Review: Piano ensemble implements ‘Learn by doing’

On Thursday, Nov. 21, Cal Poly Collaborative Piano Ensemble held a performance at the Music Recital Hall. The sleek Steinway grand piano stood center stage for talented students to showcase their selected songs. 

The first performance was the piano and trumpet duo, an innovative combination that was pulled off well. 

Impressively, the trumpet player, Joseph Avila, still had the air to beautifully sing “Danza, Danza, Fanciulla Gentile” in a steady tenor. The effort was met with resounding applause. 

The next performance was less harmonious, as cello and piano seemed at battle. The musicians sat steady as their instruments argued back and forth in the song, “It Takes Two.” At one point, the piano had a soft, lingering solo with the cello pulling long and hard beside. A flip from the start, the piece ended in low, resounding unison.

The following performance kept the same mood, with a rendition of the “Theme from Schindler’s List.” The piano, played by Marissa Aronson, introduced the song, but soon the violin’s mournful tones accompanied. With the piano’s back-up, the violin, played by John Galvin, pleaded with the audience and captured the mood of the famous film “Schindler’s List.” One cannot help but remember the impactful black-and-white scenes from the film, including when Gestapo arrested Schindler. 

Alissa Vasquez then took the stage to sing “Ständchen (Serenade),” accompanied by Sophia Lin on the piano. The song is actually a poem set to classical music, called “Lied” in German. Vasquez’s voice held remorse and her demeanor mirrored the sentiment with every powerfully sung stanza.

Vocals continued with the fifth performance, “Waterbird,” sung by Lorraine Gomez. The piece is included in composer Richard Hundley’s book, “Ten Songs for High Voice and Piano.” Gomez did not disappoint. Keeping a serene composure, she hit the notes with apparent ease. At the climax, she smiled as she reached the peak note, waking up the crowd from the more morose early half. 

Next, Galvin returned with the violin and was accompanied by Amelia Kaufman to perform Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 82. Knowing the crowd was awake, the instruments immediately erupted in a flurry of notes in the true spirit of allegro. This fast-paced tempo remained throughout the entire performance, piano and violin claiming the air with urgency.

I finally let out a breath, as the stagehands set for Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 “Ghost.” Two chairs were placed facing each other in front of the piano. On the left, Ilka Bradvica sat with a violin, and on the right, Adrianna Curcio was with the cello and Michael Tran on the piano. The strings began, slowly speaking notes and pulling chords from each other and the piano responded. By the middle of the piece, they were all harmonizing. The ending remained expressive, yet elusive. The musicians, as if resigned, picked the last three notes with their fingers and exited. 

Wearing vibrant pink and purple, violinist Ethan Liao and pianist Kymberly Trieu took the stage. Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21 was played Allegro non troppo (fast, but not very). Notably, Liao had no music stand for reference and instead faced the crowd. Liao’s visible expressions and fervency while playing made up for the absent instruments and made the performance quite unique. 

Breaking up the classical lineup, singer Lauren Ochoa decided to sing “I Love You” from the contemporary artist Billie Eilish’s latest album. All the lights shut and a single spotlight was placed over Ochoa. The piano made a lovely replacement to the original song’s acoustic guitar. The rolling notes hugged Ochoa’s low tones and only paused for the “oh-oh-oh” between the choruses and lingered to stay with the vocals as the song ended. 

“Must the Winter Come so Soon” and Zigeunerliedchen, Op. 79, No. 8 were both sung by Leslie Martinez with Melinda Hovsepian on the piano. There was hardly a pause between the two songs, and both elicited a mood of longing. 

Katherine S. Cabula’s piano supports Alissa Vasquez in a compelling rendition of “After MIdnight.”
Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post

Brass joined the piano once again in Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra with Raymond Fong playing the trombone and Annie Zhen on piano for part one and David Magluyan for part two. Admittedly, the trombone tripped just a bit during the performances, but both pianists supported Fong and the songs remained intact. The imperfection of the moment gave way to a beautiful example of musicianship that Cal Poly Pomona can be proud of. 

Vasquez returned, accompanied by pianist Katherine S. Cabula, to end the show with “The Monk and His Cat” and “Last Midnight.”  The former is a silly song of a scholar singing of his and his cat’s daily routine. The audience chuckled when Cabula joined the vocals by punctuating the end of the song with a soft “meow.” Vasquez’s rendition of the popular ballad  from “Into the Woods” was a joy to see. She channeled the persona of the forlorn witch, her gestures reached out at the audience with the same passion. 

Overall, the show was enjoyable to watch. The Ensemble performances tie with CPP’s traditions of “learn by doing” and allow our peers to explore their talent on a public stage. It’s humbling to witness them develop these skills, and I absolutely recommend attending a show.   

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