Oakland University
Friday, October 19, 2012

Playing with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra

by Gillian Ellis

The Oakland Symphony Orchestra (OSO) gives four concerts a year, two in the fall semester and two in the winter. The last of these, in April, is always one of the great highlights of our performance season. It is a veritable celebration of music, and a truly thrilling moment for many in our music program since it takes place at Orchestra Hall, the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Even for the audience members it is an occasion, one many of them like to dress up for.

Associate Professor Gregory Cunningham, the conductor of the OSO, believes the orchestra is an essential component of our music program, providing necessary experiences for our students, and not just for instrumental majors. He notes that almost every year a piano major plays with the orchestra in the third concert of the year, which features the winners of the OU Concerto Competition. And at the Orchestra Hall concert, the OSO always shares the stage with the OU Symphony Chorus, in which all our voice majors sing. The orchestra that plays for the opera productions is also a subset of the OSO.

But of course, the instrumental majors are the main focus of the orchestra. Depending on which instrument they play, each of them must enroll in either the Oakland University Chamber Orchestra, the Oakland University Wind Symphony or the Oakland University Symphonic Band, all of which are classes and meet on a class schedule. Each instrumentalist is also required to audition for the OSO.

The students who meet the requirements of the audition take to the stage alongside what Greg calls “a community of Oakland musicians.” They play alongside faculty, alumni and area professionals, including concertmaster Sherri Marttila.

As a regional orchestra-in-residence at the university, OSO presents each of its concerts after only four rehearsals. Professor Cunningham says, “We are preparing our students to go out into the real world and get paid to perform at any given concert in real time, after just three or four rehearsals.”

The preparation is so authentic that student musicians receive their music for each concert at the same time the professionals do, only about two weeks before each concert, shortly before rehearsals begin. It is their responsibility to be prepared despite their other regular college commitments. “There are no favors,” says Piaras Kent, an OU music senior who plays violin with the OSO.

Piaras, who is a violin performance major, is taking 18 credits this semester. He performed in the first OSO concert of the season on October 7, in the Oakland Chamber Orchestra concert on October 9 and at Arts-At-Noon on that same day. He recalls seven rehearsals in one week, in addition to his regular classes and master class with violin instructor Elizabeth Rowin. And, of course, he attended all his other classes and completed his homework.

Freshmen Halla Hillborn and Emily Hudock also play violin with the OSO. Both live on campus in the dorms and Halla says she is one of the last to return there every evening. “The people in the dorm think music majors shouldn’t have much homework but we have more than most other students.”

Emily likes to practice in the dorm. She says people there hear her but they don’t complain. They like it. “I lean against the wall and look in the mirror to make sure my form is correct.” Emily says that her busy schedule doesn’t leave much time for things other than school and music just now, but she is okay with that. “I just want to perform and I consider this is my life right now. I have a gift and I want to plow ahead and see where it takes me.”

Halla says that she did lots of extracurricular activities in high school and she plans to devote her college years to music. “I want to get it done and do it well,” she says.

“Just to play an instrument is hard,” says Emily. But these young members of the OSO want much more than that. All three violinists are dedicated to their art. They plan futures in music and know that to have that they will have to work with extraordinary dedication. “You have to throw everything at it,” says Piaras. “Aim for 110 percent.”

Being in the audience to hear the fruits of our students’ hard work as they play alongside more experienced musicians is inspirational. We invite you to join us at an upcoming Oakland Symphony Orchestra concert.

Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 3 pm at Varner Recital Hall
Made in America by Joan Tower; Oboe Concerto by Eugene Goosens with guest artist, Timothy Michling; and Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944 "The Great" by Franz Schubert.

Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 3 pm at Varner Recital Hall
Symphony No. 7 in C Major, op. 105 by Jean Sibelius, and Fantasy and Fugue in c minor, op. 86 by J.S. Bach, transcribed for orchestra by Edward Elgar. And the David Daniels Young Artist Concert, featuring solo performances by the winners of the 2012-2013 Oakland University Concerto Competition.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 8 pm at Orchestral Hall - Max M. Fisher Music Center
Lord Nelson Mass by Franz Joseph Haydn and Symphony No. 5 in B flat Major, op. 100 by Serge Prokofiev.

See complete performance details hereSee ticket information here.

Photo: Left to right, Elizabeth Hudock, Halla Hillborn and Piaras Kent play during master class. Photo by Gillian Ellis.

Created by Gillian Ellis (gellis@oakland.edu) on Friday, October 19, 2012
Modified by Gillian Ellis (gellis@oakland.edu) on Thursday, November 1, 2012
Article Start Date: Friday, October 19, 2012