Its members are not music majors and the repertoire may not be as difficult compared to other School of Music ensembles, but there’s something else about the Campus Symphony Orchestra that sets it apart from other University groups.

Morgan Morel
CSO will perform tonight at 8 p.m. (Courtesy of Michael Chang)

“(It’s) probably one of the only opportunities where faculty, staff, students and community members can all audition and take part of something as equals,” Music Director Robert Boardman said.

A doctoral conducting student, Boardman has headed the CSO for the past two years.

For the School of Music’s 125th anniversary, Boardman and the CSO have a special – as well as free – concert planned for 8 p.m. tonight at Hill Auditorium.

The program will include the timeless Charles Ives piece “The Unanswered Question” and Johannes Brahms’s “Academic Festival Overture,” exactly 125 years old this year, which will open the show.

Essentially based on a collection of traditional drinking songs, it was composed for a graduation ceremony for students in Austria.

“That will go along well with students at the University,” Boardman quipped.

Perhaps the greatest focus during the first half of the program will be Jennifer Higdon’s “blue cathedral.” In 2003, it was the most performed contemporary piece by a living composer in the United States, Boardman said. Tonight will be its University premiere.

“For somebody who doesn’t know classical music, it’s very likable,” Boardman said.

“It’s about the death of her brother . She played flute, he played clarinet. The piece starts out with a flute solo – she was born first – and then later the clarinet comes in and they do this sort of duet/dance.”

Also featured tonight is the 2006 Eugene Bossart Concerto Competition winner and third-year Law student Lindsay Heller. She will perform the first movement of Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto.”

“I guess the (‘Violin Concerto’) is both a romantic and a twentieth-century piece – it’s a mixture of the two,” Heller said. “It’s more of a duet between orchestra and violin, more than most concertos.”

Soloists play a major role in the aforementioned Ives piece, which brings in guest conductor Mark Latham for his first concert with the CSO.

The orchestra’s arrangement during “The Unanswered Question” is unique. The strings are set up on stage, the woodwind quartet is in the mezzanine and the single trumpet emanates from the balcony.

Latham is also conducting Mozart’s famed “Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat,” with four featured soloists. He compared it to a dialogue of strings and woodwinds, echoing Heller’s words on the Barber composition.

“It’s like a scene at a party . a group of friends talking to each other, and you’ve got all the rest of the people and they haven’t actually got too much to do, but they comment on each other,” Latham said. “Great piece – seems like it’s easy, but really quite difficult.”

Fans and friends of the symphony should join the CSO tonight for the proverbial orchestral party.

“(Come) to have a great time,” Latham said.

And those who aren’t absolute classical music fans?

“They’ll be delightfully surprised.”

Campus Symphony Orchestra
Tonight at 8 p.m.
Free At Hill Auditorium

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