Now an annual tradition, the upcoming concert by the Amherst Symphony Orchestra (ASO) will take place on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. Mark Swanson, the orchestra’s music director, created the concert as a way of welcoming first years into the orchestra as well as providing entertainment to those who need a way to spend their afternoon. For this particular concert, look forward to listening to “Sensemayá” by Silvestre Revueltas, “El Salón México” by Aaron Copland, “Sinfonia India” by Carlos Chavez and “Danzón No. 2” by Arturo Marquez.
Swanson is devoted not only to the orchestra’s performance but also his students’ wellbeing — he has a clear belief in their ability to succeed. His recognition of and appreciation for their hard work shows in the candy break the orchestra has halfway through their two-and-a-half-hour rehearsals. Moreover, there exists a high level of respect between him and the orchestra.
The new first-year members of the orchestra spoke highly of how joining orchestra at Amherst provided them with an invaluable sense of community. Alex Lee ’22, a cellist in the ASO, said his favorite part of joining the Amherst Symphony Orchestra was the people. “I think if you have a commonality with other people, it’s a lot easier to make friends with them. And in orchestra since everyone plays music, we tend to click really easily,” he said. Alexis Scalese ’22, a flautist, confirmed this belief, adding that “it’s a very special feeling to perform music with people who share the same love of music as you.”
While Swanson has a clear belief in his students, this shouldn’t be mistaken for lackadaisicalness: he is quick and precise in his correction of errors, but never condemning. Typically, the orchestra’s rehearsal process starts with an introduction of a new piece, before individual sections practice their parts alone. Finally, in the last stages before the concert, the entire orchestra comes together to practice the pieces, working on synchronizing the various parts. Like in all art, there is room for subjectivity in music, but generally the students and Swanson have an appreciation for the pieces they play and enjoy the level of complexity each had.
When asked about the theme of the concert, “Viva México,” Swanson spoke of how he hopes the orchestra’s performance will not only provide entertainment, but also ignite conversation.
“It occurred to me, in these politically volatile times … that the orchestra might not be enjoyed merely as an artistic ‘escape’ from today’s issues, but that it could and should be a vital part of the conversation,” said Swanson. The subtitle of this concert is: “Our Orchestra Has No Walls.’”
During the rehearsal I sat in on, the orchestra went straight into playing the new songs as a group. The musicians moved between different segments of the piece, at times focusing on certain instrument sections, allowing for Swanson to make minor corrections as they went along. The rehearsal moved at an incredible pace. As the musicians practiced the concert pieces, they quickly and efficiently modified their playing in order to suit the suggestions of Swanson.
While I’m sure not all of the students playing would agree, the practice felt like a performance. It was clear each musician had orchestral experience and cared deeply about the outcome.
It is similarly evident that the orchestra’s performance this Saturday will be a spectacle, sure to be loved by any audience member who attends.