Orchestra Performs Across Europe in Biennial Summer Trip

Photo courtesy of Kim Hastings

Photo courtesy of Kim Hastings

Following the end of classes on June 2, most Choate students were hastily packing and departing campus. However, 49 members of the Symphony Orchestra prepared to catch a flight to Germany, where their two-week international tour would soon begin. Every other year, the Choate Symphony Orchestra travels out of the country to share its music, performing in a variety of venues while exploring the local culture. The group returned on June 14 from its final destination of Vienna, Austria.

Organized by Encore Tours, in collaboration with Choate’s Global Programs, the trip focuses on total immersion in the local atmosphere. The orchestra, joined by guest musicians as well as families, alumni, and chaperones, started each day with a packed itinerary of sightseeing and museum visits; several days ended with concerts of classic German and Austrian repertoire. Mr. Phil Ventre, Orchestral and Jazz Ensemble Director, said, “Every year since I began doing this, in 1975, my intention was to broaden the cultural, historical, global, and, of course, musical perspective of the musicians. That’s why I’ve taken them all over the world.”

In this year’s tour, the group first traveled to the German state of Bavaria for a few days of exploration in Munich and two lively concerts. One performance took place at a traditional festival hall venue in Bad Bayersoien filled with a spirited audience; the second location was a school in Murnau am Staffelsee for a joint concert with the local student jazz ensemble. “The musical culture is very different in the U.S. versus in Austria, so coming here to perform helps us understand how the audiences and instrumentalists in different parts of the world will perceive and understand the piece,” commented Caroline Soper ’17. The members of the orchestra found themselves capable of transcending language barriers with their music, and those connections helped make the international tour a transformative experience.

Lasting bonds formed within the orchestra itself throughout the trip. Hannah Price ’18 said, “During the school year, there’s not a lot of opportunity to get to know each other in orchestra since it’s time to work. The tour gives us a chance to learn more about the people in our group, and that experience helps us to play better together in rehearsals and concerts.”

The strengthening of relationships on tour is especially valued by the seniors in orchestra who already graduated and technically accompany the group as alumni. “We’ve been playing pieces together term after term. But now, just living together and visiting sites in a different country as well as playing the music that we love has deepened our bond even more. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect way to end,” said Gabe Valle ’16, whose experience as a student in the Arts Concentration program concluded with the completion of the tour.

Photo courtesy of Nina Hastings.

Many aspects of the trip brought the orchestra closer together; the inclusion of master classes in the itinerary perfected the group’s performances and revitalized their cohesiveness. In Austria, the group traveled throughout Salzburg, stopping in Mirabellplatz for a concert and master class at the St. Andrä Church with Mr. Janos Czifra, Director of Music at the Salzburg Cathedral. Later that week, the orchestra worked with Mr. Christoph Koncz of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, in the Haydnsaal of the Esterházy Palace. “In the first master class, Mr. Czifra did more stylistic things with dynamics, and in the second, Mr. Koncz worked on arranging the orchestra and getting us to listen to each other. Both were mostly focused on working in a unified way,” explained Sophie Latham ’16.

The master classes gave Choate students an opportunity to learn from highly-experienced musicians from another country, benefiting from the energy and knowledge different conductors bring to each piece. “It’s very eye-opening and informative to be able to be directed by somebody who really understands how the music is supposed to be played, heard, and understood,” said Soper.

This tour is a distinctive feature of Choate’s music program. “Not a lot of high school students are able to indulge in the same kind of extensive and exclusive musical experiences – like playing unabridged orchestra pieces or going on a trip to Europe – as the Choate Symphony Orchestra does,” commented Alyssa Shin ’18. “I am forever grateful for what Mr. Ventre and the orchestra has and will teach me.”

If the trip deeply affects the Choate students who participate, it also leaves a lasting impression on the countries visited. Encore tour guide Ms. Anita Mandl commented, “I think that these musicians were fantastic. It was exciting to see them all going around in their shorts and t-shirts, and then suddenly they’re professional musicians on stage playing wonderful music.”

Mr. Ventre said, “I want the musicians to be respected for what they have done and how hard they have worked to become scholars and musicians. It’s such an important experience for all the musicians to bond, because the orchestra is a family.”

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