Every Wednesday evening shortly before 7 pm, Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall at Lehigh University transforms from an impressive, yet silent, concert space into a humming, bustling hive of activity. Students run in from every conceivable part of campus, shed their coats and backpacks, unpack their instruments, and bound onto the brightly-lit stage. Musical sounds of brass, strings, and winds start to mix with a cacophony of talking, laughter, and friends greeting each other. From the backstage entrance, a chemistry professor strolls in with his horn case. Two community members take out their violins and chat quietly as everyone assembles into their seats. Finally, the conductor greets everyone and motions for the concertmaster to stand. Everyone becomes quiet as the tuning “A” fills the hall: the magic of music-making is about to begin.
On December 8 & 9, the Lehigh University Philharmonic Orchestra will be presenting a concert featuring symphonic works by master composers. Appearing with the orchestra as guest soloist will be Juilliard faculty member Professor Jerome Lowenthal, who will perform Beethoven’s majestic “Piano Concerto No. 4.” The musicians will also get a chance to revel in the tempestuous and romantic “Symphony No. 2” by Sergei Rachmaninov, and show off their playful, rhythmic side with an overture by contemporary minimalist composer John Adams, “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.” The concert is free to Lehigh students with ID; for reservations and more concert information, check out the Zoellner Arts Center website.
Playing in the Lehigh Philharmonic Orchestra has been a treasured tradition at Lehigh for decades: the group has a diverse and interesting history. As early as 1894, students formed string groups as clubs at Lehigh University, including the Lehigh Mandolin Club mentioned in the fledgling Brown and White newspaper that year. In his memoir titled It’s Not All About Money, a well-known Swiss banker, distinguished philanthropist, and Lehigh alumnus Hans Baer mentions playing his cello in the Lehigh orchestra in the 1940s. Previous Directors of the orchestra include the late former Music Department Chair and Professor Jerry Bidlack in the 1970s and 80s, and Violin Professor Paul Chou in the 1990s and early 2000s. Current Director of the Lehigh University Philharmonic Professor Eugene Albulescu holds the Ronald J. Ulrich Endowed Chair in Orchestral Studies and is also an internationally award-winning pianist.
About the orchestra, Albulescu says: “The Lehigh University Philharmonic Orchestra is an extraordinary group of music lovers of all ages, coming together to study and perform great music. The Lehigh Orchestra is a student ensemble first and foremost. In addition to the student body, the orchestra could not exist without other help. First, several community members augment various sections. They also provide an important ‘glue’ of continuity–some of them have been members of the orchestra for almost twenty years. We are also fortunate to have in the orchestra several members of the LU faculty and staff. The faculty often come from other disciplines, such as English, Economics, Engineering, and Chemistry. We also have some Music Department Faculty performing side-by-side with their students. This provides a unique hands-on training that is vital to a student’s experience.
“Students don’t have to be music majors to play in the orchestra; in fact, most of our students are non-majors. Furthermore, we have a couple of professional players who play in the ensemble pro-bono for the sheer enjoyment of the repertoire, and some professional players who play with us when we do not have students for various parts like the harp, etc. The orchestra thus becomes an incredible entity that contains Lehigh and other Lehigh Valley students and professionals, as well as campus and community members at large. What we all have in common is a tremendous passion for bringing great orchestral masterworks to life!”
In addition to the December concert, the Lehigh Philharmonic will present two more concerts in the spring. On February 23 & 24, talented students will be featured as soloists with the orchestra in the LU Phil’s annual “Concerto Marathon.” The final concert series of the season on April 27 & 28 will showcase the orchestra’s faculty concertmaster Dr. Michael Jorgensen performing the “Brahms Violin Concerto,” as well as the LU Phil performing Stravinsky’s “Firebird” ballet semi-staged with ballet dancers from the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley/Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Come support your local student, faculty, and community musicians and enjoy a wonderful evening at the symphony with the Lehigh Philharmonic Orchestra!