Last semester the Southern Virginia University Orchestra joined with a 50-voice women’s choir and with Sweet Briar College’s Chamber Orchestra for two concerts.
This was a great experience for me — as a member of the orchestra, as a graduating senior and as someone who has watched the orchestra grow over the years. I was in the audience for the Orchestra’s first concert ever, in the fall of 2000. At that point it was a strings-only group that fit on the original stage in Chandler Hall. It’s three times that size now, and the addition of Sweet Briar musicians added a depth and dimension of sound that our group couldn’t get alone.
This collaboration took root when Orchestra Director Mark Taylor and SBC’s Dr. Josh Harris met at church last fall. They talked about the challenges of staffing orchestras at small colleges, and they swapped ideas of orchestral repertoire they’d like to conduct if their ensembles were bigger. As it happened, they both wanted to perform Debussy’s Tres Nocturnes, which calls for not only a large orchestra but a women’s choir. The result was the collaboration of nearly a hundred musicians.
Professor Taylor already tends to program challenging music, but this concert called for more stretch than usual. Khachaturian’s violin concerto pushed our expressive abilities, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” overture challenged us to play with finesse, Holst’s “Jupiter” was full of technical trouble-spots, and Debussy’s Tres Nocturnes divides into so many individual lines of music that playing it was something like unraveling a tangled ball of yarn. We also performed Rachmaninoff’s haunting “Vocalise” — which featured Audra Bertagnole as a soprano soloist — and an orchestral arrangement of music from the video game “Final Fantasy VII.”
This particular concert was something akin to senior night for the orchestra. Shout out to orchestra members Tiffany Huch, Laura Schow, Kevin Prince, Patrick Summers, Sam Porter and myself, all who graduated! The week after our performance in Chandler Hall, we drove to Sweet Briar to perform on their campus as well, where Dr. Harris presented each of his seniors with a red rose, a nod to their college motto: “She who has earned the rose may bear it.”
Special thanks are due to Dr. Clayne Robison, who has helped conduct rehearsals and performances for the past two years, and to Patrick Summers and Josh Kohl, who helped with conducting and logistical work this semester.
It was kind of thrilling to play so many pieces that our orchestra couldn’t have done alone. It meant spending nearly twice the time preparing as we normally would, but all the practicing, the late night-rehearsals, the juggling chairs and music stands and practicing again were worth it in the end.
(Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Eva Sorensen ’18.)