Music has been called the universal language. Varied and multifaceted, music can be a vehicle for expressing and engaging the full range of human emotions and aspirations. The year 2020 has challenged the musical world in its ability to express itself in live performances. Many famous musicians, such as Yo-Yo Ma, have transcended the traditional expression and venues of musical performance by releasing videos filmed at locations around the world, including ballet studios, ice rinks and on the tops of buildings. This creativity in performing at different and unique locations has symbolized the unity and universality of music in times of difficulty. However, the fact remains that not hearing and performing music in person has left behind an emotional drought which is made the more poignant by the gorgeous sounds of talented musicians coming through speakers around the world.
The music of a symphony orchestra is a powerful medium of artistic expression in sound. And unfortunately, groups of musicians such as orchestras have for the most part been unable, in 2020, to share this gift of sound with audiences around the world. However, as each member practices in isolation, the future of symphony orchestras remains and grows stronger than ever. Post-pandemic symphony orchestras will come together to create the timeless yet ever new strains of modern and traditional composers.
This post looks at 20 of the most impressive college symphony orchestras in America. Because there is such diversity between colleges, conservatories and universities, evaluating the quality of a given orchestra can be quite subjective. Our criteria for inclusion will give special emphasis to conductors. As maestros of symphonic sound, conductors play a central role in any orchestra, largely determining a symphony’s quality and artistic power. Other key factors in our evaluation of the most impressive college orchestras in America are the reputation of the institution, the awards an orchestra has received and the history of the orchestra.
When British composer-conductor Sir David Willcocks guest conducted the St. Olaf Orchestra in the 90s, he wrote: “I was struck by the excellent playing of the orchestra, whose members were not only technically assured but were exceptionally musical and responsive.” The St. Olaf Orchestra, part of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, has acquired an impressive reputation over the last 100 years and its current reputation is still impressive now as it was in the 90s under Sir David Willcocks’ baton.
Founded in 1906, St. Olaf Orchestra is made up of 92 members who are currently conducted by Steven Amundsen. Amundsen has led the orchestra to great success including first place in The American Prize for College Orchestras in 2020. Annually touring the U.S. and frequently abroad, the St. Olaf Orchestra included Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 during their 2020 fall tour of the Midwest United States. The St. Olaf Orchestra:
- Performed as Garrison Keillor’s guest on a broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion
- Toured Norway in 2020
- Performs each year as part of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival which is broadcast on PBS and radio stations across the nation
Oberlin Symphony Orchestra
Oberlin Conservatory has a high reputation for producing some of the finest artists that musical audiences across the country have appreciated for decades. The Conservatory has been deemed a “national treasure” by the Washington Post and in 2009 was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
When Sir Simon Rattle conducted the Orchestra in 2004, music critic Donald Rosenberg described the performance as “stamped by magnificence.” Rosenberg included the Oberlin-Rattle performance of a Mahler Symphony during the concert in his list of top 10 memorable events from the 2004 concert season. Oberlin Orchestra went on to perform throughout China during a 13-day tour in 2005.
Raphael Jimenez, the Director of Oberlin Orchestras, has conducted orchestras around the world and is celebrated for his “stirring, vividly shaped renditions” (New York Times). Jimenez was appointed principal conductor of the Caracas National Ballet at the young age of 22 and has worked as music director for opera productions around the world.
The Oberlin Orchestra has, among many other notable successes,
- Appeared at Walt Disney Concert Hall
- Performs regularly at Carnegie Hall
- Has performed under the direction of conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Igor Stravinsky and John Williams
Lamont Symphony Orchestra
Lamont Symphony Orchestra is made up of a select group of students that audition to play in the symphony at the Lamont School of Music associated with the University of Denver. Winning multiple awards in the last decade, the Lamont Symphony Orchestra performs seven symphonic concerts and two operas each year.
The success of their conductor, Lawrence Golan, explains the achievements of the orchestra. Mr. Golan has degrees from two of the most prestigious music schools in the world, Jacob’s School of Music and New England Conservatory of Music. After a highly successful four year jaunt with The Phoenix Symphony, Music Director Michael Christie said of Golan that he “is a programmer of virtually unprecedented creativity and scope.” The artists that Golan has worked with include Leonard Bernstein, Joshua Bell, Frank Sinatra and Kenny G. The following awards and acclaim have been awarded to Golan and the Lamont Symphony Orchestra:
- Conductor, Lawrence Golan, named the Grand Prize Winner of The American Prize for Orchestral Programming in 2012
- Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Conductor, Golan, have won:
- Two Global Music Awards for their recording of Beethoven Symphony No. 7 and “Beethoven 7.1” on Albany Records
- Three Downbeat Magazine Awards for “Best College Symphony Orchestra”
- Eight ASCAP Awards for “Innovative Programming of Contemporary Music
Yale Symphony Orchestra
Widely considered to be one of the most impressive university orchestras, Yale Symphony Orchestra has earned its reputation through decades of hard work and vision. Founded in 1965 by a small group of students, Yale Symphony Orchestra has become a student ensemble worthy to be compared to some of the finest music school orchestras. Students who have reached a high level of musicianship but want to pursue a liberal arts education, fit right in to the YSO, alongside those who are pursuing music studies.
Though based in a liberal arts university, the many alumni of the YSO include Sharon Yamada of the New York Philharmonic, Haldan Martinson of the Boston Symphony Orchestra as well as Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Also former musicians of the Yale Symphony Orchestra include composers Michael Gore, Stephen Paul Hartke, Robert Kyr and others.
As of August 2020, the YSO studies under a new conductor, William Boughton, who was passed the baton by the Symphony’s previous talented conductor, Toshiyuki Shimada. Boughton studied cello at the New England Conservatory, London’s Guildhall School of Music, and Prague Academy and has played with the Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia, and the London Sinfonietta. He formed the English Symphony Orchestra, conducting the group through a series of recordings with Nimbus Records, many of which reached the Top Ten on U.S. charts. The Yale Symphony Orchestra promises to retain their impressive reputation under Boughton.
Some of the achievements of the Yale Symphony Orchestra to date include having:
- Shared the stage with Yo-Yo Ma, Emmanuel Ax and others
- Premiered works such as Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in 1973
- Toured the Republic of Turkey gaining significant media coverage
- Performed many times at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral
New York, New York
The Juilliard School in New York City is widely regarded as the most impressive as well as one of the very top music conservatories in the world. The Juilliard Orchestra is undoubtedly made up of some of the most talented instrumentalists from around the United States. The orchestra is frequently led by well-known guest conductors including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Marin Alsop and John Adams.
Their regular conductor, Alan Gilbert, is very talented and highly accomplished as well, having studied at Harvard, New England Conservatory, Curtis Institute and Juilliard. In 1994 he won both the Georg Solti prize and first prize at the International Competition for Musical Performance in Geneva. At an exciting concert at Carnegie Hall last year, Juilliard Orchestra performed one of Gilbert’s own arrangements of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, as well as works by Schumann and Berg. Anthony Tommasina of the New York Times called the performance “vibrant and accomplished.” He also reported that “the hall was packed; the final ovation was tremendous and deserved.”
The Juilliard Orchestra’s 2020-2020 season features:
- More than a dozen performances led by guest and faculty conductors including Marin Alsop, Karina Canellakis, Nimrod David Pfeffer and others
- Collaborations with Juilliard Dance and Juilliard Opera
- A first time collaboration with Juilliard415
Western Michigan University Symphony Orchestra
The Western Michigan University Symphony Orchestra, currently directed by Bruce Uchimura, was founded in 1945 and has gained considerable acclaim. Uchimura, an accomplished cellist with degrees from Juilliard and Cleveland Institute of Music, is the 7th conductor of the Orchestra, working with the Symphony since 1998. Uchimura has maintained a consistent and impressive level of excellence from the talented undergraduate and graduate members of the orchestra. Some of the accomplishments of the Western Michigan University Symphony Orchestra include being:
- Named Best Classical University Symphony Orchestra in 2005 by Downbeat Magazine.
- Awarded the most memorable performance of the year by the Kalamazoo Gazette
- Finalists in the American Prize Orchestra Division in 2014 and 2015
Stanford Symphony Orchestra
The Stanford Symphony Orchestra, like one or two others on this list, is comprised mainly of non music majors, primarily STEM students. Only 5% of the members of the SSO are music majors. In spite of this, the orchestra is renowned for its performances with famous artists and their performances of traditional and contemporary repertoire.
Two months after Stanford University opened its doors in 1891, the first Stanford orchestra of 11 members was formed. Their symphony orchestra now consists of over 90 very talented members. Students in the orchestra receive coaching directed by musicians from the San Francisco Symphony and Conservatory of Music. The SSO rehearses and performs in its new performance venue, the Bing Concert Hall.
Paul Philips, the conductor for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra has won numerous awards and conducted more than 50 orchestras worldwide. Philips is acclaimed as a conductor, scholar and composer, directing his own works with the Symphony. Philips and the Stanford Symphony Orchestra conduct international tours every 4 years, most recently bringing their music to Mexico and Cuba in 2017.
- The Stanford Symphony Orchestra has performed with famous artists including Van Cliburn gold medalist Jon Nakamatsu, and with their own highly accomplished faculty members.
- Collaborations with Stanford Live have included performances with artists such as Darlene Love, Sandy Cameron and Nitin Sawhney.
Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra
The Shepherd School Symphony at Rice University is comprised of over one hundred of its talented students who practice together over 5 1/2 hours a week. Along with regular practice, members of the Symphony attend regular classes in orchestral repertoire and excerpts. Brass, strings, woodwind and string sectionals taught by talented orchestral faculty round out the symphony members’ robust training and produce terrific results.
Shepherd School of Music is one of the newest on the scene but has become one of the top music schools in the country. The school, from its beginning, has emphasized orchestral development and training as one of the main aspects of its curriculum. The Shepherd School Symphony, led since 1991 by director Larry Rachleff, has also advanced to an impressive level in the last 40 years. According to their website a reviewer reports, “The Shepherd School of Music is an internationally known magnet for young players wanting careers as professional orchestras musicians. The excellent faculty – but above all conductor Larry Rachleff – consistently produces a top-quality ensemble many a city could want as its resident orchestra.” Some notable points concerning the School and Symphony include:
- Shepherd Symphony populates up to 40% of the Houston Symphony Orchestra with faculty and alumni.
- Their 2014 debut at Carnegie Hall won them a standing ovation.
- The Symphony typically performs 3 concerts a semester; recent concerts featured Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.
USC Thornton Symphony
Los Angeles, California
Part of the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music boasts one the very best student orchestras on the West Coast. Founded in the early 20th century, Thorton Symphony Orchestra has a been a prominent musical ensemble in the Los Angeles area for over one hundred years. Henrick Górecki himself conducted the Thornton Orchestra in the West Coast premier of his third symphony in 1997, calling it the best ensemble he had worked with personally.
Thorton’s current conductor is Carl St. Clair. St. Clair has also directed the Pacific Symphony for over 30 years bringing it to the recently elevated status of a Tier 1 Orchestra. In 2018 St. Clair conducted the Pacific Symphony at their sold out Carnegie Hall debut which ended with a standing ovation. Carl St. Clair has conducted the Thornton Symphony Orchestra for over 25 years.
Finally, Thornton provides many opportunities for up and coming student composers to have their music performed. Thornton presents a yearly event called New Music for Orchestra which has premiered more than 125 compositions. Often these compositions have led to commissions and performances by professional orchestras.
- The Thornton Symphony has collaborated with top conductors, composers and musicians, including the cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
- Thornton collaborates annually with the Thornton School of Music Opera which has premiered more than 125 compositions.
Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra
The Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra of the Wheaton Conservatory of Music is an all-undergraduate symphony which has performed all genres of music. Wheaton’s Symphony Orchestra has earned numerous awards and regularly tours the United States. They have collaborated with musicians such as Sylvia McNair, Lawrence Brownlee, Marvin Hamlisch, Michael W. Smith, Joel Grey and The Hubbard Street Dance Company.
The conductor of Wheaton’s Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Sommerville, has directed the orchestra since 1989. Sommerville is also the conductor of the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra and has studied with conductors such as Sir Georg Solti, Herbert Blomstedt and John P. Paynter. Together, Sommerville and the Wheaton Symphony Orchestra have put themselves on the map through:
- Playing in 2012 for the College Orchestra Directors Association national conference at Northwestern University
- Performing in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in 2006 and 2011
- Winning third place in the college/university division American Prize in 2012
Ithaca, New York
The Ithaca College Symphony Orchestra, comprised of 90-100 members, has a history for being not only impressive but adventurous. Its previous conductor, Jeffery Meyer, was called “one of the most interesting and creatively productive conductors working in St. Petersburg.” After one of his performances conducting the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, The New York Times described his performances as “impressive”, “powerful”, “splendid”, and “blazing.”
Currently the Ithaca Symphony Orchestra plays under the baton of Octavio Mas-Arocas. Mas-Arocas has worked with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, the national youth orchestras of Portugal and Spain, and has led tours with the National Youth Orchestra “Templarios” of Portugal, the Interlochen Symphony, the Baldwin Wallace Symphony and the Silleda Wind Symphony. Carrying on the creative work of Jeffery Meyer, Mas-Arocas inspires students at Ithaca to continue their reputation for excellence.
- Awarded three consecutive ASCAP prizes for Adventurous Programming in the Collegiate Division by the League of American Orchestras
- Prize winner in two different categories in the 2011 American Prize: Orchestral Performance and an Award for Programming and second prize in the 2014 American Prize for Performance
- Performed to high acclaim in Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York as well as the Ithaca “Light in Winter” Festival
Harvard-Radcliffe Symphony Orchestra
The Harvard-Radcliffe Symphony Orchestra is the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, entering its 211th season. Though Harvard was established in 1636, it still took over 150 years for the school to begin a music group. This honor belongs to the Pierian Sodality, a group of 6 young Harvard men who, in 1808, decided to have regular meetings and to serenade the local and not so local belles. From an entry by the Sodality in 1840:
It came to pass in the reign of Simon the King, that the Pierians did meet… and lo! A voice was heard saying, Let us go serenading…and the fame of the Pierians did wax exceedingly great, and did reach all the places round about Cambridge.
As can be seen, the group was lively but eventually was whittled down to one lone flautist who then persuaded a duet partner and the music ensemble grew from there. It is said that around 1950 the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra “stopped making history and started making music.” The orchestra’s quality and reputation grew and they toured the world from Mexico and Canada to Europe, Brazil, the Middle East and Asia.
The current conductor of the Havard-Radcliffe Symphony Orchestra is Frederico Cortese, an accomplished maestro who has studied in Rome and Vienna. His guest conducting has taken him to Britain, Europe, Australia and other places around the world where he has been highly acclaimed.
- The Harvard-Radcliffe Symphony Orchestra performs four season concerts a year.
- The Orchestra occasionally gives children’s concerts and participates in Harvard’s Arts First arts festival.
- The Symphony Orchestra has toured the world and performed in Carnegie Hall.
- In 2020 the HRO plans Beethoven’s Birthday Bash, a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday
Rochester, New York
Eastman School of Music, which is highly competitive and one of the most highly regarded music schools, boasts more than one orchestra that reflects its reputation. The Symphony Orchestra is made up of first and second year undergraduates, but at a place like Eastman, where the motto is “Eat, Sleep, Music,” first year undergraduates who have been accepted at Eastman are already fine musicians. The 80 member Eastman Philharmonia consists of even more advanced music students making it one of the most impressive symphony orchestras.
The Eastman Philharmonia is conducted by Neil Varon, whose expertise has taken him throughout the world. Varon studied at Juilliard and after working throughout Europe and Asia began conducting at Eastman in 2002. Neil Varon and the Eastman Philharmonia recently toured China with the largest group of musicians in 30 years. The Eastman Philharmonia:
- Regularly performs all genres of music in the newly renovated Kodak Hall
- Has performed throughout the world on international tours
Princeton University Orchestra
Princeton, New Jersey
Michael Pratt, the iconic conductor of Princeton University Orchestra, has led the Orchestra to become “one of the finest university orchestras in the United States.” According to the Princeton website, “He is credited by his colleagues and generations of students with being the architect of one of the finest music programs in the country.” Pratt has directed Princeton’s certificate in music program since its beginning in 1991, created a partnership with the Royal College of Music, and co-founded the Richardson Chamber Players, guiding Princeton to one of the top positions in musical education.
Pratt has been the conductor of the Princeton University Orchestra for a legendary 42 years. Educated at Eastman and studying under some of the best conductors, Pratt was awarded an honorary membership to the Royal College of Music in 2018 and in 2020 was awarded the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton. He has developed the Princeton University Orchestra, made up almost entirely of student artists, into an outstanding ensemble.
- The Princeton University Orchestra is known for both excellent interpretation and musicianship.
- Princeton University Orchestra has performed an impressive range of orchestral and operatic compositions as well as collaborated with on-campus arts events, such as Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’Acier and Boris Godunov. Their 2020-2020 season includes works by Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Mahler and von Weber.
Peabody Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra
Peabody Institute of Music, associated with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has one of the premier music programs in the country. Students from Peabody Institute are selected through audition to form the Peabody Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra provides orchestral training for the students as well as extensive performance experience. The PSO performs six to seven concerts every year and has won the ASCAP Award for the Adventuresome Programming of Contemporary Music no less than 13 times.
The Peabody Symphony Orchestra conductor, Joseph Young, completed graduate work with Gustav Meier and Markand Thakar at the Peabody Conservatory in 2009. Young received the 2008, 2014 and 2015 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award for young conductors. Joseph Young was also a semi-finalist in the Gustav Mahler International Conducting Competition.
- Won 2nd prize in the American Prize College Orchestral Division in 2015
- Performance called “exhilarating” by The Baltimore Sun
- Conductor Joseph Young featured in the League of American Orchestras’ prestigious Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview
Baylor Symphony Orchestra
The Baylor Symphony Orchestra undoubtedly has one of the best symphony orchestras in the country. Although the Orchestra first performed in 1944, it has only played under two conductors: Daniel Sternberg and Stephen Heyde. Mr. Heyde, who has conducted some of the leading musicians of the world, including Andre Watts, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Joshua Bell, has led the Symphony to its success.
Heyde is the Mary Franks Thompson Professor of Orchestral Activities and Conductor-in-Residence at Baylor and has conducted Baylor Symphony throughout international tours in Costa Rica and Belgium and, by invitation, at the prestigious Piccolo Spoleto Festival as well as many national musical conventions. Baylor Symphony is comprised of student musicians from half of the 50 American States and has gained a reputation, through hard work, for performing with exceptional artistry. Some of Baylor Symphony Orchestra’s accomplishments and performances include being:
- Winner of the American Prize College/Orchestral Division 2014, 2015, Finalist in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020
- Featured in 2003 as part of the PBS special “Christmas at Baylor,” aired to over 6 million viewers
- Part of a 70 year tradition of giving annual concerts for the local school children in Waco, Texas
New York, New York
Mannes Orchestra, the student orchestra of prestigious Mannes College The New School of Music, reflects the high quality of music that the school produces. Mannes is a traditional music conservatory transformed to integrate “rigorous classical training with boundary-pushing performance experiences and opportunities to collaborate across disciplines.” Their orchestra performances reflect this approach and progression into the future of music. The Orchestra has been hailed by The New York Times as an orchestra whose expression is “a revelation,” and for their “intensity of focus.”
One of the opportunities for the students participating in Mannes Orchestra is the possibility to learn more of the art of conducting. The New School’s Mannes College Orchestra created the Julius Rudel Award which gives students of the orchestra the opportunity to serve as conductors and learn about a professional orchestra. The winners of this award acquire an inside view and experience of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
David Hayes, the Mannes Orchestra conductor, has conducted choral, symphonic and orchestral performances. The renowned conductor and music director at Mannes is a graduate of Curtis Institute and has a broad conducting background. Hayes serves on the board of directors of Chorus America and Music Director of the Philadelphia Singers. In 1999, he served as Assistant Conductor to Sir Andre Previn for the Curtis Symphony Orchestra’s European tour.
The Mannes Orchestra, with their excellent conductor, feature their 2020/20 Season which includes performances at:
- Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall
- John L. Tishman Auditorium at The New School
- Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College
University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra
The University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra is made up of the very best musicians of the University of North Texas’s College of Music. The Symphony has had only 7 conductors since its origins in 1938, each of which has left a legacy of musicianship with the ensemble.
The Symphony has been under the direction of David Itkin since 2008. A graduate of Eastman School of Music, Maestro Itkin has a varied and highly accomplished background in music. He served as an associate conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 1993 during which time he was made Honorary Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alabama for outstanding service to the arts. In 1993 he began his 17 year tenure as conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
David Itkin has been guest conductor of over 40 symphony orchestras across the United States and has also produced film scores and an oratorio that was released on CD in 2008. Maestro Itkin and the University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra together have performed 11 outstanding seasons of music.
- UNT Symphony Orchestra members populate numerous major orchestras and bands.
- 80% of members in the UNT Symphony Orchestra from 26 states receive a scholarship.
Cornell Symphony Orchestra
Ithaca, New York
The Cornell Symphony Orchestra has a very high reputation, especially since it is not part of a conservatory, but rather made up of students from Cornell University. The Cornell Symphony Orchestra has been part of Cornell University since 1905 when it was founded with no financial backing. They were left with a $20,000 endowment in 1919, the interest of which is still supporting the orchestra of 100 musicians today.
The conductor of the Cornell Symphony Orchestra, Chris Kim, has been with the Orchestra since 2004 and has directed them through many outstanding concerts. Before coming to Cornell, Kim taught at Tufts University and served as resident conductor of the Mozart Society Orchestra at Harvard University.
The Cornell Symphony Orchestra has been:
- Distinguished with six awards in seven years with the ASCAP prizes for Adventurous Programming in the Collegiate Division by the League of American Orchestras
- Awarded first prize in the 2011-2012 ASCAP Awards; second prize in 2013-2014
- Recognized by the American Prize for their 2013-2014 performances in three categories: Finalist in Orchestral Programming; Finalist in The American Prize in Orchestral Performance; Finalist in the American Prize in Conducting
Curtis Symphony Orchestra
The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia is one of the most prestigious music institutes. The conservatory has a 4% acceptance rate ensuring all entrants are top notch musicians. The institute boasts not only an impressive history of excellence in musical education with a remarkable list of graduates, but it also has one of the best college symphony orchestras in America.
Playing under the baton of many prestigious conductors, Curtis’ 2020-2020 season includes performances of Strauss and Scriabin with the famous conductor, Karina Canellakis, another graduate of Curtis. The Symphony Orchestra also performed the Symphonie Fantastique under the baton of Juanjo Mena, one of Spain’s most celebrated international composers.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra is not only a great college orchestra, but it is also “an orchestra that any city would be lucky to have as its professional ensemble.”
- Curtis Symphony Orchestra performs major works in top national and international venues such as Helsinki Music Center, Konzerthaus Berlin and the Salzburg Mozarteum.
- CSO performers have gone on to fill positions in top professional orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, 45% of which is made up of Curtis graduates along with four principals, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the New York Philharmonic
Jacobs School of Music Philharmonic Orchestra
The Jacobs School of Music, part of Indiana University, is one of the premier music schools in nation, producing alumni who are scholars, music educators and fine performers. Their top orchestra is the Philharmonic Orchestra which has performed under Kurt Masur, James DePries, Gerhardt Zimmermann and Leonard Bernstein among other conductors. Their current conductors include David Effron and Arthur Fagen.
David Effron, a graduate of Indiana University, was the head of the orchestra program at the Eastman School of Music from 1977 until 1998. He has been Professor of Music at IU Jacobs School of Music since 1998. Effron has conducted orchestras throughout the world and his recording of Copland with the Eastman Philharmonia won a Grammy for “Best Spoken Word Recording.”
Maestro Arthur Fagen has an opera repertory of more than 75 works. He has conducted in Kassel and Brunswick, directed the Flanders Opera of Antwerp and Ghent and served as Music Director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra and as a member of the conducting staff of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
- IU Jacobs School of Music Philharmonic Orchestra has performed, among other places, at
- Carnegie Hall
- The opening of the Bastille Opera House in Paris
Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra
The Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, out of the Cleveland Institute of Music, has a unique approach to the composition of their orchestras. Unlike most conservatories, orchestra students at the Cleveland Institute are assigned, regardless of their class or degree, to concerts. There are no “upper” or “lower” orchestras. These assignments are done concert by concert and principals change for each concert.
The Cleveland Institute of Music is one of the most prestigious music conservatories, one of only seven independent conservatories and one of three which are devoted exclusively to the performance of classical music.
The CIM Orchestra is conducted by Carl Topilow along with well-known guest conductors. Topilow has degrees from Manhattan School of Music and has directed the Orchestral Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music for an impressive 37 years.
- Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra performs in Kulas Hall and Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra.
- Graduates of Topilow’s master’s program in orchestral conducting serve as maestros with several leading orchestras.
Manhattan School of Music Philharmonia Orchestra
The Manhattan School of Music, one of the top schools available in the U.S. for musicians, provides three orchestral opportunities for their students. These are the Symphony, the Philharmonia and the Chamber Sinfonia. The orchestras have performed in venues such as the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Merkin Concert Hall. The orchestral program at Manhattan School is enhanced by guest conductors.
The Philharmonia Orchestra is conducted by Perry So, whose recent debuts include the Houston, Detroit, Israel, Shanghai, New Jersey, Cleveland and Minnesota Orchestras among others. So has been a guest conductor numerous times at the Walt Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.
The orchestras at Manhattan School of Music have frequently performed in venues such as:
- Lincoln Center
- Carnegie Hall
- Merkin Concert Hall
Vanderbilt University Orchestra
The Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University calls itself a “conservatory-caliber music program exclusively for undergraduates within a top 20 research university.” Alumni of the Blair School of Music include composer and pianist Evan Mack, bassist Michael Rinne and Peter Cain, clarinetist with the National Symphony Orchestra.
The Vanderbilt Orchestra brings together student musicians who are highly talented and continuing to improve their skills as ensemble players. The Orchestra performs classical and romantic orchestra repertoire focusing on meeting the demands of varied styles and composers.
The conductor of the Vanderbilt University Orchestra is Robin Fountain, a graduate of Oxford University, The Royal College of Music in London and Carnegie Mellon University. Fountain has guest conducted in many countries and has directed the Vanderbilt Orchestra for 16 years. Vanderbilt University Orchestra along with Robin Fountain will be performing for the last half of their 2020 season:
- Dvorak’s Carnival Overture
- Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7
- with Vanderbilt Singers Ravel’s Daphne Suite No. 1 and 2
Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic
The Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic is made up of musicians from 19 foreign countries as well as around the United States. The performances of the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic have been acclaimed by critics at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Severance Hall in Cleveland.
The conductor for the orchestra, Andres Cardenes, is a violinist and began training as a conductor at the age of 15. He studied at Indiana Jacobs School of Music and in 1982 tied for third prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition which launched his global career. Cardenes is known for premiering previously unknown pieces, and has commissioned works from numerous contemporary composers such as Andre Previn and Edgar Meyer.
- The Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic has recorded with Mode Records, New World Records, New Albion and Carnegie Mellon record labels.
- Guest conductors of the Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic include alumnus Keith Lockhart and Sir Andrew Davis.
- Alumni from the School perform with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Seattle Symphony among others.