Arts & Culture / Featured / Mosaic / February 11, 2015

From Beethoven to Brahms: A Night with the Knox-Galesburg Symphony

Last Saturday, musically-inclined students and Galesburg residents came together in Kresge to watch the Knox-Galesburg Symphony’s First Chairs Forward, a recital which showcased the virtuosity of three prominent chamber musicians: clarinetist Eric Ginsberg, cellist Carolyn Suda, an adjunct music professor at Knox, and pianist Dr. Bruce Polay, chair of Knox’s music department. As head of the music department, Polay understood that First Chairs Forward would draw attention to the prestige of Knox’s symphony.

“[The Knox-Galesburg Symphony] is as integral to the college as any program and has a tremendous amount of town-and-gown,” said Polay. “It represents and reflects the quality of the college nationally and internationally.”

The recital began with The Trio in B-flat Major, an early work by the immortal romantic composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

“[The piece is] Beethoven, but it doesn’t sound like Beethoven,” Polay explained in an interview. By selecting one of Beethoven’s early works, Polay hoped to focus on the technical influences that inspired Beethoven early in his career. “In the Beethoven Trio, what you hear is this light, witty character of courtly aristocratic music [which predated Beethoven].”

After performing Beethoven’s neo-classicist piece, Ginsberg left the stage and Suda and Polay took a large stylistic leap and performed the more avant-garde, neo-romanticist piece “Cello Sonata in C Major” by the Russian modernist composer Serge Prokofiev.

“In this piece, [Prokofiev is] taking some of the old and reinventing it into the new,” said Polay.

When asked about the stylistic range in the pieces he selected, Polay displayed his impressive knowledge of music; yet he effectively used his humorous notes to make his performance more engaging and the music more relatable. When describing Serge Prokofiev, for example, he focused on the idiosyncratic mannerisms of the composer that most textbooks never mention.

“Prokofiev was very smart. He was also an incredible egotist and he kind of flipped you off every so often by saying, ‘I’m going to write something that’s so in your face and you won’t understand it,’ ” Polay explained.

After a 15-minute intermission, Ginsberg and Polay took the stage to perform an original piece by Polay entitled “Flight of Fancy.”

“I thought it was pretty cool that we were the first [people] to actually listen to it because [First Chairs Forward] was the first time that he actually played [Flight of Fancy] in public,” said freshman Joya Kitoko.

According to Polay, Ginsberg’s sheer technical virtuosity was enough to inspire the piece. “Our principal clarinet has tremendous technique; he gets all over the place. So I wrote this technique to fit Eric; it gets all over the place. There are aspects where the clarinet is just taking off, just playing a whole bunch of notes. I hope people [enjoyed watching] Eric just [working] fluidly through all that technique.”

The final piece of the recital was one that Polay was particularly ecstatic about: “The Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Violoncello” by the German Romantic composer Johannes Brahms.

“[It’s] four movements of brilliance,” said Polay. “It’s like sitting by the fireplace on a cold night because it is so beautiful; it has so many beautiful aspects to it. But embedded in that beauty if the granite of techniques that mountains are built on. And that kind of granite is why we not only love Brahms because of the music É but the sheer brilliance of the music intellectually.”

The students that attended the recital found it to be an illuminating and inspiring experience.

“The fact that I saw my teacher [Polay] actually perform gave me the motivation to start playing the piano [and studying music],” said Kitoko.

Stefan Torralba

Tags:  artist Beethoven Brahms bruce polay composer concert kresge music

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