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St. Olaf Orchestra makes Carnegie Hall debut

One hundred and twenty-eight years of artistic prowess resound within the high stone walls of New York City’s Carnegie Hall. With the subtle elegance and immaculate acoustics that have amazed audiences for more than a century, it’s been the home of world-class performances from renowned artists like Yo Yo Ma and Duke Ellington.

And earlier this month, the St. Olaf Orchestra took the center of that very stage for the first time in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium.

The sea of audience members filled the seats at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the St. Olaf Orchestra’s performance. Photos courtesy of Natan Dvir / Polaris Images.

“Walking into Carnegie Hall was absolutely surreal,” says Allison Moore ’19, who plays bass in the ensemble. “I was completely awestruck, and had to stop talking for a couple of seconds while I took it all in.”

For violinist Christine Lee Fatt ’20, the experience was, in a word, “magical.”

“It was amazing stepping in, and almost a little unbelievable,” she says. “I would never have thought to perform there in my life.”

I would never have thought to perform there in my life.Christine Lee Fatt ’20

Violist Zach Granowski ’20 says performing in Carnegie Hall was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“The first thing you notice is the size. Then you start picking up on the grandeur of the hall. Then you think about how many people played there before yourself. The entire time during the performance I made sure to keep myself fully present in that moment,” he says. “The experience was amazing.”

The experience was further enriched by the auditorium’s audience, which expressed its enthusiasm from the moment the musicians walked onstage, says violinist Grace Kenny ’19.

The most memorable part of the experience for me was hearing the resounding applause from the audience before we even started playing. I had tears in my eyes,” Kenny says.

The most memorable part of the experience for me was hearing the resounding applause from the audience before we even started playing. I had tears in my eyes.Grace Kenny ’19

The Carnegie Hall concert, part of the ensemble’s 2019 domestic tour, represented the culmination of years of hard work from St. Olaf students and faculty alike, says St. Olaf Orchestra Conductor Steven Amundson.

“This orchestra has grown into one of the finest ensembles of its kind, and this year’s orchestra membership is very deep in talent, so it was good timing for this opportunity,” he says. “The orchestra performed incredibly well and there was a kind of electricity in the hall.”

Adding to the Carnegie Hall excitement was the fact that the ensemble played alongside world renowned violinist Sarah Chang as they performed Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D Minor.

Violinist Sarah Chang performs with the St. Olaf Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

“During that concerto, I was very focused on her playing — she’s a real Romantic performer, and she definitely played with a lot of ‘push/pull,’ which made the experience rather intense,” Amundson says. “When we arrived at the very end of the piece, I could see Sarah’s delight in this fantastic performance. She gave me a hug and was all smiles. The crowd pretty much jumped to their feet. It was special memory!”

Violinist Sarah Chang performs with the St. Olaf Orchestra.

It was also an inspiration for members of the St. Olaf Orchestra.

“Playing with — and just being in the presence of — Sarah Chang was a dream come true!” says Moore. “Her musicianship is staggering, and her high expectations gave us the push we needed to play our best.”

Playing with — and just being in the presence of — Sarah Chang was a dream come true! Her musicianship is staggering, and her high expectations gave us the push we needed to play our best.Allison Moore ’19

The other pieces the orchestra performed during the Carnegie Hall debut included Samuel Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal, Missy Mazzoli’s These Worlds in Us, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

“I had a clear view of the principal cellist, Sophia Spiegel, and when we would make eye contact during the climax of Tchaikovsky’s Second Movement, we’d both smile and play our hearts out, having the most fun,” says Lee Fatt. “It’ll be a night I’ll never forget.”

Principal cellist Sophia Spiegel ’19 is caught excitedly waving to a familiar face in the crowd. Photos courtesy of Natan Dvir / Polaris Images.

It will also be a night that many St. Olaf parents, alumni, and others in the audience will long remember — as will Amundson, who has led the St. Olaf Orchestra for 38 years.

Carnegie has long been considered one of the world’s most historic and acoustically perfect concerts halls. As cliche as it might sound, it really was a dream come true to walk out on stage, see the beaming faces of my students and to look upon such a huge, enthusiastic audience,” Amundson says.

Carnegie has long been considered one of the world’s most historic and acoustically perfect concerts halls. It really was a dream come true to walk out on stage, see the beaming faces of my students and to look upon such a huge, enthusiastic audience.Conductor Steven Amundson

Amundson says, “The St. Olaf Orchestra musicians really gave it their all, and it was truly a spectacular, unforgettable experience. I often talk to my students about playing with ‘passion plus.’ They exceeded my expectations!”

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About the St. Olaf Orchestra

The St. Olaf Orchestra is a full symphony orchestra rich in international artistry and tradition and known for its enthusiastic and passionate performances. Founded in 1906, the 92-member ensemble has been heralded as one of the best collegiate orchestras in the country, and received the 2013 American Prize in Orchestral Performance among colleges and universities.

Under the direction of conductor Steven Amundson, the St. Olaf Orchestra has pursued a demanding repertoire featuring works rarely performed at the collegiate level. Although a number of students in the orchestra study music performance and education, many take advantage of St. Olaf’s liberal arts curriculum to study in fields across the humanities, arts, and sciences.

The St. Olaf Orchestra has been featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and National Public Television, and has twice been featured on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion. Each year, the ensemble takes a weeklong domestic tour. The St. Olaf Orchestra also has taken nine international tours, presenting concerts in Argentina, Uruguay, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and China. In 2019 the St. Olaf Orchestra will tour Norway with the St. Olaf Choir, performing in the Oslo Opera House, the Grieghallen in Bergen, the Stavanger Konserthus, and the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

Until next time! Photo courtesy of Natan Dvir / Polaris Images.