Beneath a cloudy gray sky, members of the 5C community gathered on Oct. 24 to watch the Claremont Concert Orchestra perform for the first time in 17 months. Up until an hour before the Fall Concert, no one knew whether unfavorable weather conditions would prevent the concert from taking place. But at 11 a.m. on the front steps of Garrison Theater at Scripps College, the orchestra prevailed and music filled the air.
The Claremont Concert Orchestra took the audience on a journey through Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 (“Unfinished”) and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”). From dark, haunting themes to bright, hopeful melodies, these familiar classical symphonies were chosen not only for how they resonate with audiences musically, but also for their special significance to the orchestra.
David Cubek, the director of the Claremont Concert Orchestra since 2010, described how he chose the songs for this year’s Fall Concert.
“Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony was a piece we were going to perform in spring 2020, and we actually rehearsed it once on the Wednesday that all the Claremont Colleges students were asked to leave campus,” Cubek said. “It was like a door left open — something we started but didn’t finish. I thought it was important to program it again and sort of close that door as soon as we were allowed to be playing music together in person.
Emily Little SC ’23, a cellist in the orchestra, appreciated the sense of resolution that performing “Unfinished” provided.
“It was really nice to be able to finish that and kind of put some closure on that really rough semester where we all got sent home,” she said. “That was a sweet, sappy little ending there.”
In addition to performing their unfinished piece from before the pandemic, the musicians also performed Dvořák’s “New World” symphony. For Cubek, the symphony’s title and familiar melody represented a new beginning for the orchestra.
“[Dvořák] wrote a symphony that was largely inspired by melodies and musical ideas that he was exposed to when he was in the United States, so that’s why the symphony is called ‘From the New World,’” he said. “But if you sort of extrapolate that title, you sort of feel like it signifies something new, something fresh: moving forward and starting a new era.”
The current state of the world is certainly something new, as there are many recently created restrictions for the orchestra to follow in order to stay safe. Los Angeles County guidelines have limited the extent to which the orchestra can rehearse together in close proximity, among other new regulations.
Cubek describes some further challenges posed by new COVID-19 protocols.
“It meant that we rarely had an opportunity to have all musicians on stage,” he said. “It meant that players had to use these modified masks and instrument covers to mitigate the spread of aerosols and particles. It meant that a lot of the time we had to rehearse outside, even a couple of weeks ago when the weather was horrible and there was a windstorm.”
Despite these obstacles, however, the orchestra stayed flexible and maintained its strong sense of community.
“We still had a Claremont community member come in to lead instrument-specific rehearsals, and we were still able to eat pizza together after rehearsal outside of Garrison,” Little said. “Despite the difference in location and the method of practicing, the energy was still really good.”
Cubek commends the flexibility of the musicians in the orchestra and deeply appreciates everything they have done.
“The students have been extremely dependable and committed, which makes me incredibly proud,” he said. “I find it very inspiring, and sort of invigorating to see this level of commitment from young musicians. They could have said, ‘No, we’re not rehearsing outside, it’s too windy,’ and they would have had the right to do that, but I think they really wanted this to happen.”
Perhaps the most magical thing about the concert was not the incredible music itself, but the culmination of everyone’s hard work and resilience. Families and parents were able to see their children perform for the first time in months. Audience members deprived of listening to live music for so long were able to experience performances again.
“The collective human experience of being there together for over an hour, performing and experiencing beautiful music … it feels like maybe we really will be able to turn the page,” Cubek said, “and little by little, go back to our lives, perhaps with even more appreciation than before.”