As if a storm coursed through his fingers, the young pianist rippled the keys.
Up and down his hands flew, the notes climbing, cascading, erupting in sonic fusillades. A Rachmaninoff piece isn’t kid’s stuff, but Penn State student Francisco Montero conquered “Prelude from Op. 23, No. 2 in B-flat Major” with aplomb.
His bravura performance last Sunday was one of many during the 10th annual Mosaic, the winter showcase for Penn State School of Music student ensembles and soloists at Eisenhower Auditorium.
As a first-time attendee, I didn’t know what to expect. I guessed the music would be excellent, in line with the school’s reputation, but what else awaited came as a surprise.
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As soon as one performance ended, another began in a different part of the auditorium. Attention shifted from an orchestra on stage to a choir in the balcony, then to an illuminated side alcove high above the seats. Applause was held until the concert’s halves concluded.
The effect was a seamless transition between displays of virtuosity. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the opener with its dramatic brass and percussion popularized by the Olympic Games, led to a lilting oboe solo, setting the pattern for the evening.
The Glee Club switched to the Philharmonic Orchestra. A saxophone duet shifted to an intricate percussive duet. After the Concert Choir came the Clarinet Choir, which relinquished the spotlight to the Rachmaninoff solo. Closing the first half with a flourish, the Philharmonic and Combined Choirs joined for Carl Orff’s stirring “O Fortuna.”
In the second half, the musical fireworks continued.
The Centre Dimensions jazz band traded solos while belting a swinging rendition of Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues.” A brass quintet gave way to a rare euphonium solo, followed by a jazz trio and musical theater actors teaming to stage a number from “Trouble in Tahiti.”
One after another, the musicians dazzled. It was like a high-end variety show: the 21 violins of the Violin Studio, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, a charming duet between a clarinetist and a ballet dancer, the Essence of Joy gospel choir, pianist Maeve Berry’s robust solo.
I left impressed by the sheer volume of talent — and reminded of another Penn State triumph the day before.
After the Nittany Lions rallied to win the Big Ten football title, one fan told national media that he was proud at last to be a Penn State student.
As a sports fan myself, I understood. He had every reason to exult. Penn State was a champion again, back from sanctions and humiliation, from the national beating the university and community took because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
It’s just a shame that the fan didn’t take pride before in some of his other gifted classmates. This takes nothing away from the players, a likable powerhouse squad of student-athletes who deserve all the praise and respect coming their way for a memorable season.
But thousands of Penn State students produce equally amazing results every day without cheers — in laboratories, studios, workshops, classrooms and practice rooms. During the past dark years, they shined, and they’ll continue to do so, win or lose. They are Penn State, too.
Hey, I live in the real world. For better or worse, we’re emotionally tied to teams; they represent our schools and cities and, by extension, us. Nobody’s going to pour into the streets to celebrate a scientific breakthrough or brilliant artwork.
Wouldn’t it be great, though, if students could be just as proud of a university for a masterful performance of a Rachmaninoff or Ellington composition, for an entire school of incredible actors and musicians?
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.