Washburn Symphony returns to WU stage

Brian Allen

Crisp and cool, Oct. 16 was a good night for indoor entertainment at White Concert Hall. The Washburn Symphony Orchestra, fresh from its Midwestern tour, treated homecoming visitors to a classical music program.

Perhaps appropriate for homecoming week, when schools make an effort to welcome visitors and alumni, Thomas Taylor Dicky was the guest conductor and alumna Clara Hoa Zhang, was the featured soloist.

Conductor Dicky is the assistant conductor of the University of Georgia Symphony Orchestra, University of Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Athena Grand Opera Company. Having lead Washburn’s Symphony Orchestra during its tour of Garden City and Fort Hays, he and the orchestra were well practiced and eager to present the program to the home audience.

The opening number was The Moldau: Symphonic Poem No. 2 from “My Fatherland” by Bedrich Smetana. It opened with the plucking of violin strings suggestive of rain drops that joined the rest of the orchestra, flowing into streams through the Bohemian Czech countryside into majestic rivers. It was a mellow musical journey.

Admittedly I am not schooled in the nuances of orchestral music but I enjoyed the Slavonic Dances I and IV, Opus 46 by Antonin Dvorak. They reminded me of my youthful introduction to classical music by the Disney film, Fantasia. Though the music was different, the delight of closing your eyes and letting your imagination intertwine with the music was the same.The Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor” by Alexander Borodin brought the prince’s army marching into the hall to do battle with the Khan. Nothing evokes a marshal conflict like the deep beat of the kettle drum.

After a full serving of orchestral delights, the dessert of the evening was the Piano Concerto in C major No. 1, Opus 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The piano soloist was born in China as Hoa Zhang, she added the easier to pronounce western name, “Clara, after Clara Schumann, a famous 19th century female pianist.” Seemingly born to play she started studying music at 3 and won the National Keyboard Competition in China at age 7.

She earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in piano performance at Washburn in 2005 and her master’s at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Currently a performing and teaching artist in New York City, she has performed in venues from Lincoln Center to Beijing. Happy to return to Washburn, she brought all her skills to bare earning a rousing standing ovation.Afterwards, Conductor Thomas Taylor Dickey said the concert went, “fantastically.”

“The strength of the orchestra is the incredible high level of energy each student brings to each rehearsal and performance. I see it in their eyes, I hear it in their playing and its contagious, just wonderful,” said Dicky.

He advises Washburn students to “come to every concert you possibly can, if not, you are missing out on a phenomenal opportunity. In my very humble opinion this orchestra has the potential to become the best orchestra in Kansas.”