Orchestra and chorale to join forces in long-awaited collaboration

Sam Patterson, Campus Life Reporter

There are countless ways to express music. Different instruments, styles and performers combine to produce vastly unique aural experiences. Each branch of the musical world offers fresh artistic expression, leaving the audience with a distinct perspective. When more than one of these branches are combined, there is great potential for an exciting, harmonious crossover.

On Friday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. in Cordiner Hall, the Whitman College Orchestra and Chorale will be hosting their first joint concert since 2019. The orchestra is directed by Associate Professor of Music and Garrett Fellow Paul Luongo, and the chorale is directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Joseph Kemper. The pair is ecstatic to have this opportunity, as COVID-19 hampered their collaborative efforts for the past few years. 

The show will offer a wide range of musical stylings and instrumental personnel between its four different pieces. The night will open with a piece by the orchestra, followed by solo performances from Concerto-Aria competition winners Ravi Narayan and Linnea Gatmon-Sandrock, all conducted by Professor Luongo. The last piece, conducted by Professor Kemper, will be a multi-movement work with great musical depth and range, performed by the combined efforts of the orchestra, the chorale and guest soloists Katherine Goforth (tenor) and Anton Belov (bass).

Professor Luongo spoke to the unique benefits that musicians obtain from rehearsing collaborative musical performances together.

“I think it’s one of the concerts this year that’s involved the most areas around music-making at Whitman,” Luongo said. “Any different type of collaboration is a learning process; there’s always a bit of give and take, [as] everyone approaches things a little bit differently. Instrumentalists rehearse slightly differently than vocalists, and I think that’s a really healthy process for everybody involved. You get to see different approaches, and sometimes you learn a few things along the way that you can change [in] your own approach.” 

With so many musicians on stage at once, the piece turns into a titanic production. Luongo spoke to the energy that such a large group of performers can create. 

“I think it’s also just invigorating. I think the students get really excited to perform a piece that has 100 people up on stage, and it’s definitely one of these kinds of processes where the sum is greater than its parts,” Luongo said.

Violinist Ben Kehrli spoke to the advantages of working alongside different musical subclasses, specifically from an orchestral standpoint.

“When we practice under a choral conductor, we get far more emotional terms in our feedback that are much more typical for a vocalist, since the voice can respond easily in this sense. This new way of playing music provided a goosebumps-filled, spine-tingling experience,” Kehrli said.

On top of the unique potential created by merging the two musical groups, the orchestra and chorale joined efforts to offer the audience a rare opportunity to hear marginalized composer Marianna von Martines’ composition. 

Professor Kemper spoke to the consideration that went into choosing the piece for the concert’s joint finale.

“Dr. Luongo and I collaborated to find a piece that would allow the students from the choir and orchestra to come together … we wanted to find something that was accessible enough for both groups but also was a work that represented a composer that had been historically marginalized or excluded,” Kemper said. “The piece that we came across was by Marianna von Martines … who lived during the same time as prodigious figures such as Haydn and Mozart and was prodigious herself. Because of the norms at the time, women were not allowed to hold any posts in schools or posts in churches, which were the main musical employment opportunities — so she wrote this work, and it never had a large scale production in her lifetime.”

Despite the lack of recognition Martines received during her era, her work has finally gained recognition over the past two decades. Her composition has only been performed a handful of times, but the joint efforts of the orchestra and chorale will bring her underappreciated work to life.

Head on down to Cordiner Hall this Friday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. for a night of music with quite a bit to offer. Between talented soloists, stylistic supplementation from the orchestra and chorale’s collaboration and Martines’ historically underappreciated finale, the concert is bound to provide audiences with a profound experience.