Courtesy of Ben Beckman

To celebrate the upcoming holiday season,Yale’s Undergraduate Chamber Orchestra will perform a one-night concert called “All-American” in the Saybrook Underbrook. 

“All-American” — scheduled for 8 p.m. Nov. 15 — will be the second of approximately 11 concerts YUCO has planned for this year. This season, the ensemble put together deeply researched programs grouped geographically. “All-American” features a repertoire of American classical composers. 

“We don’t have the feeling that we have to figure out how to best play with one another each time we approach a new program because the ensemble is different,” Kameron Duncan ’24, YUCO’s pianist said. “Consistency gives us the ability to progress from program to program. We really want to be intentional about building coherent and understandable programs as well as interesting and fun to play pieces.”

Ben Beckman ’24, artistic director and conductor of the ensemble, explained that he wanted to compile programs that make sense instead of programs that feature randomly selected classical pieces that do not have an underlying theme. 

According to Beckman, the all-American theme was chosen with the time of year in mind. 

“Thanksgiving historically has been a very American holiday,” Beckman said. “To do an American program before Thanksgiving would make a lot of sense. All of these pieces were written in America and deal with the themes of American identity, either questioning it or dealing with it in one way or another.”

In previous years, YUCO presented two to three projects annually, and its musicians shifted on a project to project basis. This year, now under the leadership of Beckman, all YUCO members participate in rehearsals for two and a half hours every Tuesday, regardless of the performance schedule. This modification enhanced the social aspect of YUCO.

“We’ve been able to play a lot more music,” said Beckman. “Just because everyone knows each other, everyone knows how everyone else plays. The ensemble feeling within the group is really tight. That has allowed us to program a much more intense season.”

Annie Citron ’25, emphasizes the collaborative aspect that is unique to a chamber ensemble and that it has made rehearsals more productive, saying that it is a “cool social space” that has “really added to the production of music.”

The concert will open with Jesse Montgomery’s “Starburst,” “a fun and relevant” opener that corresponds to the star-spangled American flag. 

“I find that it is a nice piece to sort of almost lose yourself in,” said Duncan. “There’s a lot of forward momentum, intensity. It’s very driving rhythmically, and that makes it fun and exciting as a performer.”

Following that will be Charles Ives’ programmatic piece, “The Unanswered Question,” featuring strings, four woodwinds, solo trumpet and two conductors. The piece, though famous in the music world, is rarely programmed, according to Beckman. 

According to Beckman, there will be a story represented in the performance, ultimately questioning what it means to be American.

The trumpet is asking this question of the universe or God, and the winds are like deities responding or not responding or not responding to the trumpet,” he said. “They just get more and more exasperated, as the trumpet just keeps asking, and there is no answer.” 

The program’s third piece is Ulysses Kay’s “Suite from ‘The Quiet One,” a three-movement work specifically for chamber orchestra that samples excerpts from Kay’s film score of Sidney Meyer’s eponymous documentary film. Kay’s music comes out of the American Romantic tradition, and is regarded by both Beckman and Citron as “phenomenal.”

“Kay’s not as famous because he didn’t receive publicity; he’s a Black composer in the 1940s and 50s.” said Citron, who plays French horn in Kay’s piece. “But you know, it’s just as good as Copeland.”

Beckman also emphasized the importance of programming a diverse season. 

“It’s important that the ensemble not have a program of all dead white men, which would just not be representative of art making and what we should be doing as an ensemble in the 21st century,” he said.

The concert will conclude with Aaron Copland’s staple chamber orchestra repertoire, “Appalachian Spring Suite.”

“Appalachian Spring” was originally composed for Martha Graham’s Ballet Company and tells the story of a marriage in the rural Appalachians.

HANNAH KOTLER