Chamber Orchestra revamps ensemble

Brand new on campus and the College’s music scene this semester is the Chamber Orchestra of Williams, a newly formed ensemble led by Music Director Leonard Bopp ’19. Last Saturday, I sat down with Bopp to discuss the group’s appearance and anticipated role within the campus community. According to Bopp, however, the Chamber Orchestra of Williams is not an entirely new presence on campus.

“[It] was something that actually had operated kind of in an older version for a long time. Ronny Feldman, music director of the Berkshire Symphony, used to run a Winter Study course every other winter study called Chamber Orchestra of Williams ­– it was a chance for students to work in a conductor-less ensemble,” he explained. “However, at the beginning of last year, I expressed, and the music department also expressed, a real interest in having a student-run ensemble exist throughout the year and be a permanent fixture on campus.”

The Chamber Orchestra of Williams is a unique ensemble – the only student-run ensemble currently on campus – and serves as a much-needed orchestral environment for students to explore different instrumental parts. Bopp’s vision for the orchestra is one that focuses on the students: “I wanted it to be both a student-run ensemble and a chance for students to work closely together in an orchestral setting. In the Berkshire Symphony we have professional musicians … who end up sitting in the first chairs, so this is an opportunity for students to play those kinds of parts that they otherwise wouldn’t get to play.”

The group is also committed to innovative programming. While the group will cover “landmark pieces,” as he called them, such as those of Wagner and Beethoven, Bopp expressed his dedication to providing programs that are beautiful as well as thought-provoking. “I’m really interested in how to make the concert experience as meaningful as interesting and provocative as possible … Some music takes an explicitly political stance, and I’m definitely really interested in those kinds of compositions. Other music I find that you can have a provocative program just by engaging differing and contrasting musical genres.” Appalachian Spring, which occupies a place in both the Chamber’s first and upcoming concerts, Bopp explained, is “not only beautiful, it combines that sense of beauty with a really vital message about the importance of community and simplicity and experiencing the joy of life.”

On April 14, the new ensemble, conducted by Bopp, presented their first concert as a permanent group in Chapin Hall, showcasing a repertoire that included Elgar’s String Serenade and the chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Following that performance, the Chamber Orchestra will host another concert, “Coming Together,” next Wednesday in the Clark Institute’s Conforti Pavilion. The repertoire, demonstrating Bopp’s interest in thoughtful juxtapositions, will place Copland’s Appalachian Spring next to a piece by Assistant Professor of Music Zachary Wadsworth, ‘Variations on an Unheard Theme’. “It’s kind of interesting to take the Copland and juxtapose it with a contemporary American piece,” one which Bopp explained, “is kind of perfectly suited for us … [the idea of] an unheard theme makes the piece kind of necessarily abstract. I thought it would be really interesting to play around with the idea of who or what is unheard in this piece, especially given this political moment.”

The concert will also incorporate poetry into the performance, featuring students from SpeakFree, the College’s spoken word organization. “I thought it would be really interesting to insert poetry in between each of the movements of the Wadsworth so that every movement is coupled with one idea of what might be unheard.” Speaking to the theme of coming together, the performance aims “to prioritize voices of people from historically marginalized groups – queer people, women, people of color.” A heavily collaborative performance that keeps true to its theme of coming together, the Chamber Orchestra of Williams’ performance next Wednesday at the Conforti Pavilion is one to look forward to.

The recently-established Chamber Orchestra of Williams is the only student-run ensemble on campus. Photo courtesy of music.williams.edu