The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Physics major makes an impact with the Mac Orchestra

By Michael Richter

The Mac Weekly spoke with Lee Littlejohn ’10 about playing as a soloist with the Macalester Orchestra. The orchestra will perform this Saturday at 8:00 in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center.TMW: What are you performing in Saturday’s concert?

LL: I will be playing the first movement of the Elgar cello concerto in E minor.

TMW: What made you choose the piece?

LL: Well, it was the very first symphony concert I ever went to when I was fifteen. That was the piece that was played and it was gorgeous. I had never heard a proper symphony before and it was absolutely incredible.

TMW: How would you describe the style of the piece?

LL: It’s very much a romantic piece. Elgar typically wrote pomp and circumstance, and all these stately English marches before World War One. Then the war came along, and he didn’t write any of that. He was depressed. World War One kind of screwed up everybody’s happy vision of English empire. And then he had tonsil surgery, and when he was recovering at his country house he could hear the bombs and artillery across the channel. So all this emotion was pent up, and when he was coming out of his anesthesia, he had this melody in his head. He thought he could do something with it because it was so powerful, so he put it down in his cello concerto. It’s completely unlike anything else that he ever wrote. The cello concerto is now canonical cello music, which is what he really expected.

TMW: When you’re developing your own interpretation, are these the types of things you think about?

LL: Yeah, definitely in this case because last semester I took Casey Jarrin’s Vietnam War cinema class. It was all about the horrors of war, and what really struck me in the different movies was how scenes were soundtracked, like in the Ride of the Valkyrie scene in “Apocalypse Now.” We were shown these horrible Vietnam War photographs, and I’m learning this piece that’s all about the sadness inherent in war and our brothers and sons lost. So it’s all going through my head. When it’s played, you can really hear what he wrote it for. But my own artistic interpretation is really just trying to hit all the notes.

TMW: What is it like playing against an orchestra?

LL: It’s really difficult. You don’t get to look at them, you look outwards, it’s harder to hear yourself. You can’t be very free with the tempo because they have to follow you, but it’s a lot of fun. Hearing everyone else come in when they are supposed to and then they die out and you come in, it’s really fun.

TMW: Is there extra pressure to bring out the interpretation of the music?

LL: Sure, all the attention is on the soloist. Throughout the entire piece, I carry the melody. There are only a couple small spots where I pass it to the orchestra quickly, and they pass it back. But, yes, there’s a ton of pressure, I’m nervous as hell.

TMW: Do you have a major role in any of the other pieces being performed?

LL: Yeah, in the flute concerto I get a couple of solos where I take the melody from the flute while she does arpeggios. I stay in the background, but the melody is mine. I’m excited about that because it’s a really pretty melody, and it’s different from the more romantic Elgar. So I’m happy to be playing that because it’s a different style.

TMW: Any other thoughts on the concerto concert in general?

LL: It’s great that it gives non-music majors a chance to compete and actually do the thing, because there’s no opportunity for me to do this anywhere else. At any big state school the orchestra wouldn’t let the physics major come in and audition. They would just laugh.

The other pieces are also really good. The other soloists are incredible. Michelle, who is singing, has an incredible voice, and I had no idea. And the pianist was flawless when we rehearsed her piece. The flute concerto is also great. So it’s all good music. Come out and support the orchestra!

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