Since the beginning of September, the Miami University Symphony Orchestra has been preparing for their upcoming fall concert, “Symphony Orchestra: The Daniel Pearl World Music Days.” Under the direction of conductor Ricardo Averbach, the ensemble is comprised of both music majors and non-music majors.
Averbach has conducted the symphony orchestra for 17 years. A native of Brazil, he has done conducting work across the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The theme of the season’s opening concert centers around music from the 1960s and racial tensions during the Civil Rights Movement. The theme relates to “Tigerland” by Miami alum Wil Haygood, the book assigned to incoming students for this year’s summer reading program.
“Tigerland” tells the story of a segregated high school in an impoverished area of Columbus, Ohio during the late 60s. Dr. Averbach faced a similar environment during his teenage years.
“When I was 14 years old, my parents wanted me to learn English so I was sent to the United States as a foreign exchange student, not knowing where I was going until a week before my flight,” Averbach said.
At just 14, Averbach found himself studying in a segregated school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland. He lived with an African-American host family.
“I learned about Martin Luther King Jr. in school in Brazil, and my parents were concerned,” he said. “But the experience was amazing and eye-opening, and for that reason, I have a deep personal connection with ‘Tigerland’ and the theme of this concert. ‘Tigerland’ takes place in 1968 and 1969, I arrived in Ohio in 1971.”
Opening up the concert is a new composition of a well-known civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” written by Roger Davis. Following the piece is “Three Black Kings,” one of Duke Ellington’s last major works before passing in the mid 70s. Closing out the concert is “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein.
The concert is part of Daniel Pearl World Music Days, in honor of Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded while working on an investigative story in Pakistan for The Wall Street Journal. The event is intended to embrace humanity and take a stand against divisive forces.
Students in the orchestra spend an hour and a half, three days a week in rehearsal. Averbach makes an effort to make rehearsals as personal as possible, posting readings and articles on Canvas relevant to the theme of the concert, and opening the floor during rehearsals to discuss the material.
While music majors are required to be in department ensembles, there are also quite a few non-majors involved in the orchestra.
“There are many students in orchestra who aren’t music majors,” said Sebastian Pratt, a first-year music composition and diplomacy & global politics double major. “So it’s a pretty interesting mix, especially being new to the orchestra.”
Preparing for the concert has not been an easy task, though the musicians have had fun preparing for the performance.
“‘West Side Story’ is definitely a difficult piece,” said Pratt. “A lot of the music is a series of cacophony and weird tempos, but there are some parts of it that I enjoy. The finale of the piece is mostly strings, and only me and two other violinists have the solo.”
“My favorite piece is ‘Mambo’ from West Side Story. It’s fun, super high energy, and there are multiple points where the entire orchestra screams “Mambo!” It’s technically challenging, but fun and rewarding,” Grace Rosus, orchestra manager, said.
Dr. Averbach hopes to get the chance to do more concerts like this in the future.
“Miami is a school that traditionally does not have the most diverse image, so this is a really important topic to talk about,” he said.“There will always be an audience for orchestra music. It’s not given that Miami students will be able to go to a concert and enjoy the experience, so I’m always trying to find ways to make the music meaningful for audiences today.”
The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5 in Hall Auditorium. Admission is free.