University Symphony Orchestra concert dazzles April 27-28

Story by Natalie Hendricks

The University Symphony Orchestra will fill the stage for the final time in the 2016-17 academic year this week, showcasing works old and new.

The two-night run takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, and Friday, April 28, in the Griffin Concert Hall at the University Center for the Arts.

The concert will be one-of-a-kind, and audiences will be “dazzled on all fronts,” said Maestro Wes Kenney. “There is much power in what we’re doing, but also beauty.”

The epic program includes Mason Bates’ Mothership, originally performed by the YouTube Symphony; Ernst Bloch’s Schelomo – considered one of the greatest cello concertos ever written – featuring guest soloist Barbara Thiem; and the classic Pictures at an Exhibition by Modeste Mussorgsky, transcribed by Maurice Ravel.

The Mothership

Starting the concert, Mason Bates’ Mothership will give audiences an experience that is not common for orchestra performances. Originally commissioned by the YouTube Symphony, the piece is presented with an entire lighting scheme by CSU Theatre Director Price Johnston that visually enhances the talent of the players and soloists in an energetic way.

“I love the idea of the collaboration with theatre and hearing four students improvising as part of Mothership,” said Kenney. The featured soloists include Joe Hoffarth, saxophone; Chris Bell, clarinet; Tim Sanchez, percussion; and Aiden King, trombone.

Kenney selected the piece specifically with CSU student patrons in mind. “Mason Bates is a 21st-century composer, and speaks a language that younger audiences will identify with,” he said. “The work is absolutely listener-friendly.”

The second piece features cellist Thiem, a faculty artist and performer who travels the world. Schelomo, also known as Hebraic Rhapsody, was written in 1915 by German-Swiss composer Ernst Bloch. Bloch came to America shortly after it was composed, and was present when the piece from his “Jewish Cycle” premiered at Carnegie Hall.

Lots of percussion, brass

Marking the 100-year anniversary of the performance on May 3, 1917, Thiem is honored to perform the piece during its anniversary.

“[Schelomo] is a very Jewish-sounding piece, and the cello voice is supposed to be King Solomon,” she explained. The piece is definitely late romantic style while it incorporates a Jewish melody. “It’s a very big orchestra and has a lot of percussion and brass – it’s a big full orchestra around this little cello,” Thiem added.

If you’ve ever seen  Thiem perform, you know the big orchestra won’t be any problem.

“I am always excited to be in front of the CSU Symphony,” said Kenney. “However, Pictures is another milestone achieved for the CSU Symphony, as it also demonstrates the level of teaching that goes on at our school.”

Pictures at an Exhibition musically depicts an art patron strolling through an exhibition of paintings, and the emotions felt while embracing the presentation.

“We have not done Pictures at CSU since I’ve been here, and it is one of the great showpieces for orchestra, unique in its presentation and a virtuosic vehicle for orchestra,” Kenney said.

After carefully rehearsing over the last four weeks, the University Symphony Orchestra will blow the audience away with this unique performance.

Ticket information

Tickets for the performance are no charge for full-fee paying CSU students, $1 for youth (under 18), and $12 for the public. Tickets are available at the University Center for the Arts (UCA) ticket office in the UCA lobby Monday through Friday, 3:30-5:30 p.m. and 60 minutes prior to performances, by phone at (970) 491-ARTS (2787), or online at

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