Author: Vivien Reece
On Saturday, March 3, the Occidental-Caltech Symphony Orchestra performed four enchanting musical selections to an animated audience in Thorne Hall. Led by conductor Allen Robert Gross, the orchestra captured the interest of the audience through its renditions of “Carnival Overture” by Dvorak, “Concerto for two Flutes” by Domenico Cimarosa, “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius and the “Pastoral Symphony” by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The orchestra performed cheerful, upbeat pieces with rhythmic and energetic melodies reminiscent of a classical ballet. In particular, a variety of featured instruments immediately captivated the audience’s attention in the opening piece,”Carnival Overture.” Different measures of the overture emphasized each instrumental section, reminding the audience of the acts of a circus or carnival performance. The compositions that followed continued to build off of the energy of the first symphony, culminating in the exciting vigor in the Beethoven piece. The final symphony was more than suitable to end the show, as the swelling of sounds reflected the apex and subsequent conclusion of the orchestra’s concert.
Violinist Raphael Monroy (sophomore), a physics and music double major, believes that the concert appealed to both the audience and the musicians. “It’s a really good program from a musical standpoint and from the standpoint of an audience,” Monroy said. “Sometimes when we play classical it’s too esoteric, and sometimes when we try to go for the audience more it’s not fulfilling for us.” But Saturday’s concert had a good balance because it’s cheerful melodies and energetic percussion entertained the audience and required the best of the players.
Unsurprisingly, the audience loved the combination of headier classical pieces and lighter, faster compositions. Louis Vigorrita, father of John Vigorrita’05, remarked that he felt really connected to the orchestra as he listened, even though his son did not play when he attended. “We didn’t know there was a concert going on,” he said. “It was just happenstance that we came. We were visiting the area. We said to ourselves, ‘We gotta check it out.'”
As the conductor of the Occidental-Caltech orchestra since 1983, Gross is well known for his aptitude for inspiring and leading an orchestra. A native of New York, he spent a significant amount of his younger years in Germany where he began his conducting career. He moved to Los Angeles to become a music faculty member for both institutions and to conduct the orchestra.
Gross says he is happy to be working with such a diverse group because they all connect through the unifying nature of music. “I find it’s a real joy to work with this group of people. Everybody is here not because they have to but because they want to be,” Gross said. “Unlike in a conservatory, most people are here just because they love to play.”
Members of the orchestra all demonstrate a commitment to play classical music with perfection. Because there is only one rehearsal a week, each member must dedicate significant time practicing outside of the weekly group meetings to ensure that the whole ensemble is prepared come performance time.
“The orchestra is demanding,” Gross said. “We have rehearsal once a week. Everybody has to be good enough to put on a concert at the end.” The players have to guide themselves by remaining diligent in their personal practice time and maintain a sense of duty to the orchestra in order to perform suitably in concert.
Personal dedication and drive are not the only remarkable features of the ensemble. The association also encourages the formation of friendships across the age and academic spectra. “I’ve always found the interactions between the students and adults really rewarding,” Gross said about the players in his orchestra. “Working together in the musical community, we all have the same goals. There are tremendously talented [players] at both [schools].”
The Occidental-Caltech Orchestra is composed of a diverse and varied collection of members: 12 students from Occidental, 30 from Caltech and 20 more residents from the Eagle Rock, Glendale and Pasadena areas. Gross and players both agree that creating music together allows for a unique and inimitable communal atmosphere. Community player and principal bassist Billy Brockmann lauded the interesting conversations that arise between students from the combination of schools. “It’s cool because the Oxy kids talk about literature and art, and the Caltech kids talk about astrophysics and science. It brings these different mindsets together.” Monroy shares a similar opinion. “As corny as it sounds, music brings us together. It gives us respect for each other.”
Despite the enthusiasm of the members of the orchestra, the larger community failed to show their support. Since the audience filled only around half of the hall, some members think that if more people knew about the performances, more would attend concerts. The community’s general interest in supporting the arts alone should encourage more individuals to attend.
Seniors Joshua Park, Aidan Lewis and Jonathan Ingram attended the concert to support some friends in the orchestra. Having only learned about the performance from a friend, the two seniors agreed that more advertising would help increase attendance.
On that note, the Occidental-Caltech Symphony Orchestra hopes to bring in more of the community as possible for its next and final performance of the semester. The ensemble’s concert is scheduled for April 21 and 22, during the Occidental Spring Arts Festival.
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