On Friday, December 8th at 8 PM in the Lang Concert Hall, the Swarthmore College Orchestra will perform a collection of pieces ranging from well-established classics to modern and unique orchestral compositions.
The first half of the concert features Kevin Day’s Blue Hour Skyline and Grace Williams’s Penillion. Andrew Hauze, director and conductor of the ensemble, remarks that these pieces might not be considered typical for the orchestra. Day’s Blue Hour Skyline draws influence from bebop and Latin American clave rhythms which reflect Day’s love of fusion between jazz, minimalism, Latin music, and contemporary classical music. The Swarthmore Wind Ensemble, also directed by Hauze, performed a piece by Day last year and he was happy to learn that the composer wrote for orchestra as well. Referencing Day’s own program notes, Blue Hour Skyline is a piece which illustrates the “blue hour,” a darker stage of the evening twilight where day transitions into night. In a city, the blue hour is when the proverbial and literal lights turn on while the people engage in the hustle and bustle of nightlife.
Hauze explains that he felt particularly drawn towards this piece because the Orchestra has three student trumpeters: “There are these big trumpet parts in this piece. I thought it would be a fun thing for trumpeters to sink their teeth into. Day is, in particular, very brass and percussion heavy.”
Welsh composer Grace Williams’s Penillion is also a departure from standard orchestral fare. She incorporated a traditional style of Welsh music making into the piece, where a singer performs an improvised counterpoint melody over harp accompaniment — often a traditional Welsh tune. “What she's done is cast this orchestra piece in four movements, where each movement follows that process of adding different voices on top of a pre-existing texture, but each of the movements are really different, and none are based on traditional tunes. They're all original, but she's drawing on that traditional Welsh style,” Hauze explains.
William’s work isn’t particularly well known in the U.S., and Hauze is excited to share it with the audience at Lang Concert Hall. “I think her music is transcendentally beautiful, often very exciting, but she has her own individual way of using harmony that I just think is special. I'm hoping to cast a light on her works and get more people interested in her music.” Bassist Anastasia Lewis ‘24 shares Hauze’s enthusiasm: “[Hauze] has a talent for finding … things that you wouldn’t necessarily go to as your classic. It’s nice to see and fun to play.”
The marquee piece at this semester’s concert will be Beethoven’s 5th symphony, which the ensemble will perform in its entirety. Speaking on the “monumental challenge” of preparing to perform arguably the most recognizable piece in all of classical music, Hauze said: “[We] try to shed new light on [and] dust off preconceptions about the piece [by] hearing it in a new way together. Every week in rehearsal we're trying to find new things in it and give every phrase as much character as we can.” Roger Wang '25 — a bassoonist who has been with the Orchestra since his first year at Swarthmore — echoes Hauze’s sentiments: “The Symphony gives [me] a lot of roles which I took as a challenge . . . but I am excited to have them.” Wang notes the joy he feels from hearing the Orchestra come together in the weeks leading up to the concert to put the finishing touches on the piece.
This semester’s performance will be particularly meaningful for the ensemble as the concert is dedicated to Natalie Kim '22, in light of her tragic passing in October. Natalie Kim had been a member of the orchestra for all four years of her time at Swarthmore, served as the viola section leader, and was the co-winner of the concerto competition in 2022. The Orchestra will perform Elgar’s Nimrod in Kim’s memory, conducted by concertmaster and assistant conductor Kielor Tung '25. Kim was the viola section leader during Tung’s first year at Swarthmore, and Tung remembers her as “warm and caring, enthusiastic: she was one of the reasons why I looked forward to going to orchestra each week.” Tung knew the department wanted to commemorate Natalie at an upcoming performance, and thought this piece would be the proper way to do it. “Nimrod is the piece if you want to honor somebody who served a lifetime contribution to something and Natalie for sure did … We [programmed Nimrod] to honor Natalie and everything she has meant to us. We’re very honored to have had Natalie in our orchestra,” Tung says.
The Swarthmore College Orchestra concert will be held on Friday, December 8th at 8PM in the Lang Concert Hall and is free and open to the public. Come out to support the ensemble!