Student Conductors Take Spotlight at Chamber Orchestra First Editions

Chamber Orchestra First Editions

James Freeman conducts Chamber Orchestra first editions (COFE) during their debut concert in February 2016. 

Building off its successful debut performances last February, Chamber Orchestra First Editions (COFE) is returning to the College this weekend with a new concert, once again giving students the chance to share the spotlight with professional musicians.

James Freeman, the ensemble’s Artistic Director and Daniel Underhill Professor Emeritus of Music, created COFE with the intention of blending professional musicians with pre-professional student musicians from the Tri-College Consortium. This approach will certainly be evident in COFE’s upcoming concerts, which begins with a student-conducted performance of Mozart’s “Serenata Notturna”. Three Swarthmore students — Andrew Kim ’18, Shira Samuels-Shragg ’20, and Aaron Slepoi ’17— will each helm one of the composition’s three movements. Joining them as violin soloist will be Haverford student Dora von Trentini ’18. For these students, the chance to conduct in such a professional environment is invaluable.

“The experience of working with professional players at my level of expertise is not only extremely educational but [also] an extraordinary privilege,” says Slepoi, a music major from Mountainside, N.J. “I certainly couldn’t ask for a better way to make my first public appearance.”

“An opportunity to collaborate with a professional orchestra is rare for student conductors, especially undergraduates,” says Kim, a music major from Seoul, South Korea, who expresses a similar sentiment.

Even with the excitement, Samuels-Shragg, a first-year from Tarzana, Calif., admits that conducting professionals as a student can still be a daunting task.

“They’re so good at their craft and I am so new to mine that it almost feels arrogant or presumptuous to correct them, or to ask that they play a certain phrase differently,” she says. “And yet, making such corrections is one of the most important aspects of leading an orchestra.”

Following the student-led performance of “Serenata Notturna”, COFE’s ensemble will perform Arne Running’s “Lamention” in the composer’s memory. Running, a former conductor for the Swarthmore College Orchestra and beloved musician in Philadelphia, passed away in March.

After a brief intermission, First Editions will resume its performance with “For the Uprooted” by former Swarthmore professor Janice Hamer. COFE’s ensemble will bring its performance full circle with Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 449—a piece that Mozart wrote much later in his life—featuring Associate in Performance Marcantonio Barone as piano soloist. Freeman hopes to draw parallels between this famous concerto and “Serenata Notturna”, which is a lesser-known composition that Mozart wrote at the young age of 20.

“In these concerts we’re looking at how [Mozart] progresses from being a talented young kid to something much more—something incredible,” says Freeman.

COFE’s upcoming performances will explore this transformation that Mozart undergoes while, at the same time, also presenting new works and exploring their modern composers. By combining these aspects and creating a platform for discussion, the concerts are intended to generate unique, fulfilling experiences for both the audience and the musicians.

First Editions will perform their new concert at Haverford College’s Roberts Hall on Saturday, September 24, at 8 p.m. and then at Swarthmore College’s Lang Concert Hall on Sunday, September 25, at 8:00 p.m. Concerts are free and open to the public.