The start of Spring marks not only a welcome change in weather, but also Vassar College Orchestra’s upcoming concert. Its second out of three concerts this semester will take place on Saturday, March 2nd. The event is free and open to the Vassar campus as well as anyone else who wants to attend. Those who are unable to be present in person will able to catch the concert being webcast live on Vassar’s Music Department website.
The orchestra will begin performing at 8pm in the Skinner Hall of Music Recital Hall. The concert will last for about an hour and a half, with an intermission at the halfway mark.
The performance will start with the prelude and mazurka (the latter is a folk dance) of Coppélia, a Romantic ballet written by French composer Léo Delibes. The repertoire will then continue with Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, a piece written by Romantic French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.
Following the intermission the orchestra will perform Austrian composer Joseph Haydn’s Classical Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat Major and will finish with the Romantic music of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke, or The Dance in the Village Inn), a musical narrative relating the second episode of Nikolaus Lenau’s poem Faust.
The concert will be performed by some sixty instrumentalists and will feature two soloists, Rebecca Miller ’14 playing in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto and Alice Park ’16 in Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.
There is an annual competition to choose the soloists. Students audition in the fall and a few are chosen to perform with the orchestra in the spring.
First violinist Park admitted that the audition process was even more nerve-wracking than actually performing as a soloist. “I like the stage,” she said, “but I still can’t get over the stage fright.”
The challenges of playing in an orchestra don’t end there. “You can’t really listen to yourself,” said Park. “I’m used to playing by myself. In the orchestra, it’s all the others you hear. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m playing right or wrong.”
Park is one of the few freshmen soloing for the orchestra. Her dedication is strong, despite the fact that she is not going to declare her major in Music.
“I’ve played it [the violin] for so long that it’s become a really big part of my life,” she said. “I can’t imagine living without it.”
Eduardo Navega, who has been conducting the Vassar College Orchestra since 1999, takes pride in the fact that the majority of his orchestral students are interestingly, not music majors.
“They are players,” he said. “Not only that, but it also provides for a very diverse environment.” Navega believes that music is a universal and international language, written for the people who perform it. Because concerts go by so quickly, both Navega and Park acknowledged their preferences for rehearsal over actual performances.
For Navega, working with student players is more enjoyable than leading professional ones who, though more technically advanced than the students, already have their own concepts of interpretation that are difficult to put together.
“Even though it limits a repertoire, these little souls and their pure energy can shape the music,” he said.
He maintained that an orchestra’s goal should be to work as hard as it can as a unit to transmit to its audience, as much as possible, the immense emotion music brings.
What separates a good orchestra from a fantastic one, he said, is the latter’s ability to understand this communication between an orchestra and its listeners.
“In that sense,” Navega said, “the fantastic orchestra might not even be a very top orchestra of fantastic musicians, but could well be a student orchestra that understands this. That is more important than technical skill.”
For first violinist and concertmaster Kevin Lee ’14, who is also not a music major, being able to come together as one, understand the music as an entity, and transmit the composer’s intended story to the audience are the most important things an orchestra can learn.
He explained that when he listens to music he is in the world that the story takes place, and that is something he wants to convey to the audience. Navega, he said, is very good at explaining this and sharing his interpretation of the music to the orchestra.
For many students, even though the biweekly rehearsals run for two and a half hours, orchestra is a balm for the stress of academic life. “Orchestra rehearsal is a break for their mental health,” said Navega.
“It really makes you feel good, because that’s what music does.”
Both Park and Lee expressed their appreciation of the complexity and musical richness of the pieces they are going to be performing, while Navega claimed that deciding on a repertoire is the most difficult part of his job as a conductor of a student orchestra.
He works to select pieces that match the ability of the orchestra while still conveying the beautiful music his students and audiences alike can appreciate.
Navega stated that he is pleased with the orchestra’s preparation for the upcoming concert. “In the last few rehearsals I can feel that the pieces are really building up and the students are getting more and more into the repertoire,” he said.
“It’s going to be fantastic.”