The CSUSB Symphony Orchestra returned with a heightened performance after two years without a live audience.
The performance featured the 2021-2022 Young Artist Competition finalists Eliana Jeong playing the cello and Juan Del Real playing the clarinet. Returning finalists from the 2019-2020 Young Artist competition Andrew Bora playing the cello, Joshua Rodriguez-Irons playing the violin, and Judith Nuñez-Larios on the saxophone.
Over the past two years, the CSUSB Symphony Orchestra and CSUSB Music Department has continued to produce music and performances through various forms of online conditions. Many of those performances can be found on the CSUSB Music Department Youtube channel.
In an interview, Music Director and Conductor of the Orchestral Studies Program Dr. Lucy Lewis shared the emotional importance of the performance. “Before we took the stage, I told my students that we should never take for granted the ability to make music together on stage,” said Dr. Lewis.
The piece performed on Thursday was originally meant to be performed on March 12th, 2020 but was canceled the very same day due to COVID-19 and the closure of campus. After waiting for a long two years, the recital hall was filled with an audience eager and excited to hear the piece. Not only was it intended to be carried out two years ago, but the orchestra had been preparing for this performance for anywhere from eight to ten weeks of hard work and dedication.
Amongst the audience was principal cellist of the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra and former faculty member in the Music Department at CSUSB Ana Maria Maldonado. After the performance, she shared a few words of recognition towards Dr. Lewis.
“What Dr. Lewis has done her in the time she has spent here is incredible. The program used to be only two or three violins, so what the program is now is extraordinary.”
Dr. Lewis has had guest conducted orchestras in various states such as California, Michigan, Tennessee, Main, and Florida. In 2019, she even led the CSUSB Orchestra on tour to South Korea where they performed in the Seoul Center for the Arts IBK Chamber Hall.
Susan West, concertmaster, is a first violin sitting in the first chair and co-leads the Orchestra alongside Dr. Lewis. She was kind enough to share some insight on the challenges that have risen for orchestra members playing through during this pandemic. “Some people were definitely excited to come back, others were more nervous in front of the live audience. Having to perform with a mask is difficult, especially for the woodwinds and brass players.”
While working through COVID-19 safety precautions, orchestra members playing with masks on prevents their ability to express their emotions through facial features. It makes it harder to breathe, and being able to breathe while playing is a major factor in performing. Nevertheless, the CSUSB Symphony Orchestra will prevail through this trying time and continue to produce excellent concerts.
CSUSB alumnus Joshua Rodriguez-Irons was one of the special guests featured that night. He has been playing the violin for almost 15 years now and will graduate with his Masters of Music degree in violin performance this coming May from CSULB. Rodriguez-Irons shared his plans for the upcoming future. “After graduating in May, I plan on applying for an Artist Certificate in Violin Performance which is just another year of solely performing music, no education curriculum. The next step will be applying for professional orchestras.”
Rodriguez-Irons is just one of the many students who have graduated from the Music Program who have a bright future ahead of them. Another alumnus who made a special appearance that night was Judith Nunez. She had begun to play music at the age of eight years old, and during her time at CSUSB she had transitioned to playing the saxophone while being an active member of almost every instrumental ensemble on campus. Her plans for the future are to attain her teaching credentials to become a music educator in Fall 2022. Juan Del Real is currently attending CSUSB and pursuing a Bachelors of Music degree with a Music Education Concentration. He has been playing the clarinet since he was 11 years old, and his passion for music has carried him to where he is today. He plays in the Symphonic Band, the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Winds, and the Clarinet Choir here at CSUSB.
The CSUSB Symphony Orchestra closed out the performance with a piece by Respighi called “Pines of Rome” which included all categories of instruments such as string, woodwind, brass, percussion, and keyboard. This piece has a four-movement tone which symbolizes four different pine trees in Rome at four different locations and time of the day. Each tone brings a very different perspective such as the first one being children singing nursery rhymes and pretending to be soldiers which leads up to the last tone of soldiers marching down the road at dawn. It served as a perfect ending to a night of celebration with a finale of one of the most triumphant last movements in the history of symphonic literature.