Small, soft snowflakes fall from clouds. A gentle wind blows them, and they spiral in unpredictable patterns before settling onto the ground.
Composer, singer and pianist Isabel Guarco ’20 — who is also a magazine editor at the News — composed “Snow” to evoke the image of winter’s first flurries. On Friday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m., Guarco’s piece — one of two world premieres on the concert schedule — will open the Yale Undergraduate Chamber Orchestra’s concert, “Refractions.” The concert, which will take place in Battell Chapel, also features Ethan Treiman’s ’21 “Comfort,” John Adams’ “Christian Zeal and Activity” and Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 5.
YUCO is a student-run orchestra co-directed by Emery Kerekes ’21 and Jacob Miller ’21. YUCO is the only orchestra on campus that actively commissions works by student composers.
“Jacob and I have thought a lot about nestling YUCO into a niche that other orchestras don’t usually fill on Yale’s campus,” Kerekes said. “In addition to premiering new works and rediscovering hidden gems of the repertoire, we want YUCO to be an orchestra that’s committed to being a vessel for collaboration between arts ensembles on campus.”
Friday’s concert program juxtaposes two newly-commissioned student-composed works with two lesser-known works by well-known composers.
The concert’s theme, “Refractions,” is inspired by the idea of looking back. According to Miller, each piece features a transparent and even-keeled sound. When programming the concert, the artistic directors chose pieces based on what types of sounds would complement each other.
After “Snow,” which evokes falling snow with light, fast and quasi-improvisational sections, Treiman’s piece “Comfort” will provide shelter from the storm.
“It’s very free-form,” said violinist Lea Kim ’23. Kim described the opening of the piece as “spark-like scalar emotion.” Kim added that “comfort is an all-around feeling, not defined by just one theme.”
Working with student composers in small-group rehearsals is a unique experience for many musicians. The composer and musicians can directly communicate with each other, offer feedback and learn throughout the process.
“They’re telling us the emotions that they are looking for, and we use our knowledge of instrument technique to help us achieve that goal together,” Kim said.
The 1973 Adams piece follows the two student premieres. The instrumental parts are based on a 19th-century Christian hymn called “Onward Christian Soldiers,” overlaid with a tape recording of a Christian sermon.
“It juxtaposes a fiery, passionate speech over this placid, sparse orchestral part which moves one voice at a time into different chords,” said Kerekes.
According to Miller, Schubert’s fifth symphony, which will conclude the program, is a reflection of Mozart’s music. It is the only piece on the program by a 19th-century composer, and Kim described it as “jubilant, fun and light, which contrasts with the rest of the program.”
YUCO was founded in Spring 2017 by music director and conductor Ian Niederhoffer ’19 and artistic director and composer Max Vinetz ’18. According to Kerekes, YUCO aims to foster collaboration between a composer and conductor.
This season, Kerekes is assuming Niederhoffer’s previous role, and Miller is the resident composer. Yet the two are looking to blur the distinctions between the leadership roles.
The leadership change comes as the orchestra also undergoes structural shifts: Kerekes and Miller now share conducting responsibilities. Kerekes will conduct the Guarco and Adams, and Miller will conduct the Treiman and Schubert.
“One of the things I’ve heard most at Yale is that people want to get into classical music but don’t know how,” Kerekes said. “I hope that by taking people in through the back door with these lesser-known pieces, we can tap into a new generation of classical music lovers.”
YUCO held auditions for the first time this fall after beginning as an invitation-only ensemble.
“We wanted to open it up to the broader Yale community because that’s who we want to serve,” Miller said. “We want people who are excited about it to be able to be a part of it.”
YUCO’s artistic directors exemplify the organization’s focus on multifaceted musicians. In addition to his role in YUCO, Kerekes plays cello in the Yale Symphony Orchestra and sings in several vocal ensembles, including the Yale Glee Club. Miller is a violist in the Yale Symphony and a composer.
YUCO’s next concert will be in Spring 2020. The orchestra hopes to collaborate with a campus dance group.
Phoebe Liu | email@example.com