An ensemble that has brought college students and community residents together on stage for 50 years will celebrate its anniversary with a presentation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with four choirs joining to perform the stirring last movement.
The 100-member University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra, a blend of University students and talented community musicians from the greater Rochester area, will present the work at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24, in the Eastman Theatre. The performance is free and open to the public.
The concert kicks off a yearlong celebration of the orchestra's golden anniversary and features four soloists who are students at the University's Eastman School of Music: mezzo soprano Yvonne Douthat; tenor Cheol Min Jin; bass Marc Webster; and soprano Aubrie Willaert.
In addition, the University Choir and the Chamber Choir from the University's River Campus will be joined by the Nazareth College Concert Choir and Nazareth's Chamber Singers in the famous chorale finale that sets Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy" to music.
"This concert shows our mission to give local musicians more opportunities to participate in a symphony orchestra, to bring together groups and individuals from the University and across the community who enjoy performing," said David Harman, musical director and conductor of the University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra for the past decade. "We all share a profound dedication to and love of symphonic music and the process of bringing great works to the audience."
Harman, who is professor of music and director of orchestral activities, is also conductor and music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra as well as the Penfield Symphony Orchestra and is in great demand as a guest conductor of professional orchestras. Recent professional appearances have included return engagements with the Louisville Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Tucson Symphony, and a special appearance with the Orchestra of the Spring Festival of Contemporary Music in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra, based in the Department of Music in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, was founded as the All-University Symphony Orchestra by Ward Woodbury. Woodbury was conductor of the opera department at the Eastman School before becoming the first director of music on the River Campus in 1954. Most of the orchestra's student members are non-music majors. Dedicated to providing opportunities for both music performance and interaction among students, faculty, and the community, the symphony orchestra has opened its membership to area residents since its beginning.
One such resident is Alan Werner of Brighton, who joined the orchestra when he came to the University as a graduate student in 1957 and continues to play with the ensemble. A member also of the Brockport and Penfield symphony orchestras, he enjoys what he describes as the uniqueness of the group's make-up.
"The University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra is a real musical treasure in the greater Rochester area," said Werner, who plays oboe. "Besides being a very, very good orchestra, it gives college students a chance to sit next to an older person and learn, and it gives community people a chance to get to know some really lovely college students." Werner, who commuted for 10 years from Medina for rehearsals and performances, also emphasized the orchestra's camaraderie in creating long-lived friendships across generations.
The orchestra rehearses weekly and presents four free concerts each year, offering programs of standard orchestral works as well as contemporary compositions. Guest performers have included University faculty and local musicians as well as national artists, such as baritone William Dooley, an English major who earned his degree from Rochester in 1954, sang with the Berlin Deutsche Opera, made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1963, and returned to campus for a guest performance two years later.
Most recently, internationally acclaimed pianist Zora Mihailovich, artist-in-residence in the Department of Music in the College, has made several guest appearances with the orchestra.
In addition to Harman and Woodbury, the University of Rochester Symphony Orchestra has had eight other conductors, including Roger Wilhelm, music director of the Rochester Oratorio Society and Madrigalia, and Isaiah Jackson, who was associate conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra from 1973 to 1987 and is currently music director of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston.
The orchestra will continue to mark its 50th anniversary during its remaining concerts this year, highlighted by the October premiere of a piece commissioned for its anniversary. For more information, contact the Department of Music at (585) 275-2828.