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Conducting an Orchestra as a Graduate Teaching Assistant

How Teaching Assistants Prepare for University Symphony Orchestra Performances
March 2, 2021

The University Wind Ensemble and University Symphony Orchestra will present their first performance of 2021 on Wednesday, March 3 at 7:30 pm. The performance will feature a diverse selection of composers ranging from classical to contemporary, including works from J.S. Bach, Ruth Gipps, Paul Hindemith, Rob Smith, Igor Stravinsky, Akira Toda, Edgard Varese, and George Walker.

Three graduate orchestral teaching assistants will lead the University Symphony Orchestra in conducting Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks. Hisham Groover will conduct Mvmt 1, Andrew J. Kim will conduct Mvmt 2, and David Carrillo will conduct Mvmt 3. We asked them to share their insights about the piece they will be conducting. 

Igor Stravinsky was commissioned to write Dumbarton Oaks by the owners of the Dumbarton Oaks estate, in Washington, DC, to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Kim mentioned that the piece overall has “a very jubilant mood,” and that Stravinsky was inspired by Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos

Groover noted that the first movement in particular has clear influences by Bach. He is fascinated by the movement because it combines Stravinsky’s rhythmic style of work with the inspiration of the past. Kim found the most interesting part of preparing for the second movement was making the piece sound effortless and improvisational while focusing on the execution and technique that the individual instrument groups need for performing the piece. 

Kim hopes the audience enjoys the fun and delightful nature of the piece despite the complexities. “This was a celebratory piece first premiered in a house, so watching our performance from the comfort of your home is a fitting way to listen to the piece.” 

Overall, the three teaching assistants are excited to share the hard work the University Symphony Orchestra has put in. Kim said that “performing is a source of inspiration, a reminder that hard work and dedication can lead to shared magic.” When asked what he’s excited for the audience to see, Carillo responded “I look forward to [the students’] energy.”

Carrillo’s favorite moment while being a teaching assistant was the excitement in Ted Mann Concert Hall at the first performance of the pandemic. “Even without an audience, the students were intensely focused on making great art to the point that, when we finished, my heartbeat reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart it was beating so hard!” 

“Seeing a piece take shape over the course of these weeks and chasing after the last bits of detail that we want is such a rewarding process,” Kim reflects. ”Though the conductor has a big part in leading that journey, I see it as a big collaboration, where we all bring some part of ourselves to the table and infuse that into the music we make.” 

The teaching assistants are thankful for the School of Music audience and are looking forward to sharing the ensemble’s work on Wednesday, March 3 at 7:30 pm. You can watch the recorded performance live stream on the School of Music’s YouTube or Facebook channels.