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Symphony Orchestra looks to expand horizons

Published: Friday, February 14, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 14, 2014 08:02

This year, the Tufts Symphony Orchestra (TSO) is exploring new opportunities by expanding its program on campus, as well as off. The TSO is one of the Department of Music’s 23 performing music ensembles that Tufts students can partake in. As a full orchestra of about 50 students, TSO offers members an opportunity to continue their interests in orchestral music regardless of their major.

“Most of the students in the orchestra aren’t music majors, so it’s an opportunity for the department to connect to students who play music, but aren’t music major[s],” Tamara Win, a senior and TSO violist who is double majoring in child development and music, said.

TSO is unique as it is not only a student performance group, but also a half-credit course for Tufts students. Auditions are held for interested students at the beginning of each semester and, for those who are accepted, rehearsals are held twice a week under the direction of Tufts Director of Orchestral Activities and Lecturer of Music John Page, who is assisted by Orchestra Manager and Tufts Community Music Instructor Will Meyers. 

Page was appointed as the director of the orchestra in 2012 and, according to Win, has contributed greatly to the orchestra’s recent expansion.

An award-winning conductor, Page simultaneously directs the TSO and serves as the director of the Portsmouth Symphony in New Hampshire. Page has brought exciting new pieces to the TSO’s repertoire and has begun to pursue avenues for the TSO that have not been explored in recent years.

“I think the best thing about him is that he understands where we are coming from as an orchestra that is not created [from] music majors,” Win said. “He understands the workload we are under, but also ... continues to hold us to a standard of performance and ability.”

One example of the TSO’s expansion this year is its involvement with the Tufts Youth Philharmonic (TYP), which began this past September. Organized by the Tufts Community Music Program, the TYP, conducted by Page, consists of high school-aged musicians in the area who must audition to be accepted. Students practice each week alongside faculty, who act as sectional coaches, and Tufts students, who act as mentors, in order to gain experience in orchestral rehearsal and performance instruction.

“As a student mentor, not only do we just play with them because it’s helpful to have strong players backing you, but it also gives us an opportunity to help students individually,” Win said. “For example, while the coach is working with all the strings, we can take out students who are struggling or need help, which was always the vision of the Philharmonic: to have that type of capability and teaching available all the time.”

Not only is the TSO eager to expand its impact on high school musicians in the local community, but it also plans to expand performances beyond Tufts’ campus, according to Myers.

“One thing we are looking into ... is, at the end of this year, we are planning on performing in New York City,” Myers said. “I’ve been in the orchestra now for six years. We’ve never gone and performed somewhere outside of the Tufts community in the time I’ve been with the orchestra, and we are looking into doing that now. In the future, we are looking into doing a full-blown tour.”

The TSO usually performs once per semester, but this year the addition of another performance in New York — possibly in late April — has allowed the orchestra to take on Shostakovich’s difficult “Symphony No. 5,” which lasts around 45 minutes through four movements. In the TSO’s last fall concert, it performed the first and fourth movements of the piece and plans to possibly perform the second and third movements in the spring concert.

“It’s exciting for me because that is probably my favorite symphony,” sophomore Samuel Duncan, a TSO violist, said. “There are a few people who really like that composer and piece, so it’s fun to perform.”

Written in 1937, “Symphony No. 5” reflects the dark undertones of a repressive period during Soviet history.

“At the time, it was [thought] that it was a pro-Communist, pro-Soviet piece,” Duncan said. “But more recently people have questioned [that interpretation] or whether it was a veiled attack on Stalinism. It’s a very interesting piece to me.”

Beginning to learn Shostakovich’s symphony last semester has helped TSO members to achieve their long-term goal of performing the entire piece in one performance. As an ensemble that usually performs only twice a year, an additional opportunity to play has not only given members something to look forward to, but it also symbolizes all the hard work and time they have committed to TSO this year.

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