Student Symphony

Williams Student Symphony
"The Unanswered Question"

Brian Simalchik ’10 and Noah Fields ’11, conductors

Passport – Dept. Ensemble

Never content to plod the easy path of standard orchestral repertoire, Williams Student Symphony presents another intriguing concert sure to fire the imagination.

The orchestra features the best known work of the fascinating composer Charles Ives. The Unanswered Question is a work far ahead of its time. Ives, an extremely successful businessman, was a true American original whose prodigious output gained him recognition only after his best years were lived. Ives’s work predated many of the techniques and philosophies of modern music, and he developed them in relative isolation.  n this piece, a solo trumpet presents an existential question to the ethers which is answered (or not) by a furious chaos of “answers”. Through the whole work there is a third underlying element consisting of a string choral which for Ives represents “the silence of the Druids.” What is the resolution? The listener will get the point, when the final tones fall.

Ives, though he worked in another era, would have found a friend with Jonny Greenwood, who in contrast to Ives found fame and fortune in music prior to writing for orchestra. A member of the popular and critically acclaimed group Radiohead, he has, also like Ives, developed a second life. Popcorn Superhet Receiver is a product of this other creative outlet. A tantalizing mélange of sound using alternate techniques for string orchestra, this piece offers a new angle on radio listening.

Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy provides a profound contrast to both Ives and Greenwood. An impressionistic work about childhood, one can marvel at how listenable modernism can be, and wonder at the profound influence one composer can have almost a hundred years after his death.

The Williams College Student Symphony is a 50-member orchestra conducted and administered by students, Brian Simalchik ’10 and Noah Fields ’11 with sponsorship by the Department of Music. The Student Symphony performs two to three times per year.

Past repertoire has included traditional orchestral works such as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Suite, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Brahms’ Tragic Overture, and Smetana’s Moldau. The orchestra has also performed 20th-century American music by Ives, Copland, and Barber. In addition, award-winning composer Donald Erb visited the Symphony to supervise a rehearsal of Treasure in the Snow, a work of his which was then presented in a spring concert. The Symphony also performs works by student composers, including Celestial Episode by Judd Greenstein ’01 and Gesture I by Andrea Mazzariello ’00.