by Doug Prince
A Joyful Noise
There is a tangible sense of excitement when the musicians of the UNH Symphony Orchestra prepare for a performance. They squeeze through the tight rows of chairs, find their places, open their sheet music. The big pieces are wheeled in: the harp, the gong, the chimes. The tuning begins--the squawk of a string here, the low tone of a reed there, the blat and warble of a horn--discordant, disconnected, building to a cacophony that fills the hall.
Director Bob Eshbach takes his position at front and center. The sound fades, then stops. "All right," he says. "Off we go." And with those words, he launches the 55 musicians into a realm of intensity where individual efforts flow and merge and diverge exquisitely in New Hampshire composer George Whitefield Chadwick's composition "Jubilee."
The orchestra is rehearsing for its first international tour, which will take it to England in late May. The tour is part of an exchange that began last fall, when UNH hosted a youth ensemble from West Yorkshire, England. For 10 days, the orchestra will bring the music of American composers to some of the great concert halls of England.
The orchestra has performed free concerts in the Seacoast region for 105 years. It's a true community orchestra: Violist Frances Lebel of Portsmouth just celebrated her 60th anniversary as a member. Cellist Mary Rasmussen '52, a retired professor of music, comes in second for longevity at 53 years. Fellow cellists are Curt Givan, a professor of biology, and Gary Hodges '85, '98G, a professional musician.
"The professionals bring a standard to the orchestra. The amateur players bring a love of music to it. And the musicians who have been with us so long provide continuity," notes Eshbach.
"Playing in an orchestra is like being on a team," he continues. "You get that kind of esprit de corps and concentration, only more so, because it's an emotional experience, and intellectually, physically and spiritually involving."
--Michelle Gregoire '99
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