By Steve Fyffe
One of the largest orchestral commissions in Oregon history is about to be performed by a unique chamber orchestra that was created to offer students the rare opportunity to be mentored and perform alongside professional musicians and faculty members from the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance.
It’s a collaboration between Orchestra Next and The Eugene Ballet, along with Portland-based composer Kenji Bunch, on a reimagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale "The Snow Queen.”
The world premiere is scheduled to be held at the Hult Center on April 8 and 9.
Orchestra Next was established to be the first true training orchestra in Oregon. It currently counts around 15 University of Oregon students on its roster, according to associate professor of trumpet Brian McWhorter, who founded the group with faculty member Sarah Viens.
“We started to think five years ago that there’s a major gap in music education,” McWhorter said. “Students play in student orchestras, but all of a sudden they need to launch to professional orchestras, but there are not enough seats for them."
Unlike other professional orchestras, where students frequently have to pay for the privilege of auditioning, Orchestra Next’s audition process is conducted for free online. And if a student gets accepted, they actually get paid an honorarium to participate.
“We wanted to set up something where we were actually building capital for the students, and we fund raised hard and got money so that we can pay the students,” McWhorter said.
It offers aspiring classical music students the chance to play alongside and learn from seasoned professionals.
"It’s hard to believe how fun this thing is,” McWhorter said. “When the students are sitting next to the pros, it’s a dynamic like no other...It’s the fastest learning curve you can imagine."
Orchestra Next is also planning on releasing an album of “The Snow Queen" score, which was recorded in Aasen-Hull Hall at the University of Oregon School of Music & Dance, and features performances from many faculty members.
You can watch a 360° video from that recording session below.