UNW Orchestra takes to the stage

by Leah Larsen

The orchestra plays for a socially distanced audience (photo courtesy of @unwmusic on Instagram).

On Thursday, November 19, the UNW Orchestra ensemble took to the stage for the first time this semester. It was an opportunity for student musicians to showcase talent and celebrate music amidst a time of rampant rehearsal cancellations, which have covered many of our nation’s other institutions. Under the baton of David Kozamchak, the ensemble played a total of five pieces, one of which included multiple movements. 

Throughout this fall semester, student musicians have been practicing in the Knight Performance Hall auditorium, sitting nine feet apart from one another. They were assigned specific seats at the beginning of the academic year, so they could follow the university’s COVID-19 guidelines and avoid contact tracing.

Students were grateful for the opportunity to play, though it was a challenge to listen and play as a section at times. Senior violinist Megan Bettendorf commented, “We couldn’t hear all that well, so we were hoping that it would come together as we rehearsed while social distancing.”

It was not until the Tuesday and Thursday prior to the concert that students were able to rehearse on stage. Kozamchak joked that students were “never so excited to sit on stage or in a chair with no arms before.” 

Even with COVID-19 restrictions, the orchestra was able to offer 180 seats in the Knight Performance Hall auditorium, and the majority of them filled quickly. The concert’s program and students’ names were projected on the screens rather than printed on paper. This was a choice made as part of Northwestern’s campus sustainability initiative. 

During the course of the concert, Kozamchak gave the in-person audience interesting background on each piece before it was performed. Many of the pieces had fitting titles with talented composers, interesting cultural inspiration and significant meanings. 

The first piece the ensemble performed was “Under the Double Eagle March, op. 159” by Joseph F. Wagner, an Austrian composer. Kozamchak commented on the special connection to Northwestern’s mascot, the Eagle. They then transitioned to William Grant Still’s flowing first movement of “Wood Notes”: “Singing River.” 

Next, the ensemble began performing their multiple-movement selection of Edward German’s “Suite from ‘The Conqueror’,” including the first, second and third movements: “Romance,” “Entrance and Dance of Children” and “Satyr Dance.” Kozamchak assembled the parts of the score himself since he was only provided with the individual sections.

Before ending with the 12-minute fourth movement of Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, ‘From the New World,’ op. 95,” the orchestra performed Hovhaness’ “Overture for Trombone and Strings.” This piece, along with the entire concert, was played in honor of Dr. Jeremy Kolwinska. Kolwinska, the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, passed away unexpectedly this past March. He was a talented trombone player and a champion for the UNW Orchestra, constantly investing in and playing alongside the students. 

The hour-long performance ended successfully with a standing ovation. Many student musicians, including sophomore flutist Crystal Yiu, are thankful for the opportunity to come together and make music. “Orchestra is a performing art, so it was exciting for us to be able to perform and showcase what we’ve worked hard on,” Yiu commented.

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