Tuesday, the musicians themselves had been practicing for the concert since the academic year began. Harp denied having faced any obstacles due to the unusual circumstances preceding the concert.
“The previous conductor was actually very effective in rehearsals,” Harp told The Herald. “The reason that there was a change made was not musical, so that’s an advantage.”
“What we had to do was work together to figure out how I wanted them to play the piece,” he continued. “I could not second guess the other conductor and try to figure out how he was doing it.” Fortunately, on account of Harp’s conducting experience and familiarity with the work being performed, this did not prove to be a demanding task, he said.
While it is uncommon for a transition in conducting duties to precede a performance, members of the orchestra agreed that the adjustment was seamless. Violonist Sara Shapiro ’20 expressed that she was thankful Harp was able to step in. “He’s doing a fantastic job and making a really good situation of something that wasn’t so good before.”
Evan Browning ’18, vice president of the orchestra, shared a similar sentiment. It has been “a whirlwind of a week,” he told the audience before the performance began. But Harp’s “talent with music and willingness to engage with students” was what made the transition smooth, he said.
Harp was confident in the orchestra’s ability to execute a successful performance. “They’re playing very well,” he said before the concert of Friday. “It’s going to go beautifully.”
“Not everyone might play perfectly,” he added. “But mistakes don’t matter. It’s the grand scheme of things.”