Student-Led Orchestra to Perform at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Andrew Kim '18 conducts

Andrew Kim '18 conducts the Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra at its Philadelphia debut at PAFA in April. Photo by Emily Hauze '04.

The Swarthmore College Lab Orchestra is returning to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) to ring in the holiday season.

The Lab Orchestra — a training orchestra led by student conductors — made its Philadelphia debut at PAFA in April, earning a return invitation to participate in the academy’s performance series. Now, they will perform on Sunday at 2 p.m. for a holiday concert.

The orchestra will treat the audience to an afternoon of classical repertoire in PAFA’s historical galleries. It will be joined by the prestigious Jasper String Quartet, one of Swarthmore’s featured artists this season, in a performance of works for string orchestra by Elgar (Introduction and Allegro), Corelli (the "Christmas" Concerto in G Minor, Op. 5, No. 8), and more.

Co-conductor Andrew Kim '18, a music major from Seoul, South Korea, relishes the opportunity to not only hone his craft but collaborate with artists such as the Jasper Quartet, on and off campus.

"It is an interesting experience to be a musical leader as a student when I am working with such high-caliber musicians, but the Quartet has a great sense for when to interject and give us feedback and when to give us space to lead," says Kim. "After every rehearsal with them, I come away with so many things that are not just applicable to the particular piece we are working on, but to music-making in general." 

Part of the Elizabeth Pollard Fetter Chamber Music Program, the Lab Orchestra was created in the fall of 2016 in order to provide advanced conducting students with the opportunity for regular rehearsals and performances with an ensemble. The group also offers student instrumentalists the chance to play repertoire for chamber orchestra instead of the larger full orchestra.  

Andrew Hauze ’04, lecturer of music and director of the College’s orchestra and wind ensemble, organizes the Lab Orchestra and oversees weekly rehearsals with Kim and co-conductor Shira Samuels-Shragg ’20.

“I coach the student conductors and review video of each session with them in our private lessons so that they can make adjustments and get the most out of their rehearsal time with the group,” Hauze says. “It’s so important for young conductors to have the chance to work with a live orchestra, learning how to interact with and coordinate a diverse body of musicians. We’re particularly delighted that our students can work alongside the world-class Jasper String Quartet; each member of the quartet has been an invaluable mentor for our students.”

It's the first opportunity Samuels-Shragg has had to conduct a weekly ensemble, which she deems "truly rewarding."

"Learning how to efficiently and effectively run rehearsals is such an important part of becoming a conductor," says the Tarzana, Calif., native. "It has been so informative and helpful to work with the combination of patient, supportive, student musicians and seasoned professionals."

The quartet coached and played with the Lab Orchestra three times last spring, and its members returned to the College this season as soloists. They will accompany the Lab Orchestra on Sunday, as Samuels-Shragg conducts Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the Corelli concerto, and Kim the Elgar piece.

“It's a wonderful opportunity for the students to perform in one of Philadelphia's premier arts venues,” says Jenny Honig, manager of concert programming, production, and publicity for the Department of Music and Dance, who initiated the Lab Orchestra's debut at PAFA.

"The venue has great acoustics for a string ensemble like us," adds Kim, "so we are really excited for the opportunity and look forward to sharing our work together to the broader community of Philadelphia."

In the spring, the Lab Orchestra will feature the acclaimed violinist David Kim, also a featured artist of the College this season, with a repertoire to include Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042.

The Lab Orchestra performs in the rotunda of the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts this Sunday at 2 p.m. The performance is free for Swarthmore students and faculty, who can also reserve complimentary guest passes.