Semester Ends with a Packed Performance Calendar

Large and small ensembles bring extraordinary range of repertoire to Oberlin’s stages

December 8, 2023

Cathy Partlow Strauss ’84

Musical Union with Oberlin Orchestra
Musical Union and the Oberlin Orchestra in Finney Chapel
Photo credit: John Seyfried

Oberlin Conservatory’s student and faculty performers have been filling most concert venues throughout the campus over the last week. In just the last few days, we’ve heard performances by the Conservatory’s newest ensembles—the Djembe Orchestra led by Associate Professor of West African Drumming Weedie Braimah, and students in the Oberlin Creative Music Lab directed in open-form and guided improvisation by Associate Professor of Contemporary Music and Improvisation Dana Jessen. Guest artist and Brazilian pianist Helio Alves collaborated in the performances of original works with Performance and Improvisation Ensembles—ensembles dedicated to the exploration of many different world musics.

During these final five bustling days before students head into reading period and then exams, large scale works by Johannes Brahms and Georg Frideric Handel will be heard standing alongside newer works by Jiyun Kim and André Previn. There are also two world premieres that feature appearances by both faculty and student soloists. This explosion of activity feels something akin to the thrilling finale of a fireworks display on New Year's Eve. So, join in—even from a distance. All of these concerts are free and open to the public, and all but one of them can be streamed live at concert time at

The Oberlin Orchestra, conducted by Raphael Jiménez, will give their last performance of the fall semester in Finney Chapel on Friday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. Jihyun Kim’s A Tramp in the Assembly Line opens the evening. Kim describes it as “a musical panorama” inspired by scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s comedy, Modern Times. Previously a visiting professor at Oberlin, Kim is now composition faculty at the Washington State University.

Voice professor and soprano Katherine Jolly joins the orchestra as featured soloist in the middle work, André Previn's Honey and Rue, a 1992 song cycle commissioned by soprano Kathleen Battle for soprano, orchestra, and jazz combo. The text is a setting of six poems by Lorain, Ohio-born writer Toni Morrison. The lives of women and African Americans are the inspiration for the poems, which use images of yearning, satisfaction, and resolution.

Katherine JollyOf the composition, Jolly said, “Honey and Rue is a cycle that I've lived with for 21 years. When I heard the recording and read through the score at age 15, I knew it would be a major part of my future career. It was on my bucket list, understanding that I needed to be much older to truly sing it with the technique and depth it deserves. Honey and Rue is a retrospective exploration of a black woman's existence, moving through and back to slavery. I am very honored to sing the Oberlin debut, just seven miles from where Toni Morrison grew up in Lorain.”

The orchestra closes the evening with Brahms’ monumental Symphony No. 4— a piece that is at once emotionally despairing and resigned while astonishing and inspirational in its compositional virtuosity.

Opportunities to hear our students and faculty perform chamber music abound on Saturday and Sunday, December 9 and 10. Things get underway at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday in Kulas Recital Hall with small ensemble works that center classical guitar.

Six quartets in Oberlin’s Advanced String Quartet Seminar will follow on the final ChamberFest! performance of the semester at 4:30 p.m., where audiences will hear performances of six of Ludwig van Beethoven’s middle and late quartets. This seminar is a serious and intense immersion into the world of the string quartet, directed by Oberlin faculty and string quartet specialists, Sibbi Bernhardsson and Kirsten Docter. The program recently celebrated great success in the launch of Oberlin’s fully undergraduate Poiesis Quartet, winner of the 2023 Fischoff National Chamber Music last May.

Saturday evening brings the works of four masterful composers for the keyboard—Camille Saint-Saëns, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Maurice Ravel, and Franz Schubert—to Oberlin’s Piano Duo Fest. Hear four sets of student pianist duos perform in Warner Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. (This concert is in-person only.)

Faculty and guest artists perform a sonata program in Kulas Recital Hall at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. Hear flutist Alexa Still, violinist Grigory Kalinovsky, and pianists Anthony Weinstein and Tatiana Lokhina in works by Gabriel Fauré, Anton Rubinstein, and César Franck.

Vocal ensembles are also featured prominently this weekend. The a cappella early music ensemble Collegium Musicum Oberliniense, under the direction of Steven Plank, performs their program twice in the intimate setting of Fairchild Chapel at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, December 8 and 9. The program centers on the music of Henry Purcell, opening and closing with his celebratory anthem in five-part harmony, I was glad. Additional works by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, among others, fill out the offering.

The collective forces of Musical Union—the nation’s second longest-standing choral tradition—and Oberlin College Choir will perform Handel’s complete Messiah with the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra and numerous student vocal soloists on Sunday, December 10 at 2:30 p.m. in Finney Chapel.

Gregory RistowOberlin Conservatory Director of Choral Ensembles Gregory Ristow says, “We've been so lucky to have faculty members Edwin Huizinga and Rebecca Landell Reed from our Historical Performance Program work with our string players and share more about styles of playing and bowing that are unique to the Baroque era. Their suggestions have really helped the piece come alive, with the articulations jumping off the page.”

Oberlin’s Professor of Musicology Charles McGuire writes, “Messiah was one of the compositions that helped form the canon of concert-hall music we have today, for better or worse. Many choirs were formed in the 19th century specifically to sing Messiah. And performances of Messiah have funded many a charitable undertaking, including Oberlin College and Conservatory. The Musical Union’s (MU) first performance of the oratorio was in 1849. Between 1878 and 1917, and in most years thereafter, MU gave an annual performance of Messiah in December. These performances were sought-after tickets and the excellence of the Musical Union was reported on nationally, and they raised a great deal of money for our institution.”

Ristow continues, “It's been so many years since Oberlin has presented a full performance of Handel's Messiah, and I'm thrilled with how everyone is sounding. If you haven't experienced the whole thing before, it's an experience not to be missed!”

Immediately preceding this full performance, the Credo music organization will team up with Oberlin once again in its annual “Messiah Sing Along” at 1:30 p.m. For a dozen years now, Credo has presented this event. The organization's director and Oberlin viola professor Peter Slowik says, "As Credo celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, we are so grateful to call Oberlin our home. This year's hybrid format is a result of two great ideas coming together! We are delighted to come alongside the Conservatory's production of Messiah this year, and we look forward to the continuation of the sing-along tradition next year.

The Conservatory’s last performance of the semester is with Oberlin’s Contemporary Music Ensemble and Sinfonietta under the direction of Timothy Weiss. Their relatively rare appearance in Finney Chapel is at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 12. These ensembles regularly perform works by women and Oberlin alumni composers, and they are acclaimed for their commitment to giving world premiere performances. This concert is no different: Two world premieres—one by student composer Cashel Day-Lewis and the other by faculty composer Jesse Jones are also solo vehicles for a student violin soloist Max Ball, and voice professor Timothy LeFebvre, baritone. Weiss has also programmed pieces by Carolina Heredia and Lotta Wennäkoski. Completing the program, is the 2022 composition Neshamah by Oberlin alumnus and composer David Serkin Ludwig ’95. The New York Times, has described that “Ludwig orchestrates with the skill and sophistication of a Ravel, and generates the power and thrills of a John Williams adventure film score.”

Clearly, there is something for everyone over the next five days. Listen, wherever you are. Learn more on Oberlin Conservatory's Events Calendar.


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