GT Symphony orchestra enthralls audience at Ferst

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About 500 students, faculty and guests joined the Georgia Tech Symphony Orchestra (GTSO) on the afternoon of Nov. 6, at the Ferst Center for the Arts for their first performance of the season.

The event’s program included Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring Jesse Zhao, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9. The title of the afternoon’s program comes from “New World Symphony,” the name that Czech composer Antonin Dvorák gave to his ninth and final symphony, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1893.

The Sunday performance signified the first time that the GTSO held a concert under its own name.

“I thought it was fantastic. I was really proud of the students …. This has been a big step forward for the orchestra,” said Andrea Brown, conductor of the GTSO and recently acquired professor to the School of Music.

The orchestra’s concertmaster was first chair violin Shuo Qian, an IE major. The program opened with the overture from Egmont, part of a score Beethoven composed for a play of the same name.

The highlight of the afternoon was guest soloist Jesse Zhao, a first-year MATH major, and his rendition of the Chopin Piano Concerto. His technical skill and showmanship on the piano was a hit with the audience.

The piano concerto, written by a 20-year-old Chopin, brought him fame as both a composer and performer early in his career.

“It was a really fun performance. It’s always a great experience to play on stage in front of so many people and I got to play in front of so many friends. [It’s] a real once in a lifetime opportunity,” Zhao said.

The orchestra itself consists largely of engineering students who are willing to devote time to rehearse twice a week for about ninety minutes during class time.

“I really enjoy working with students that are choosing to be part of the ensembles because they want to play music, not because they have to. The students see music as a break, release or creative outlet,” Brown said.

The students’ passion for music was evident in the symphony’s second movement. The orchestra’s performance brought the sweeping lyricism of the composition justice, evoking the spirit of Negro spirituals and Native American folk songs in which Dvorák immersed himself.

Students in the audience gave a favorable review of the orchestra’s performance.

“I really enjoyed it. The New World Symphony is a really well known American symphony,” said Daniel White, a fifth-year ME major.

It was interesting to note the number of heads that turned on the opening measures of the finale, presumably from realizing that the iconic theme from Jaws was actually borrowed from a Czech composer more than a century ago.

More than once, the symphony gave listeners unfamiliar with classical music a chance to finally put a name on familiar melodies.

At the concert’s end, the audience gave the GTSO a standing ovation as Zhao walked onstage to give Dr. Brown a congratulatory bouquet of flowers. The performance left quite an impression on the concertgoers; many were whistling themes from the symphony as they exited the Ferst Center.