YSO seeks to up visibility with chamber music

In addition to its staple symphonies and concertos, the Yale Symphony Orchestra now also offers scaled-down performances at events and galas around campus.

As a goodwill gesture aimed at increasing the YSO’s visibility, the orchestra will offer performing groups of chamber musicians free of charge to students, faculty and administrators hosting functions.

YSO musicians performed chamber music at two events last year, but the orchestra hopes to increase the rate of these performances this year, Toshiyuki Shimada, the orchestra’s music director, said.

“We thought, ‘This is wonderful, we should be in service for these kinds of things,’” Shimada said. “This should be continued as a kind of goodwill to the Yale community.”

So far this year, the YSO has sent musicians to the memorial service for Joey Hanzich LAW ’10, who died of a heart attack on Sept. 13. At that service, bassoonists Elizabeth Sebesky ’09 and Elizabeth Schurgin MUS ’08 played music that Joey Hanzich and his brother Ricky Hanzich had played together in the past.

Last year, YSO chamber groups debuted at a dean’s dinner and the farewell reception for former Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg. The events represent a chance to showcase YSO talent, Shimada said. The musicians play as featured elements of a program, not as background music, he said. The move comes at a time when the culture of the orchestra is changing, YSO members said.

“I think over the course of the last three years the YSO has become a much more friendly organization,” YSO President Alex Kenigsberg ‘09 said. “Before there were a lot more grad students in the orchestra and it wasn’t as social. Now we want to branch out and become a bigger presence.”

Schurgin said in the past, students in the School of Music tended to dominate the docket of chamber music performers at functions around campus. He said in an e-mail that unless patrons specifically requested YSO musicians — as was the case at Trachtenberg’s farewell reception — those opportunities tended to be given to graduate students, which limited the ability of undergraduates to play in chamber ensembles outside the classroom. Shimada said participating YSO students are not compensated.

Some student musicians said they are not sure the move will have a significant impact on YSO’s campus presence. Justin Lo ’08, co-president of the Davenport Pops Orchestra, said chamber ensembles tend to be low-profile by nature.

“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how receptive people are to [chamber] string ensembles,” Lo said. “For me, chamber ensemble type music isn’t about visibility or recognition. I don’t know if the YSO will generate the kind of publicity it wants through chamber music.”

Shimada said the YSO has several chamber music engagements on the books. In November, the orchestra will send a chamber ensemble to the Yale Club of New York for a gala, he said. Also in the works, Shimada said, is a benefit concert for YSO cellist Dan Lewis ’09, who remains unconscious in a Colorado hospital after being hit by a car during the Habitat Bike Challenge in July.

“We are trying to be of service to the Yale community,” Shimada said. “I want them to feel that the YSO is their orchestra.”

The Symphony opens its regular concert series Friday evening in Woolsey Hall with works by Berlioz, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Corigliano and Respighi.

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