Student orchestra debuts show in Benton Museum's East Gallery

Harvey Felder, conductor and director of UConn's orchestral studies program, conducts the UConn Chamber Orchestra during a performance in the William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs, Connecticut on Friday, April 1, 2016. (Courtesy/Andy Hudymyak/YPM Photography)

What was once a cavernous space decorated in art, the Benton’s East Gallery became a symphony hall Friday night as the University of Connecticut’s Chamber Orchestra and three prominent guest soloists debuted a performance they would give the following day in New York City.

A crowd of almost 100 sat captivated as they watched Harvey Felder, the conductor and Director of Orchestral Studies at UConn, maneuver his baton to guide a symphony of UConn students through the subtle notes and compelling sounds of pieces composed by Ivan Karabyts, Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Stamitz, Antonio Vivaldi and Antonin Dvorák.

“It’s like painting with an unlimited number of colors,” Bobby Luan, a second-year graduate student in music, said while he stood near surreal and elusive paintings by Philadelphia artist Katia Setzer. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing. We can’t stop playing.”

Luan, who began playing music at the age of four, has been part of UConn’s Chamber Orchestra since he started graduate school here two years ago. Both he and John Yao, a fourth-semester chemical engineering major, played in Friday’s performance and said their commitment to the rigors of the orchestra includes five hours of formal practice every week along with many more hours of practice on their own time.

“It reminds me of when I played back in high school,” Yao said, remembering how music impacted him since he started playing nine years ago. “The orchestra has made my experience going into college better. It was less like a complete flip of my life and more like something familiar.”

Solomiya Ivakhiv, assistant professor of violin and viola and the head of the strings department, smiles during a performance in the William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs, Connecticut on Friday, April 1, 2016. (Courtesy/Andy Hudymyak/YPM Photography)

For this particular performance, Yao said, the musicians were crunched for time because of spring break and only had about two weeks to prepare. In comparison to other shows, Yao said this was a little more stressful.

Despite the time crunch, many in the crowd said the students’ performance was as impressive as it was moving. With multiple standing ovations, both the performers and guests agree that the debut show was a success and would be the following day in New York City as well.

Rebecca Patterson, an adjunct professor and cello instructor, was one of the three soloists who performed. Patterson, a graduate of Yale University and founding member of the award-winning ensemble “Antares,” said she loved the Benton’s venue because of the “beauty of being surrounded by art” and the “fantastic acoustics.”

Patterson’s mother was a piano teacher and Patterson herself began playing the piano at 4 years old and the cello at 9 years old.

“Music allowed me to connect with a wide range of people, whether it’s age or background. It doesn’t matter,” Patterson said. “To be a part of that is the main satisfaction.”

When Solomiya Ivakhiv, assistant professor of violin and viola and the head of the strings department, approached Nancy Stula, the director of the Benton, they both agreed that a joint art and music event would be a great way of bringing the UConn community together on a Friday night.

“We are trying to reach all over Connecticut and cooperate with other musicians and organizations,” Ivakhiv said. “Today’s event at the Benton showed how collaboration could produce such a high caliber event.”

Ivakhiv has been playing music for 30 years and said she loves performing and teaching.

Although there were many UConn faculty members at the event, students who came said they were captivated by the music.

Al Miller, a fourth-semester mechanical engineering major, came because he is a fan of Melvin Chen, one of the soloists during the performance. Chen is regarded as an internationally acclaimed pianist. He is a professor of piano and deputy dean at Yale School of Music.

Miller, who takes piano lessons, said music requires work and effort, even on the part of the listener. Still, he said there’s an intangible joy when it come to classical music because of the emotional feeling people get from listening, especially during live performances.

Both Brittnay Denza, an eighth-semester human development and family studies major, and Ryan White, an eighth-semester photography major, came to see their friend, Hannah Traver, play first violin in the orchestra.

“It’s rewarding to practice a piece of music and get it down,” White, who also plays guitar and sings, said. “Tonight’s performance was full of emotion and I look forward to coming to more.”


Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.