Each semester, Vassar College’s Orchestra puts on three different concerts. Its opening show will be on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. in the Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall and will feature works by Mendelssohn and Dvorák. Its conductor, Senior Lecturer in Music and Director of Orchestral Activities Eduardo Navega, promises that it will not disappoint fans of Romantic classical music.
Being a member of an orchestra is not an easy task. With two practices totaling five hours per week and constant individual practice, it may seem too much to handle. However, Navega’s students say it’s all worth it. Oboist Fiona Hart ’18 explained why she makes sacrifice: “For me, going to rehearsal is not work. Even though orchestra is a class, It’s a really good way to de-stress because playing an instrument is a passion of mine, and orchestra has proven to be a fun outlet for me.”
Hart has played the oboe since her sophomore year and is a biology major. She has found that the arts and sciences are continually vying for her attention, but through a meticulously scheduled Google Calendar, she makes it all work.
Lucy Ellman ’19, who has been playing the cello since the fourth grade, loves orchestra because of her excellent instructor. She commented, “Eduardo is truly wonderful … Through his kind nature and patience, he gets us to sound the best that we can.”
As Hart exclaimed, “I love Eduardo—he’s really nice and approachable. He’s very serious about orchestra, but he critiques in a way that you’re able to change and want to play better. There is a pressure to improve, but rehearsing is always a positive experience.” An orchestra is not complete without its instructor, and every member seemed to adore Navega and all of his efforts.
The orchestra performs predominantly Romantic classical music. There are fewer students this year, but that might be a good thing. Ellman explained, “I think we’re more attune to everyone and it’s more of a community. We’re going to sound really good, and the pieces are cool to play, which makes rehearsals fun and engaging.” The students are also quite passionate about the different pieces.
Hart remarked, “I was kind of feeling staggered in my way of performing in a large group setting, but every so often you get a piece that re-energizes your love for playing in an orchestral setting, and for me Mendelssohn’s Fifth has really reminded me why I love performing in orchestra.”
Now how does a show come together? During the summer, Navega researches a potential repertoire and has a few pieces ready to go. Once he has auditioned everyone, as every student must re-audition every year, he knows the potential of the orchestra and can choose which pieces to use. The first concert of the season is always the most exciting, as it is the first time the first-years step on stage. Navega enjoys seeing the excitement on their faces minutes before the concert begins.
You can tell how much Navega loves conducting by the way he describes the pieces and the instruments. When Navega explained how the violins are especially strong this year and that there are more bassoons than ever before, the passion in his voice is clear. He truly loves what he does. This is the first college orchestra Navega has worked with, and he has been conducting for Vassar since 1999. Conducting is his life, and Vassar is his home.
The program opens with the Fourth Movement of Dvorák’s “Slavonic Dances.” Navega explained why he chose the movement: “It’s a very nice piece in terms of character. It has that very Slavonic character that Dvorák’s very good at. He uses a rich orchestration for that piece, so it shows the orchestra really well. You can pinpoint each instrument.”
After the opening piece is Mendelssohn’s Symphony Number 5, which Navega particularly appreciates because of its interesting history. The symphony was performed two years after it was written, and then not performed again until 20 years after Mendelssohn’s death. Navega commented, “It was a piece that was forgotten. But then it became very popular and is now a very traditional piece of orchestral repertoire, as the writing is very rich and goes well with the Dvorák piece.”
These pieces were chosen together to carefully highlight this year’s orchestra and to create a dynamic experience for the audience. Both works are from the Romantic period and, while technically challenging, are rewarding pieces to play.
Navega expressed, “Students like to play this kind of music. The themes are very recognizable, so you remember that tune from the first movement that shows up in the third. It’s an effective use of the orchestra, as it uses the full potential of the string section, woodwinds and brass, and you can hear the instruments very clearly.”
He went on, “It has some complexities, but the students are doing great in rehearsal. They’re two pieces that use well the resources that we have in the orchestra, and I believe it’s going to be a good concert.”
These students are not just playing for the college credit, or to boost their grad school applications. They’re playing because they truly love what they do and are passionate about others hearing their work.
As Hart concluded, “There’s no point in playing an instrument unless you’re playing for people.”