‘Symphony of Sounds’ celebrates music’s versatility

Derek Delgado sits alone at the piano. His hands jump from side to side, loose as empty rubber gloves caught on fishhooks, only to strike the keys with force and precision, adding each time another layer of complexity to Saint S?ens’ “Toccata” from “Six Etudes pour le piano.” Delgado’s performance was pure virtuosity; next to his entry in my program, I merely scribbled the word “Wow.”

A few minutes later the spotlights turned to solo guitarist Garret Ennis as he performed “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco T?rrega, a brooding piece where all the passion is contained beneath the surface, slyly concealed by involuted ornamentations punctuating a slow tune that unfolds like a story told by a man who has all the time in the world.

This was just one of the sharp contrasts on display at UAA’s annual Symphony of Sounds, which played at the Recital Hall in the Fine Arts Building Feb. 18 and 19. The show was a collaboration of the various musical ensembles currently at work within the UAA music department, including the University Sinfonia, the University Singers, and ensembles devoted to jazz, percussion, wind, guitar and opera.

I’m betraying my Philistine background, as well as my unadulterated geekdom, when I reveal that my first thought reading the program was this would be the musical equivalent of one of those comic books where Spiderman, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and Dr. Strange all team up to fight crime together. It’s a bit of a stretch, but the principle is the same. By presenting such a variety of styles, the Symphony of Sounds managed to avoid the hypnotic effect that many classical performers have to struggle with where several pieces written within the same parameters tend to blend together so as to become almost like variations on a theme.

Instead, Symphony of Sounds served as a reminder of music’s versatility. Performing a selection from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the players of the University Sinfonia approached the work with uncanny focus, acting as mere conduits to the expression of Mozart’s flights of fancy. At the other end of the spectrum, singer Monica Lettner endowed the jazz song “Since I Fell for You” with a personal sense of longing and grief. Performing “El Arroyo que Murmura,” the UAA Guitar Ensemble suggested an austere, dusty landscape imbued with frontier loneliness quite different from the enchanted, boreal fantasy atmosphere depicted in the Percussion Ensemble’s performance of “Finlandia by Sibelius.” This latter performance was a real standout that ranged from playful, Raymond Scott-like tropes to a unified finale in which the combination of percussion instruments achieved a pipe organ sound spiritual and haunting enough to give second thoughts to an atheist.

Other standouts included guitar soloist Adam Weber, flutist Kohei Kimura and soprano Lauren Green, who had delicious fun crying crocodile tears as she decorated herself with diamonds and pearls while singing “Glitter and be Gay” from Bernstein’s “Candide.”

A few of the performances fell short of their promise. The UAA Jazz Ensemble’s rendition of Gordon Goodwin’s “Meet Me at the Carnival” was rousing but felt a little too polished and lacked some of the risky spontaneity that jazz is capable of, and the University Singers could have put some more raw oomph behind Rebecca Cloudy’s solo in the traditional spiritual “Ride the Chariot.” But these shortcomings pale in comparison to the strong musical triumphs, such as the selections from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” which capped off an evening of powerful performances and surprising contrasts.