Benefit Through Music

an orchestra performance reviewed

There is a belief that music acts as a community healing agent, bringing together like-minded, energetic people whose interests conjoin to support a common cause.

This was the case on December 2nd, as the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, led by Francisco Noya, performed at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. The evening’s benefit aimed to support the New England Hemophilia Association, a group dedicated to researching and aiding patients suffering from internal bleeding disorders—hemophilia treatment being one of the most fatal and costly for its victims.

Many of the patients, donors, supporters, and their families were on hand to enjoy the orchestra’s diverse program of Pärt, Chopin and Schumann. As an added feature, the audience and orchestra had the chance to witness the talent of a rising star, found in 16-year-old virtuoso Alicia Gabriela Martinez of Venezuela.

The first piece was clearly the most interesting of the night, Fratres for Strings and Percussion, by Estonian Arvo Pärt. Mr. Noya led sixty of the eighty piece orchestra for this obscure, yet fascinating work. A minimalist composer, Pärt pioneered a style known as “tintinnabulation,” a semblance to the sound of ringing of bells.

Although less representative of this bell-like quality, Fratres still satisfied in its own right. The harmonized strings moved in and out of a dynamism with incredible subtlety and precision, in the same way the parts of well-oiled machinery interchange. Delicate, quivering notes, followed by bursts of loudness, with a pulsing rhythm underneath, made the theme a memorable one. A percussive section, woodblock and timpani, sounded notes of aplomb and resoluteness in the midst of the mitigating string harmonies.

Ms. Martinez joined the orchestra for Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op.21, an abundant and rich Romantic-era epic. The interchange between orchestra and piano celebrated in a flurry of dynamic musical passages. The strings section swept with a dreamlike wonder, buttressed by the heavy movements of cellos and bass. The piano lines fed the orchestra’s energy with a corresponding power and drive.

The piano performance of Martinez was particularly noteworthy. The lines were handled with an incredible precision and accuracy unsurpassed even by professionals beyond her years. There was little strain heard in the most difficult passages. Her effortlessness in technique and composure as a performer impressed the most resolute skeptics of prodigies.

One blemish, of the non-musical side, surfaced in her otherwise astounding performance. The Steinway piano at the New England Conservatory hampered the brilliance of this young performer’s technical skill. Fast runs, although audible, seemed to blur into indistinctness, due to the weary piano keys, time-worn, in all probability, by years of performances. Although the nature of the orchestral Chopin piece may have not made it the best one during which to judge this mar, Ms. Martinez’s solo encore of a Rachmaninov piano concerto confirmed that the flaws were in the instrument and not the performer.

For the final piece of the evening, Mr. Noya summoned the full eighty pieces of the orchestra in Robert Schumann’s Symphony #3 in E-flat, Op 97. This piece, grand and epic in scale, engaged a full orchestra in a whirlwind of passages, the fruition and culmination of which left no particular impression on the listener other than the fact that every instrument was engaged. A Schumann solo piano piece or concerto, among the composer’s best, would have been more apropos for the evening.

The Longwood Symphony Orchestra is comprised solely of members of Boston’s medical community. Many of the instrumentalists of the eighty-piece orchestra are practicing MD’s as well as students, faculty, and staff at some of Boston’s eighteen hospitals and three medical schools. The orchestra performs exclusively to benefit non-profit charities and medical causes.

It is always an amazing feat when a doctor pursues a sideline career as a classical musician in an orchestra, and yet the occurrences of the phenomenon perpetuate. On the one hand, this crossover makes sense. The presence of an equal proclivity in music and medicine seems natural for one who shows skill in either. Both involve the masterful interrelation between hands and the mind.

Yet, the rigor, discipline, and intellectual capacity necessary to achieve excellence in one of these fields alone requires a tremendous drive. It would seem that there would hardly be time or energy left to pursue the other on the side. A bow of admiration and awe must be extended to these remarkable people.