Director Norman Gamboa led the Washburn Symphony Orchestra in the seventh of nine concerts it will be performing this year. This marks the most performances in one year by an orchestra in Topeka.
The biggest difficulty for orchestra members was limited rehearsal time. Phillip Watson, one of the orchestra’s cellists, said the time constraints were noticeable.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to practice,” said Watson. “We had less than a month to prepare for it. The concert just kind of came up.”
William Darst, violinist and concertmaster, agreed with Watson.
“It was very challenging,” he said. “We only had about two weeks to put it together. It required a lot of individual practice.”
Even Gamboa mentioned the lack of time orchestra members had to practice.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time very rewarding,” he said. Normally, an orchestra would take about seven rehearsals, Gamboa said, referring to the Topeka Symphony Orchestra, which typically takes seven rehearsals of two-and-a-half hours each. Comparatively, the WU orchestra had six rehearsals of one-and-a-half hours to learn the music for this performance.
The time constraints may have stuck out in the mind of the performers, but it didn’t impact their music to any degree. Audience members were impressed by the professional performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor,” and several people expressed disbelief that the orchestra had limited rehearsal time.
“I was really impressed with the quality,” said Marilynn Bahr, a piano teacher from Berryton, who was attending the WU Orchestra for the first time. She admired their rendition of Tchaikovsky’s symphony, “It’s a challenge to performers, but they have applied themselves.”
Marilynn’s husband, Fred Bahr, also enjoyed the Tchaikovsky piece.
“The cyclical nature made it so you just wanted to get up and move. That the composer was a writer of ballet music was evident.” said Fred, who was very enamored with Gamboa’s conducting. “He is energetic, and he conveys that to his students.”
One member of the audience had a unique point of view. Allegra Fischer, normally the keyboardist for the orchestra, was not performing in this particular concert. She was able to appreciate both the event itself and the amount of work that went into it. Fischer said the fast pace of the orchestra is a credit to the university.
“It’s actually [a] real-world scenario,” said Fischer. “Professional orchestras don’t get a lot of rehearsal time, they’re just expected to know the part and then they go through it together. It’s actually a good experience.”
She also applauded Gamboa’s choice of music literature used in concert, saying the pieces are things that all musicians are required to know.
Gamboa said Tchaikovsky’s symphony is a difficult but necessary piece of music literature. Darst agreed, saying of the three pieces, Tchaikovsky’s was his favorite.
“It’s one of my favorite symphonies of all time,” said Darst. “It requires lots of strings and is one of the most involved symphonies for violins.”
Aside from Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor,” the orchestra performed Rossini’s “Barber of Seville Overture” and Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings in E minor.” Gamboa couldn’t pin down which of the three was his favorite to conduct.
“They’re so different,” said Gamboa. “They have different styles and periods. You can’t compare one to the next. They’re thrilling to conduct because all of them present different challenges.”
Gamboa said the Tchaikovsky piece was probably the most fun for the students.
“It’s the most flashy and presents them with the most musical challenges,” he said.
This concert was a mile marker for the director because the orchestra was capable of performing so many concerts.
“Before I came, the orchestra performed maybe twice a year and had about 20 students,” said Gamboa. “Now we have around 68 students.”
Gamboa added that it was good to have this achievement under his belt.
“In a way I’m relieved-it gives me time to look forward to the next one,” said Gamboa.
The Washburn University Symphony Orchestra’s next performance will be in conjunction with the Washburn choirs in the President’s Concert on May 8.