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Students featured in University Symphony Orchestra season closer

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Jeff Bell-Hanson leading the PLU orchestra
May 2, 2016

The Pacific Lutheran University Symphony Orchestra will close its 2015-16 season with a blend of brand new works and twentieth-century masterpieces. The concert on Tuesday, May 10 at 8pm, features violinist Laura Hillis ’17 and composer Emilio Gonzalez ’16, and will be conducted by Jeffrey Bell-Hanson.

The concert opens with a new orchestral fanfare, Bright Light Rising, by Scott Taube. Concerto competition winner Laura Hillis will perform the first movement of the Korngold Violin Concerto, and a work by student composer, Emilio Gonzalez will receive its world premiere, Obsession.

Gonzalez studies music composition and has written pieces covering a wide range of mediums, from percussion solos to wind ensemble pieces. Obsession is his first time writing for symphony orchestra.

“I have always been fascinated with movie music and this piece is my interpretation of movie music for the concert hall,” Gonzalez explains. “In some ways, Obsession became a battle between two opposing themes. The two different themes each have their own section, before the final section, where both themes are layered together – almost like some sort of inner battle.”

Hillis performs after Obsession. She has been preparing Korngold’s Violin Concerto since last spring. The piece is romantic, sentimental, and shows a huge range of emotions. The Viennese composer wrote the piece in the U.S. while writing music for film. The grand gestures and emotional melodies resemble American movie music style.

“I am captivated by its drama and challenged to portray all the emotion it demands,” Hillis explains. “It’s draining, but it’s a blast. It has taken a lot of mental and physical energy to prepare the concerto, but I had a lot of help along the way.”

Hillis was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, where she studied violin with Rudolf Sternadel and was a member of the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra and Regina Symphony Orchestra. Hillis started playing violin at the age of five, and has been performing ever since. She is now in her third year performing with PLU’s orchestra.

“The project is collaborative; the orchestra creates momentum and I feed it right back,” Hillis mentions. “So it’s not just about me, even though I get to wear a fancy dress!”

The concert closes with Dmitri Shostakovich’s stirring and controversial Symphony No. 5. The work was Shostakovich’s first major work to appear following his official denouncement from party leaders in 1936. In writing Symphony No. 5,  Shostakovich called it a “Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism.”

The contentious final movement of Symphony No. 5 is often characterized as Shostakovich’s most direct appeal to the Communist Party leaders. The character of the music varies wildly, beginning with a bombastic and excitable march that calms and then coalesces into a menacing developmental section. The finale feels militaristic and triumphant.

Other student soloist winners, Devin Turner and Austin Baduria, will play with the PLU Wind Ensemble on May 15.

Purchase tickets online, at the Concierge Desk in the Anderson University Center and by phone at 253-535-7411. Tickets are $8 General Admission, $5 Senior Citizen and Alumni, and free for PLU Community, any student ID, and 18 and under.