Look at OZ: Oswego State Lab Orchestra

On April 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sheldon Ballroom, the Oswego State Lab Orchestra will  perform their semi-annual concert under the direction of student conductor Kevan Spencer and music faculty member, Juan F. La Manna, the Director of the College-Community Orchestra.

The ensemble consists of 17 members  and will be full of opulently intricate musical and cultural pieces by Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms and Ludwig van Beethoven. Included in the concert are classical work, Beethoven’s First Symphony (First Movement) and romantic work, Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.

What is an orchestra?

To many people, an orchestra can be a group of talented individuals coming together to create emotionally vivid and refined music. To others, the sounds of an orchestra can represent the ultimate form of artistic expression. Spencer believes an orchestra is like a painter’s color palette, with varying facets of instrumentation and a medium that allows storytelling and a deep glimpse into human emotion. The musical pieces were carefully selected to enrapture and captivate the audience through  dynamic changes with a whirlwind of emotions ranging from joy to mystery and excitement.

Music and non-music majors will find value in this event because of its historical and cultural elements. According to Spencer, his main influence for pursuing conducting is composer Gustav Mahler.

“Music can open the door to a deeper understanding of the human condition,” Spencer said.  “These pieces have periods of wonder and excitement and explore different realms of emotion. The audience can expect to think about beauty in their lives and are sure to be moved by this performance.”

Hundreds of hours go into preparing for an orchestra concert, including multiple rehearsal sessions per week during a semester, intense individual practice and copious amounts of time studying the scores. Spencer plans to continue working with La Manna throughout the duration of his studies at Oswego State. They meet weekly, where La Manna reviews videos of Spencer conducting the Lab Orchestra and offers tips and insight into improving his skills.

“[La Manna] is extremely knowledgeable, extremely experienced and he does anything he can to help any of his students,” Spencer said.

The conductor must work with the concert master (first violin), who must be well educated on the pieces being played to bring effortless transitions in the speed and intensity of each piece. Spencer complimented his concert master, Calvin Cheung, as to what a pleasure it is to work with him.

Spencer said he believes all of the members of the Lab Orchestra are highly skilled at interpreting gestures and they successfully discern the depth of each piece.

The concert is free to attend. La Manna is confident in the positive experience the concert will bring audience members due to its radiant pieces full of classical repertoire.

“The orchestra is playing them exceptionally well, a tribute to the dedication of the players and the skill of their leader, Kevan Spencer, an excellent musician and conductor,” La Manna said.

The SUNY Oswego Lab Orchestra was founded in 2012, by alumnus Wojciech Milewski, who wanted to give undergraduate conductors time and experience working with an ensemble to prepare them for the demands of graduate school and their future careers.

Milewski recently spoke with Spencer, offering even more insight on conducting and how it brings him satisfaction that the Lab Orchestra continues performing. Milewski said he is grateful that he was able to make an impact to help students follow their passion.

This makes Oswego State one of only three schools nearby, including Juilliard, to offer such a unique program.

Overall, the Lab Orchestra concert will be a highlight of the music and arts department end-of-the-year performances, along with the jazz and wind ensemble concerts and the theatrical performance, “Pride and Prejudice” scheduled for late April and early May. For student audience members, these shows offer a diversion and release of tension and stress from final projects and tests and need to be discussed more so every student knows about the remarkable and free opportunities for entertainment that exist around campus.

Judging by the way Spencer’s eyes light up as he discusses his passion for conducting, it is easy to see that this is going to be an exceptional show.