Celebrations, goodbyes take center stage at SSO

The Student Symphony Orchestra underlined their seniors and original scores.

The Student Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the academic year, held at Bovard Auditorium, combined well-known classical pieces with iconic video game music and even world-first showings of original works. (Sarah Ruiz / Daily Trojan)

As a completely student-run organization, USC’s Student Symphony Orchestra had been preparing for its performance at Bovard Auditorium since the spring semester began. Four months of hard work culminated impressively in their final concert of the academic year Sunday evening.

Upon entering Bovard, a palpable feeling of community filled the auditorium as family and friends of the SSO members packed the first — and part of the second — tier of seats in the venue, with celebratory bouquets in tow.

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Rui Zhang, a sophomore majoring in East Asian languages and cultures as well as communication, remarked on the atmosphere of the concert.

“I feel like it was very community-driven. I feel like everyone in the audience — the majority of them [were] here for somebody,” Zhang said.

The program itself was an unconventional melange of orchestral classics, a video game soundtrack and, perhaps most impressive, the world premiere of two original pieces.

One of the compositions was created by the SSO’s assistant music director, Mithrandir Wang — a sophomore majoring in composition — and the other by 1989 USC composition alum, Lindsey “Link” Harnsberger.

The night began with a stellar performance of the “Opening Theme & Bombing Mission” from Final Fantasy VII while a projected video of gameplay from the well-loved classic accompanied the symphony orchestra above them. After brief introductions, Roberto Gemignani, the symphony orchestra’s music director and principal conductor, and a graduate student studying arts leadership — handed the figurative baton to Wang to introduce his and Harnsberger’s pieces, respectively.

In the brief transitory silence, a group of Wang’s friends collectively chanted their support in Chinese, directly followed by raucous laughter from the audience — and a chuckling, “Well, thank you for that,” from Wang.

In describing his composition, Wang noted his inspiration came from fun memories of his high school “Martial Art Hero Group” in China. Wang detailed how each of his friends in the group had codenames derived from the “palace” they belonged to; Wang decided to title his composition “Ao Miao,” after a friend’s codename.

Wang took a final moment to recognize the honor of conducting his composition alongside Harnsberger’s “Cloud Scherzo,” as the two were coincidentally the two USC-affiliated winners of the SSO’s annual Call for Scores competition — especially as this year’s competition received about 130 entries for blind evaluation by the SSO’s selection committee.

He went on to explain how Harnsberger’s composition was originally intended for a larger orchestral suite about the mysteries of life, but after several revisions, “Cloud Scherzo” became a standalone piece.

Both pieces proved to be exactly what the composers described, with “Ao Miao” opening with a dreamy harp and flute introduction, which presented itself as the persevering melody following resolutions of the various shifts of energy throughout the piece. Ultimately, this composition felt successfully evocative of a classic “hero’s journey” soundtrack.

Meanwhile, “Cloud Scherzo” took on a fast-paced, adventure-like quality, while eventually settling into a quieter, meditative section headed by brief solos from the brass, strings and upper woodwind sections — and of course, the piece ended with a grand, but succinct, tutti.

The original compositions were followed by Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43,” a piece that brought a truly classic “spring” flavor to the concert’s palette. The audience was presented with the distinctive and emotional swells from the strings, chaotic runs from the woodwinds and an occasional sonic intervention from the brass section.

However, one of the true highlights of the evening came from Xander Lee — a freshman majoring in human biology and the violin soloist for Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D Major, Mvmt. III Finale Allegro Vivacissimo.” For nearly 10 minutes, Lee performed the exacting concerto completely from memory, and he appeared largely unaffected when some of the hair on his bow broke during one of the most technically demanding sections of the performance.

Lee’s performance was consequently, and rightfully, greeted by applause and cheering that seemed to go on longer than it did for any of the other pieces that evening.

The final two pieces in the repertoire — Elgar’s “Nimrod” movement from his “Enigma Variations” and Arturo Márquez’s “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” — helped cement the end of the night on a touching, celebratory note. After a long yet warranted list of thank you’s, graduating senior recognitions and ways to donate to the SSO, the auditorium cleared out rather quickly, per the request of the SSO’s leadership — citing a need to avoid any unnecessary late fees from the University.

Despite the understandingly abrupt end, attendees poured out to the entrance of Bovard all while discussing their contentment with how the evening turned out.

“It was very sweet to see all the seniors [stand] up and get congratulated,” said Anika Zaman, a sophomore majoring in computer engineering and computer science. “I really loved all the performances they [did] — especially the solo.”

As one of seniors in question, Emily Hsu, the SSO’s president of two years and a senior majoring in music performance as well as business administration, pensively reflected on her and Gemignani’s impending graduation — as well as the future of the SSO.

“I think the SSO is in really good hands,” Hsu said. “I’m confident the organization will keep growing and coming up with even more goals for them to reach.”

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