By Dan Nolan
On Saturday night in Rosse Hall, Conductor and Professor of Music Benjamin Locke advanced to the podium without an introduction and dove right into a performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The piece was the first of three stand-alone works performed at the Winter Concert by the Knox County Symphony, an orchestra composed of Kenyon students, professors and Knox County residents. In addition to the orchestra’s three works, the program included five compositions for soloists accompanied by the full orchestra.
The orchestra performed the opening piece precisely and fluidly, with each short section referencing images like hatching chicks and catacombs. It concluded with the famous section “The Great Gate of Kiev,” complete with its epic, soaring melody in the brass section. After this impressive opening, the orchestra performed two more pieces and featured five vocal, piano and violin soloists.
The featured soloists were the first- and second-place winners of both the high school and college divisions of Knox County’s Young Musicians Competition, held annually in October and co-sponsored by Psi Iota Xi the philanthropic organization. The soloists were Aubrey Bailey and Nicholas DeWalt from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Mark Fongheiser from Mount Vernon High School, Kenyon student Alayne Wegner ’17 and Rachel E. Lee, who is homeschooled.
The high-point of the night came from Wegner, whose nearly 20-minute solo violin performance in Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor prompted a standing ovation. Her intense performance of this complex piece earned her first place in the college division.
Wegner has been perfecting the piece since she first started playing it sophomore year, but still stated that there was a lot to learn for this performance. “It has a lot of extended technique that I wasn’t used to,” she said, “It’s like learning to work with new muscles.” Standing in front of the orchestra without sheet music, Wegner claimed that memorizing the extremely complex and lengthy part was no challenge. “While memorizing for classes is difficult for me, music comes easily,” she said.
At one point during the performance, Locke stopped the orchestra after a wind player missed an entrance. Though a little unsettled by the event, Wegner noticed the error immediately and was relieved the orchestra was able to bounce back so quickly.
Standing alone center stage, Wegner said one of her biggest obstacles was nerves. “Playing as a soloist is very different from playing as a part of an orchestra — it feels very exposed,” she said. After the lengthy and trying performance, Wegner said she felt “relief, just complete relief” when her performance was met with a standing ovation. “It was really, really powerful.”
Graduating this spring with a double major in music and sociology, Wegner is applying to summer music festivals to pursue a career in violin performance. One of her long-term goals is to become part of a traveling small chamber ensemble. Wegner calls chamber music an “intimate form of art” that will allow her to combine a soloist performance with the group aspect of performing in an orchestra.
The Knox County Symphony’s Spring Concert will take place on Sunday, April 30, 2017 in Rosse Hall featuring Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor.