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Colgate’s conductor, Marietta Cheng, to debut new ensemble on Sunday

By Kellyann Hayes '16 on September 13, 2013
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On Sunday, September 15, a new musical ensemble— the Thunder and Lightning Orchestra — will debut at Colgate with a special free concert. Under the direction of Professor Marietta Cheng, 13 virtuoso string musicians will fill  Memorial Chapel with the melodies of Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky at 3:30 pm.

The concert’s repertoire will provide a nice balance of sound: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, featuring acclaimed violin soloist Kristin Lee, and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 48.

Cheng said she chose the Four Seasons as a historical baroque-period piece: the small ensemble is similar in size to ensembles that would have played it in Vivaldi’s time. It is also from this piece that the orchestra’s name is derived: four sonnets, each describing a different season representing one movement, accompany it. “Thunder and Lightning” is directly related to the storm that breaks out in one of the sonnets, and, therefore, in the movement titled “Summer.”

In contrast, the Tchaikovsky offers a soft ballad. Cheng confides that part of the reason for choosing this piece is that it is simply one of her favorites. She reminisced that as a child at ballet class, her teacher would always play Tchaikovsky, and she admits that, in dancing to Serenade for Strings in the studio, she “developed a love for it.”

Cheng said she was led to the idea of creating a new orchestra while brainstorming ideas with the Colgate Arts Council to bring more arts programming to Colgate. “We want exceptional, interdisciplinary events,” she said. “We were trying to come up with ideas that will celebrate the arts at Colgate and show their exuberance.” Further, Cheng was inspired to follow Colgate’s age-old numerical tradition, by forming a group with 13 players.

The ensemble features alumni of the Juilliard School of Music from New York City and the upstate area. Among the alumni is soloist Kristin Lee. An accomplished violinist who has played appeared as a soloist with distinguished ensembles such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, and Rochester Philharmonic, Lee was also a winner of Astral Artist’s 2010 National Auditions, just one of her many honors.

Working with such a small group of musicians is tricky; when every individual voice can be heard, each player becomes even more vital, said Cheng. “With such a small ensemble, you’re approaching sound in a different way,” she explained. “The sound is lean, you’re dealing with texture, and it can be very edgy.” Showcasing such a unique sound, the small orchestra is a refreshing new offering that is sure to captivate audiences for years to come.

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