Musical alums do go home again

by Christine Huggins | 11/5/03 6:00am

Last Saturday night, Rollins Chapel became a time machine with the Musica Antiqua Sankt Peterburg at the controls. The audience was transported back in time by the St. Petersburg orchestra that plays only surviving 18th century instruments or authentic replicas. The sound that filled the chapel days ago is the exact same as the sound that was heard over 200 years ago.

The Musica Antiqua Sankt Peterburg was founded by Steven Fox '00. Fox studied Russian for a year while in Hanover and then went on Dartmouth's FSP to St. Petersburg, where he fell in love with the city. However, as much as he enjoyed the surroundings, he noticed the lack of a period orchestra in Russia.

In 2000, Fox received the Reynolds Scholarship to go back to St. Petersburg to start the Musica Antiqua Sankt Peterburg -- the first Russian period instrument orchestra. Since then, Fox has remained busy in building on his dream. In 2001, Fox entered the Conducting Program at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and he finished his masters this September. Now, he is touring with the Musica Antiqua in the United States.

But Fox was not the only one receiving a homecoming. Fox was joined by his former classmate Elizabeth Roberts '00, an exceptional lyric soprano.

Roberts was in the Dartmouth Glee Club and, as a Senior Fellow in music, she produced and sang the title role in Handel's "Alcina." Roberts just finished her masters degree at the prestigious University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).

At CCM, Roberts was featured as the Countess in "Le Nozze di Figaro." She also sang Alice Ford in Verdi's "Falstaff" at the Opera Theatre and Music Festival in Lucca, Italy.

These two exceptional alums combined their talents Saturday night to give an outstanding performance. Thanks to the small size of the orchestra, it was easier to hear different parts interweave and echo each other.

Sammartini's Sinfonia in C, JC 7 was especially enjoyable. Rich in tone, it conjured images of an elegant ball-with swirling dresses, the coquettish snapping of fans, batting eyes, intrigue and just good fun.

Mozart's Mitriadate was also impressive. Roberts sang the aria "Al Destin" flawlessly. The technical skills necessary to sing this song must have taken years to perfect. Roberts jumped lightly from note to note, demonstrating not only a breadth of talent, but also a sensitivity to the music.

But the highlight of the evening's performance was probably Berezvosky's Sinfonia in C. Fox's musicological research led him to the discovery of this piece, which was the earliest symphony by a composer of the Russian Empire.

It was enlightening to listen to a bit of history in addition to a magnificent performance and impressive to realize that Fox had discovered this lost symphony himself.

The main reason for this weekend's performance was that Fox and Roberts wanted to pay tribute to their alma mater.

Fox said that he and the group wanted to "thank Dartmouth because it played a key role in making the founding of the group possible."

Roberts added, "There is no way we would be where we are now without the support of the Dartmouth community."

The "hometown" audience reflected the appreciation back at Fox and Roberts as they were applauded vigorously for their phenomenal performance.