The Reston Community Orchestra shines a spotlight on 16-year-old composer Colin Surabian


Image via Colin Surabian

Veronika Owen, Co-Editor in Chief

The Reston Community Orchestra performed their “Spotlight on Youth” concert on Saturday the 11th at the Reston Community Center.  The highlight of the performance was the student-lead jazz opener and the premiere of SLHS junior Colin Surabian’s composition, The Tragedy of Macbeth, from his 10th grade English project.

As audience members trickled in for the 4:00 concert, they were treated to a jazz trio opener performed by South Lakes 11th graders.  Nikhil Kuntipuram was on drum set, Michael Meyers played electric guitar, and Colin Surabian played double bass.  They performed three originals and variations on several pre-existing jazz pieces in their 30 minute set, making sure to give each member plenty of solos to showcase their skills.  

Once the orchestra took to the stage, they played a brass fanfare before diving right into The Tragedy of Macbeth’s eagerly anticipated debut.

Colin later explained his motivation for writing the piece had come from an English project from last year.  “I really liked Macbeth, and I thought it was a really interesting story,” he said.  “For most [English] projects, we have to do analysis where we would just write an essay… and when we’re given the creative option, too, I thought ‘you know what, I’ll give this a shot.’  So I figured I’d interpret Macbeth in a music sense.”

Macbeth is a play by Shakespeare about a nobleman who is prophesied by three witches to become king and murders his enemies (and even his friends) to obtain his crown.  All the while, his guilt drives him insane.

Colin captured the story within the piece.  “I like to think of the piece having three main sections,” Colin explained.  “The first section… is representing Macbeth as a warrior and his nobility and his fierce power.”  

After that, the piece shifts from A major to A minor, becoming much easier and representing his encounter with the witches.  “And throughout this section the themes of the witches [grows] and eventually culminates into this one scene of the witches — the witches dance — when they’re brewing [a] cauldron and singing a song.  And I used the melodies from that song.  So I had that rhythm… so that was a key element I thought was cool to include.”

Finally, the piece returns the the main melody “of Macbeth with his nobility but then I warp it, get more minor, more augmented, and throw in more things to add dissonance,” he said.  He also threw in the witches’ themes to display their influence on him as his madness takes over in the final part of the piece.

Lastly, throughout the piece, Colin utilizes silence to build suspense.  “I noticed a lot of the supernatural occurrences [are] during the night, so these shifts between Macbeth’s nobility and the witches, I kind of tried to model that switch between day and night… and then I’d interrupt that suspense with the supernatural events.”

Colin played with the rest of the orchestra.  “It was really cool playing my own piece because I really understood what it was supposed to sound like,” he said.  “I didn’t have to worry about interpreting the era and the composer and trying to mimic the certain style that might be true.”

The Tragedy of Macbeth was well received by its audience, and Colin stated “ I felt a feeling of accomplishment and it felt good playing it.  It was great to see my piece being performed.”

In addition to Colin’s piece, the orchestra played a variety of older, more traditional music.  They played Symphony Number 99 by Franz Joseph Haydn, a tribute to the treacherous yet exciting adventure required to travel across Europe during the late 1700s.  They performed the ballet Dance of the Hours by Amilcare Ponchielli from the late 19th century.  It has 5 parts representing dawn, day, dusk, night, and back to dawn.  Finlandia was their final piece written by Jean Sibelius to debut at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900.  

Colin plans to come back to writing The Tragedy of Macbeth after its momentous success, and make it better than ever.  “I want to extend sections and add more elements, more pieces of the story to it,” he explained.  He also said he wanted to make it a piece for a full symphonic orchestra, “adding more winds and horns and adding more percussion to it.”

After that, Colin plans to keep writing a variety of music with his many orchestras, his jazz trio, and his rock band Out of Order.  “I just want to pursue a lot of different styles,” he said, “and I’ve been experimenting with jazz.  I’ve been planning on doing something with rock,  but I also want to do a lot more with orchestral competitions and see where it leads me.”

As for the Reston Community Orchestra’s future, they will have their season finale on May 21st.  Once again, it will be hosted at the Reston Community Center.  For more information, visit their website.  They hope to see you there!